After Sonam Mittal blogged about being sexually harassed at her job, an Indian "Men's Rights Activist" blog called her a "spoilt modern Indian woman," and said she was demanding rights to which she wasn't entitled. Now, Mittal has taken back ownership of the very phrase intended to shame her, turning it into a viral meme and movement to fight sexism in India.
The Bangalore-based social activist, who launched The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman meme last July, told NTRSCTN over email that her country is behind much of the world when it comes to gender equality.
"While the world may debate third-wave feminism and even claim that [a] fourth wave has started off already, in India, women still don't have an independent voting authority," Mittal said. "Men often make the decisions for the entire family."
However, other forms of sexism that Indian women face will sound familiar to many Americans.
"Indian women are judged for every decision they make," she said. "They are also blamed for their own harassment because they didn't fight back. They are either revered as a saint (devi), mother, caretaker, nurturer, or shamed as a slut, spoilt modern woman, bringer of doom, etc."
It's stereotypes like these that Mittal and her collaborator, who goes by the pseudonym Bruce Vain, aim to subvert through the meme. "The idea is simple: Take a stereotype and smash it by adding a plot twist," Vain, a Delhi-based communications and campaigning professional, said.
The meme's images feature real Indian or Desi women, and their captions are based on real things these women have been told.
Vain, who uses the pseudonym to distance himself from his upbringing as a member of an upper caste that "oppresses women, sexual minorities, religious minorities, and marginalized castes," said Indian women encounter familiar "everyday tropes like 'women can't drive,' 'can't do mechanical work,' 'can't make good engineers,' 'belong in the kitchen,' etc."
"In an ideal world, The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman will be the go-to source for gender stereotype smashing," he added. "We want our memes to be standard responses to sexist jokes and comments posted by online misogynists."
The Spoilt Modern Indian Woman is more than just a meme, though. It's also a collection of social media campaigns, crowdfunding efforts, and real stories about the misogyny that Indian women face. The meme's latest campaign, #MakeitSafer, supports the NGO Breakthrough India, which works to combat street harassment of schoolgirls.
"We want to end sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy, which is hurting our society," Mittal said. "And we would do this while cracking a joke or two. Did someone say feminists are killjoys who take everything too damn seriously?"