The Feministing Five: Preeti Mangala Shekar

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Preeti Mangala Shekar is a transnational activist, feminist and radio-journalist. Born and raised in India, she went on to study journalism and work as a reporter. Through her experiences as a journalist in India, she became politicized, particularly because of what she witnessed there in terms of patriarchy and caste.

In her early 20s, after facing strong marriage pressure, she left for the U.S. to study women and gender studies in San Diego. Nonetheless, as Preeti says, “feminist academics tends to preach to the converted,” thus deciding to continue her career as a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Since 2006, she’s been working in media, doing non-profit activism and organizing around South Asian communities on a range of issues. Media activism is a huge part of her work. As a board member of Media Alliance, a grassroots media advocacy organization, staff of KPFA for the past 6 years, a freelance writer for ColorLines and other news outlets, she believes in transforming media here in the U.S.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Preeti Mangala Shekar.

Anna Sterling: As a global feminist, what are your thoughts on intersectionality?

Preeti Mangala Shekar: Intersectionality is such a boring term, you fall asleep just saying the word! But we live complex lives. We could critique capitalism, but we’re part of the system. That doesn’t mean you don’t change or transform from within. I’m leaning more towards the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house. I try to do that through my work. I like to break down barriers and have difficult conversations. We see this in the Occupy movement. It brings people together across such differences. It’s so important to ask how do we have difficult conversations that would help us work together as allies across these differences?

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

PMS: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and her complications has been haunting. A lot of us in our day-to-day lives are forced to think in narrow, linear ways. Project management, which is a huge thing, is all about how do you focus on one thing and get that done. Thinking and feelings are much more complicated. Her character and the way she was portrayed in the book and film is very beautiful and convoluted. I relate to that because that’s how I am in my thinking and in my life. I constantly have to readjust so people can understand and cope with me.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

PMS: The Troy Davis execution was horrifying. The state we live in today with the internet and news media, everything happens so quickly. You get minute-by-minute buzz. When something good happens, that’s great. But when something terrible happens like Troy Davis’ execution you watch it unfold live. We were all at dinner as his execution was being announced and it was traumatic and painful to see, to witness institutional racism in action. As a woman of color, immigrant and human rights advocate, it was disempowering and sad. I’m angry at how powerless we can be. All these media tools give you an illusion that you have power. The only real thing is organizing in the streets. We talk about online activism and sharing something with 10 of your friends and signing petitions, but it’s just an illusion that you can change things like that. You can’t. It takes a lot of struggle as history tells us.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

PMS: It’s complicated. Recently on my show, I interviewed Rebecca Traister from Salon on the SlutWalk movement. It’s great to see young women on the streets and celebrating. However, sexualizing yourself is not the most empowering thing to do. I think it’s both/and. I feel both hopeful but were also in a state of backlashes as you see in other countries too. Fundamentalisms and the right wing are growing, fundamentalisms that are all about controlling women’s bodies. The kind of galvanizing we saw in the 1970s around women’s rights seems almost nostalgic, but I think there are other ways that feminists are fighting back. And its not just purely women’s rights, we’re integrating into other social justice issues. Everything impacts gender. There’s a lot to be optimistic for, but there’s also a lot to be cautious and scared for which we should be more prepared. We need activism at every level.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

PMS: The drink would be a mojito. My food would be Burmese garlic noodles. Feminist would be Matt Damon.

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