Dr Kaitlyn Mendes, author of “SlutWalk: Feminism, activism and media”

5 November 2018

The #Metoo movement has gained momentum in India and has captured the minds of women across the globe thanks to digital media platforms. Feminist researcher Dr Kaitlynn Mendes, shares with Varsha Pillai, programme manager for policy engagement and communications at Public Affairs Centre, why the feminist discourse needs to be analysed and understood. Author of the book SlutWalk: Feminism, activism and media, Dr Mendes studied the global anti-rape movement and examined the representations of the movement in mainstream news and feminist blogs. She documented the experiences, routines and strategies of organizers behind the movement between 2011 and 2014.

Varsha Pillai: How different is feminist oriented research from regular research? 

Dr Kaitlynn Mendes:  Feminist research is part of an approach which is ‘critical’ in perspective. Like other ‘critical’ research which is interested in affecting change (e.g. seeking gender justice), it takes a different methodological approach, often more interpretivist, less positivist. Some form of change is often an integral part of the research and many (perhaps most!) feminist scholars see their research as part of their activism.

VP: What are the research aspects that feminist-oriented research can add to other real-world research?

KM: It can bring about change. Because it often doesn’t try to pretend to be neutral or subjective, it is interested in achieving gender justice. This is really its radical potential.

VP: Why is real world research largely androcentric, particularly in developing countries such as India? How can this be altered to be more inclusive?

KM:  I would say this likely isn’t just a problem in India, but in most parts of the world. It can be difficult, however, to ‘educate’ or ‘enlighten’ researchers to become more inclusive. This is often a painful process – for those of us who realise we haven’t been as inclusive as we should or could be, and for those whose voices or experiences or perspectives are left out.

VP: What do you think of the recent research work being carried out in the digital feminism domain in India? Any specific aspects that stand out for you and why? Also share if there is any specific research work that you think truly requires some looking into?

KM:  I think there has long been a tradition of really interesting feminist work done on India. There are certainly unique issues within the Indian context (caste vs. class or ‘race’; issues of access and participation; multiple languages). I was really interested in work which examined LGBTQ+ rights, and as always, sexual violence work.

VP: In your recent work you have looked at how social media organised, theorised and publicised contemporary feminist campaigns. Do these observations also hold true for such home-grown campaigns in India as well?

KM:  I think so. It is certainly true that Indian women are turning to and making use of digital technologies to challenge sexual violence, but I think there is also more on the ground work being done which isn’t talked about. I also get a sense there is a lot of ‘craftivism’ and arts-based activism here – more so than in the UK or other western nations.

VP: In your research you have also ventured into “white privilege” that exists vis a vis feminist campaigns. In the Indian context, would caste be an aspect that often gets lost in feminist research?

KM: Yes, from what I understand, there is a need to engage more with how caste can often act as a silent privilege which scholars may not be aware of or really engaging with.

VP: Feminist research methods typically are qualitative in nature, how open and receptive have your participants been as far as sharing their experiences?

KM: Because most of my methods have been snowball sampling (putting out a call and seeing who responds), people have in general been very forthcoming and willing to talk about often traumatic experiences.