“Are you a vegan?”, I asked a friend who is a great believer in leading a sustainable lifestyle.
“I call myself an imperfect vegan”, she replied before going on to explain how she had largely shifted to soymilk, but that she still occasionally consumed dairy products.
It obviously led to a much larger discussion on sustainability. On the carbon footprint of many food items which serve as substitute for dairy products. And on how soybean production may force farmers to shift from food crops to cash crops, and to clear more forest land for production.
It is not just about the crop. There is also the issue of the tetrapacks in which the soymilk is marketed; till they can go for recycling, the addition to landfills would have to be factored in before shifting to the alternative.
Towards the end of the discussion we concluded that perhaps the most effective way to turn vegan is to give up all milk products and milk substitutes, but that is not easy for most.
Therefore, we concluded, it was best to remain ‘imperfect vegans’. People who would like to embrace the vegan lifestyle, but who are not able to turn fully vegan just yet.
Which reminded me of another similar conversation that was initiated on Twitter a couple of weeks back- on how many of were ‘imperfect feminists’, because there are times when we consciously or unconsciously look away when some slightly ambiguous aspects of feminism crop up.
There are also the small and big compromises you make. The rituals you go through to maintain peace at home, even though you do not approve of it as a feminist. The toe ring or the loha-banda you may wear after marriage even though both have their symbolisation in women being treated as the property of her man. Doesn’t all this make you an imperfect feminist?
I held (and continue to hold) the contention that as long as we were committed to the general premise of personal, social, economic and political equity of the sexes, we are worthy of calling ourselves feminists. And as long as we are feminists, we shouldn’t worry too much about whether we were ‘perfect’ or not.
There are times, especially while discussing intersectional feminism, when we are forced to choose between two radically different viewpoints, and which we choose shouldn’t negate the fact that we are feminists.
There are many such examples, but an example that comes to mind is whether or not transfemales should use the washrooms meant for ladies. If they have had or in the process of having sex reversal surgery, certainly. But what if they have not initiated the process yet. Wouldn’t women who menstruate be uncomfortable with having someone who they consider a man using their washrooms? You can argue both ways, and it is this ambiguity which makes it difficult to define which position is more perfectly feminist.
During that same discussion, someone pointed out that ‘evolving feminist’ may be more descriptive than ‘imperfect feminist’. As long as we are open to listening to more viewpoints, and adopting from them what we need to, we are evolving rather than imperfect. That certainly made sense to me, and for a few days, I was tempted to start calling myself an evolving feminist.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that imperfection is not a flaw.
Imperfection is an acknowledgement that we are on the process of getting closer to perfection. It recognizes a journey, and gives due weightage to it.
Perfection, in that sense, is static. Once you decide you are ‘perfect’, you close yourself to exploring further nuance. You hammer your thought process down on others, without making any attempt to listen to theirs. Your way becomes the only way, and any further refinement is closed, because you cannot improve perfection.
Acknowledging imperfection is a sign of a maturity. Of accepting that we are not perfect and might never be perfect, but that at the current moment we are as perfect as we need to be.
Imperfectly perfect. That is what I aspire to be.