Defining Femininity through the Fearless Collective

By Abby Hilling

In a society that has become infamous for turning a blind eye toward injustices against women, artists across India have rallied to create inspirational and bold artwork that encourages women to embrace their femininity without inhibitions. Known as the Fearless Collective, this organization seeks to “affirm fearless femininity” despite the rigid and antiquated gender roles that pervade much of Indian culture. In fact, the Fearless Collective challenges biased attitudes toward women, and aims to instigate change in order to make India a safe place where women no longer have to live in fear because of the circumstances of their gender.

The Fearless Collective is a vibrant assortment of posters that blend feminism, art, literature, and Indian culture. Each poster represents a unique voice in the struggle for women’s rights: the featured artwork is at once daring yet demure, eccentric while also traditional, and foreign but oddly relatable. The series of collages and illustrations pose a crucial question—what is femininity? How can it be defined and moreover, how can it be cultivated? On their Facebook page, the Fearless Collective states “We need to keep going out at night, taking public transport, wearing what we want, dancing, singing, being beautiful.” It seems that the Fearless Collective urges Indian women to free themselves from the stigma of their gender by proudly embracing the unabashed strength, wisdom, and beauty inherent in each woman.

While activism in the form of the Fearless Collective indicates increased attention to the issue of women’s rights in India, the movement faces considerable challenges. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) investigated sexual violence in Delhi by interviewing approximately 3,000 men and women; conducted in 2012, the survey concluded that ninety percent of women had experienced “at least one form of sexual violence, ranging from verbal and sexual harassment, exhibitionism, unwanted touching or groping to rape.” Over half of the men surveyed admitted to committing “at least one form of sexual violence against women and girls while in public,” and even more alarming was the rationale that lay behind these offenses: “three out of four men felt that ‘women provoke men by the way they dress.’” Amid this climate of impunity, an undercurrent of fear persists, as sixty-three percent of women reported that they were afraid to go out alone after dark, and one in five women reported that they never go out alone at night.1

Fortunately, public outrage and an increased consciousness—both in India and across the globe—have spurred lawmakers into action: in March 2013, India’s parliament passed legislation that further protects women against sexual violence. The measure “criminalizes stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment, imposing the death penalty upon repeat offenders and for rape attacks that lead to the victim’s death.” Furthermore, the law makes it a crime for police officers to “refuse reporting cases when victims file complaints of sexual attacks.” In response to the May 2014 gang rape and lynching of fourteen- and fifteen-year-old cousins in Uttar Pradesh, India’s government vowed that is has “zero tolerance” for violence against women.2 While saddening that legislation protecting women could only be passed after provocation from such appalling tragedies, the increased national cognizance about women’s rights gives hope to causes such as the Fearless Collective, promising that one day women will live uninhibited by fear.

As for now, however, the inequities of normalized sexism still permeate much of Indian society. The Fearless Collective affirms fearless femininity, contending that while many things may constitute femininity, fear does not. As much of the artwork featured in the Fearless Collective proves, women are an essential part of the fabric of society—as our mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, they play a critical role in shaping the lives of nearly every person. When you look at their artwork, find love in the intricacies of their sisterhood; find wisdom in their lessons; and find strength in their resilience. The Fearless Collective prompts everyone to reassess the concept of femininity, while also reminding a society riddled with prejudice that femininity deserves humanity, too.

Have a look at the artwork featured below, and check out more of it on the Fearless Collective’s Facebook page.

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1| Degnan Kambou, Sarah. "Safer Cities: India's Women and Girls Can't Wait." The Huffington Post. The Huffington Po   st, 19 June 2014. Web. 17 July 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-degnan-kambou/safer-cities-indias-wome   n_b_5512714.html>.
2| Xu, Beina. "Governance in India: Women's Rights." Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 1    June 2013. Web. 17 July 2014. <http://www.cfr.org/india/governance-india-womens-rights/p30041>.
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Abby Hilling

The author

Abby Hilling is an English major at the University of Texas at Austin. She feels very uncomfortable speaking about herself in the third person and doesn't really know what else to say. She's from Massachusetts and hopes to write novels someday.

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