Vasanthan “Vas” Ramakrishnan is a Chicago-based entrepreneur, equal rights advocate and philanthropist from India. He is the founder of Feminist Pen, an international non-profit organization focused on intersectional feminism and equal rights advocacy for women and all minority genders and non-genders. He founded Feminist Pen in July 2020 and has since reached to over 65,000 people in 12 different countries from 5 different continents of the world.
Vas stands with the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ community, BLM movement with strong endorsement to pro-choice for women. Vas strongly believes that gender equality is part of basic human rights and all individuals, not just men and women should fight for it.
Outside the office, he is an avid traveller and explorer. He has travelled to over 14 countries with another 150 countries waiting to be explored. Some of his notable trips around the world are his 2-week Northern Europe vacation in 2019 and his South Asian Summer trip in 2018 and his Himalayan expedition the same year.
In this candid interview, Vasanthan shared his ideas of feminism, gender equality, male privilege and his journey of creating the Feminist Pen.
Vasanthan, can you please share your journey of creating a feminist media platform, ‘Feminist Pen’?
I was a feminist for as long as I can remember. As opposed to the archetypal patriarchal family setup – “household-centric women & work-bound men”, my family was different. My mother was a strong and financially independent woman who at every point in her career made more money than my father and made it a point to raise me a feminist. My early exposure to the ideas of feminism and gender equality pivoted me towards the equality road well before my college years, however, my foundational values really matriculated in my early twenties.
I found myself in the neck of internet wars against misogynist & misandrist men and women. My idea of equality never favoured a particular gender (or non-gender), and I looked at all things as equals. But I noticed that many advocates for men or women rights always favoured a particular gender and end up villainizing the other gender (And they ignore the non-genders!). I have read about men’s rights organizations opposing feminism as well as women rights organizations who readily reject any opinion from men.
I understood that neither organizations considered intersectionality or were inclusive to all genders and non-genders. So, I wanted to create an equality advocacy organization that will understand issues at its core with inclusivity for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender (or non-gender), sexual orientation, religion and/or political affiliation.
In July of 2020, Feminist Pen was born, headquartered in New York, United States as an equality advocacy organization for all people from all genders and non-genders irrespective of their socio-eco-political affiliation. Just over 3 months old, Feminist Pen is now formally registered and recognized by the government of India as a section 8 organization and is now growing into Netherlands, Dubai and UK.
Our organization has since reached over 60,000 people from 12 different countries on 6 different continents.
What are your ideas about feminism? As a male feminist of Indian origin, do you think your life experiences contributed towards creating ‘Feminist Pen’?
My idea of feminism is a gender-free, equality rights movement for everyone and is not restricted to a particular gender group. I strongly believe that inequality is not a gender rights issue but a human rights issue so my organization takes a pledge to fight systemic discrimination and inequality faced by all gender and non-gender population in the world.
We, at Feminist Pen, approach the issue of inequality from multiple facets including but not limited to social barriers, gender bias, economic disparity, racial differences, political affiliation, and constitutional problems existing in the government. So, our team works on a wide array of issues and come with a diverse skillset and expertise.
To be brutally honest, although I was an advocate for feminism for decades, it took me a lot of self-reflection and experience to understand the gender and economic privilege I carried being a male born in an upper-class family. When I began to see the gender privilege me and my father carried which was clearly missing for my mother, I started asking questions to my father and all the men in the family including myself.
Even today, feminism is seen as a radical, men-hating movement and I want to bring together the collective strength to fight against intentional and unintentional misconceptions about feminism and other equality rights movements while not restricting my allegiance to a particular gender group.
In essence, I, through Feminist Pen want to revise and emphasize the core meaning of the term “Feminism” to include equality rights for all genders and non-genders.
What are the social and psychological barriers you had to overcome to emerge as a male feminist?
It was definitely a struggle to build credibility for myself before I could call myself a feminist. I was often seen by misogynistic men as “weak and feminine” and by women feminists as “an appropriating alien”. Feminist Pen definitely helped establish a genuine intent for my cause. I have been since educating the younger generation especially men who are struggling with inequality and gender-based discrimination happening around them so they are able to take action by putting their privilege to use for a good cause.
Psychologically, I still have a fear of rejection in the feminist community because of my gender so I tend to overcompensate by providing excessive accommodation to women and minority genders & non-genders, sometimes disregarding the personality or their otherwise socio-economic status.
I believe that I will constantly learn, self-adapt, correct and improve my actions as I go, for feminism is not a static concept but a dynamic and growing movement that takes a lot of learning and unlearning.
People often perceive feminism as an anti-male movement. What’s your take on that?
Anybody who considers feminism to be misandrist in nature is more than likely unsure or uninformed about the movement. Inexperienced but sometimes patriarchal people are being served by this “misandry” narrative to perpetuate the idea of patriarchy by invalidating or diverting the original intent of the movement. As a result, all feminists are seen as radical, matriarchy-loving guerillas who want to bring men down. Conveniently enough, feminism is somehow shown to be about dominance over one gender while all the movement is about is bringing balance to the already existing power play by a particular gender group.
It is heartbreaking to see this power-flipped sketch being sold to unsuspecting women and other minority genders & non-genders that they start opposing the movement. I have personally met several women who stand against the feminism movement thinking that it is about dominating over the other gender and as a result side with their own oppressors.
I since believe that a person’s gender or identity does not automatically make or eliminate them as a feminist, it is the values that they subscribe to and believe that makes them a feminist.
What would you suggest to men and boys who want to support feminism and gender equality, but are not sure where to start from?
My approach is always solution-oriented: “Be the change you wish to see in this world”
I always want to be the part of the solution to the problems I see around me so I took it upon myself to take in inexperienced young men and boys wanting to get involved in feminism. Feminist Pen is creating a youth development program that aims to educate young people on individual rights and fundamental concepts of equality preparing them to be equality advocating feminists. We believe by educating the youth, we are preparing an entire future generation of young people who will go on to pass the principles forward to their future progeny, if enough people advocate for equality, the world will eventually become more equitable and less power-oriented.
To young men and boys outside of our reach, my advice would be to start from home. There are tons of resources out there for starters wanting to get involved in feminism, many non-profit organizations have taken steps to educate the youth through outreach programs and seminar/online workshops where anybody can learn from the comfort of their couches. Further, follow up by practising the principles at home.
Next time, your mother, father or grandmother is trying to shame your sister for not getting up early enough or not helping with the kitchen chores, stand up for her and better share the kitchen chores with her so they understand that “Women do not belong in the kitchen and men do not get a free pass just because they are men”.
Showing by example is by far the most effective way of making people understand what you mean.