FEMINIST CONVERSATIONS: London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Indian Author Twinkle Khanna & Director Mike Mills

We can never get enough conversations about feminism, especially at a time when there is still so much backlash toward the movement and plenty of myth and misinformation being spread to discredit the work of feminist. Our Feminist Conversations series was started as a way to share a broad range of definitions and lived experiences from notable public figures. In this edition, we are sharing thoughts from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Indian author Twinkle Khanna, and ’20th Century Women’ Hollywood director Mike Mills.

In an interview with NY Mag at a screening of his film Mike says he hadn’t originally intended for the film to have such a big feminist stance, but in light of the Trump presidency, it seemed altogether fitting.

“The feminism in the film comes from being a son, a little brother, and wanting to talk about the women I love in my life. But now I do feel like that thing of normalizing such a radical kind of violent disrespect for women, by the president, just seems like a state of siege that everyone has to fight against, heterosexual, cisgender men included,” he said.

He believes it is imperative that all people speak out against the hate that has arisen throughout the presidential campaign.

“I think that any ally to women has to call out misogyny when it’s happening. Let’s not let it get normalized,” he said.

The specific feminist themes of a woman struggling to balance her ambition with social customs of the time come from seeing the struggles of his own mother, which in turn helped him understand feminism.

“One thing that I did see, especially from my mom, was the struggles that she went through. She wanted to be a contractor, she wanted to be a pilot, she wanted to be an architect, all these things that women aren’t supposed to be. Just getting loans from the bank was so hard for her, she has to get my dad to co-sign even though she was the one that made all the money in our family,” he said.

“Watching her fight for her whole life just to be who she wanted to be, who her spirit wanted to be. I kind of felt like I had a front-row seat to that the whole time. I was like her pal through that. So I kind of learned about fighting,” he added.

The importance of allies, especially in a world where the focus on intersectional issues are fundamental to the growth of feminism, cannot be understated. Sadly, we still have to battle myth and negative narratives that seek to divert attention away from the import work that feminism is doing.

Indian actress and author Twinkle Khanna had some strong thoughts about feminism when asked about her latest book, ‘The Legend of Laksmi Prasad’. Appearing at the Times LitFest, she talked about being interviewed by the media about her feminist stance and themes throughout her book, as if it was such a scandalous thing.

“Many journalists, who have read the book, came and asked me hesitantly ‘Are you a feminist?’ They were behaving as if the question was ‘Are you a Justin Bieber fan?’ Feminism means wanting equal opportunities and those who say they are not and they don’t believe in feminism, are idiots,” she said, not mincing her words, which will no doubt anger some.

“Women are trying very hard to find a place in the world which should be theirs anyway but man had locked them in a cage and they are now trying to get out. We grow up and we need to conform to the society, to fit in,” she added, talking about the social pressures she and other women in India have faced.

She told the Times of India how her book deals with specific social issues in India that have been effective at keeping women marginalized for something which should be seen as a completely normal body function: periods.

“In my latest book, there’s a male character who goes on to make cheap sanitary pads and a machine for manufacturing them. We treat things as very sacred or attach lots of myths to it, which put women at a disadvantage. There is a temple near my house which bears a board, ‘Menstruating women not allowed’. I mean, these are bodily functions. Such thoughts need to be dispelled. People feel feminists are aggressive, men-hating women with a little mustache. I think it’s got a bad reputation because when feminism came into being, we were facing so much opposition that we had to be strident and aggressive. It’s not the case anymore. Today, it’s about gender equality, not neutrality. Anyone who doesn’t agree would be a bit of an idiot,” she said.

The media in India has been picking up on the click-bait-y phrase of calling people who don’t believe in feminism “idiots”, but her point about understanding the nuance of the movement and how we need to stop branding feminists as bra-burning, angry women is important. It should be noted that there is indeed a time and place for angry and passionate feminism that has in the past led to major reforms such as reproductive healthcare access and the right to vote.

And speaking of voting, having feminist leaders at all levels of government around the world is necessary. It is not just the burden of women to ensure rights are protected, we need men to recognize how the full participation of everyone in society is going to benefit everyone.

One particular leader who understands this well is London Mayor Sadiq Khan. A barrier-breaker on a number of levels who was elected in the year of Brexit, Sadiq is an unapologetic feminist who is not interested in just paying lip service when it comes to feminism – he is implementing his values in his cabinet. In an interview with Elle UK for their 4th annual feminism issue, he spoke about the value of women in government, representing minority issues, and how to ensure girls have the same advantages and opportunities in life as boys.

“I’ve always been someone against discrimination in all forms, be it gender, age or race. But, when you become a dad, you recognize the fact your child is a girl means her ability to fulfill her potential is limited by her gender. I’ve always been a feminist but this was turbo-charged when I had a daughter. I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by strong women. Femininity also means you’ve got to be comfortable with who you are,” he said.

“London is the greatest city in the world: we’re a progressive city, we’re one of the richest cities and there’s no other city where I’d raise my daughters. But, if you are born a girl, your life chances and your ability to fulfill your potential are less than if you were born a boy. And, that’s in one of the most progressive cities in the world. That can’t be right,” he added.

Admitting he was inspired by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who claimed “because it’s 2015” as the reason for making half his cabinet women, Sadiq has made more than half his deputy mayors women (transport, policing, fire and environment) and ensured 60% of the TFL board are women because he wants to adequately address the issue of women being harassed on public transportation. But he didn’t stop there.

“We announced our new business advisory board – which advises me on business policies – and 10 out of 16 people on the board are women. But, they’re not appointed by virtue of their gender, but because they’re brilliant. If it’s the case you can’t find talented women to find jobs, it’s because you’re mixing with the wrong people. Talented women are there,” he said emphasizing the need to broaden the scope of looking for leadership and talent.

With the election of Donald Trump as US president, the result of the Brexit vote, and the far-right uprising across the US, Sadiq believes now is an important time to be an activist and unapologetic feminist in order to ensure people’s rights are not eroded away by hateful rhetoric and regressive policies.

“Yes, it will bring with it challenges but don’t let yourself get depressed. I’m not depressed about it. There are too many feisty, intelligent, savvy feminists, men and women in America, to allow some of the things he’s said and his behaviors to raise questions and allow it to depress us,” he said.

“Of course there are challenges but there are a number of things you can be – you can be cynical, full of apathy, laissez-faire or you can be an activist. I’ve always been an activist since I’ve been young, whether it’s human rights, politics, feminism. I’ll never change,” he added.

He shared a quote from his maiden speech which his father would often share from him, which is an Islamic quote underscoring why his feminism also comes from a spiritual place.

“‘If you see something wrong, you should change it. If you can’t change it, you should at least voice the fact there is an injustice’,” he said.

We are thankful for the many voices and leaders continuing to speak about the importance of feminism in the world today. We pledge to continue using our platform to share these messages.

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