Setting Your Pussy Free And Drumming To A New Beat - Interview With Madame Gandhi
The gender-specific struggles that we face today have largely manifested as a result of the way that we have been conditioned by society to conform to certain roles, which influence our masculinity and femininity. The whole concept of gender in itself is now largely considered to be a social construct but is being dismantled daily by a new wave of feminist and transgender thinking that is redefining what it means to be a male or a female. Some of the struggles we are still facing today as men and women are the result of a long history of prejudicial patriarchy, which has mostly been in favor of men’s progress over women’s. Thanks to different generations of civil rights activism by women such as the Suffragettes and the LGBTIQ movement, things are much better today than they were in the past. One of the struggles that is specific to women and is still a prevalent stigma today is menstruation. In an attempt to demystify the taboo of menstruation Canadian Indian poet Rupi Kaur recently ran a photo campaign on Instagram challenging people to rethink their views on menstruation being something shameful. In her best-selling book "Milk & Honey" Kaur famously addresses the issue by stating:
“apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real
it is okay to sell what's
between a woman's legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings
the recreational use of
this body is seen as
its nature is
seen as ugly”
The controversy has since led to a change in narrative and such a drastic shift in perception towards the stigma that women are now starting to use it as a form of empowerment to express their femininity. The basis of feminine sexual energy is now considered to be directly linked to a woman’s monthly period. Menstruation is no longer being seen as an unpleasant experience, but rather as a celebration of it being a life source. Another creative activist who has taken this issue a step further in changing the way we view it is Kiran Gandhi, A.K.A Madame Gandhi.
Madame Gandhi is a music artist/feminist/activist and all round amazing human being. She is an American of Indian descent and grew up between New York and Bombay. In addition to being amazingly talented, she is also ridiculously smart and has a degree from Georgetown in maths, political science, and women’s studies, as well as an MBA from Harvard. As an artist, she has served as a drummer for M.I.A and performed at festivals such as SXSW and Bonnaroo. She is particularly famous for running the London Marathon freely bleeding during her monthly period. She ran the marathon to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Care charity and decided to do so on her period to campaign for poor women across the world who don’t have access to sanitary pads or tampons.
- What would you say are the most significant frustrations unique to women that go unnoticed or are hardly ever unacknowledged and need to be urgently addressed.
This is a great question and I appreciate your empathy as a man to want to ask and understand that walk of life. I think for me, I guess I would answer that question in two ways:
I think one is that we are consistently underestimated and when that happens it often prevents us from even feeling motivated to reach our fullest potential. You know, if I sit at the drums and I am not that good but someone is already so amazed that I could even be a drummer it kind of stifles my own growth because I’m like, oh well, I know I can impress this person just by holding a pair of sticks in my hand as opposed to being the best version of myself. Or when people say "oh that she's a really great female drummer" or "she's the best female drummer I've ever seen", you know, I think that is already problematic because we want to be considered in our own right as a human and not just against the category of women. When we talk about men we’ll say he's the best drummer and we won't say he's the best male drummer. So, I think I would love to see our culture stop continually underestimating women and allowing us to reach our fullest potential by pushing us to be better.
I think the second thing is that we are continuously valued for our looks and for our sexuality and so much so that oftentimes it's difficult for us to even enjoy our sexuality and take ownership of it. I think that my brand of feminism is very sex-positive. I want women to know how to access pleasure points. I want men and women's partners regardless of their gender to be so educated on female sexuality such that they know how to give and receive pleasure that it's not so pornographic, that it's not so centered around the male orgasm. I still think the way we understand intercourse and sex today is around the male erection and ejaculation. And I think that's so problematic. I think women's bodies are so beautiful and should be loved and treated tenderly and beautifully and … we should think about pleasure as something that is joyful, that giving pleasure is often even more exciting than receiving pleasure and that it can bring two partners or whomever you know you're sleeping with together in a way that that's not possible otherwise with just this kind of pornification of sex and how we understand it. So I guess that's how I'd answer your two questions.
I would love to see society stop underestimating us and I would love to see society start enabling us to enjoy and value our own sexuality.
- How would you describe the contemporary feminist movement in your own words to help people who don’t understand what the big fuss is all about?
My brand of feminism is about elevating and celebrating the female voice and about valuing femininity. We still live in a world where “Don't be so girly” is still an insult. We live in a world where we say “Man up” as something that is valuable. I want to live in a world where femininity on the spectrum is as desirable as masculinity. And when we don't want to be fem, when we don't love what is fem, when we don't think that women bring something valuable to the table, that's called misogyny. It's the deep hatred and dislike of what is female and each of us have a mix of masculine and feminine energy. Homophobia and transphobia and sexism comes from our desire as a society to hate on what is female. But if we love femininity just as much as we love masculinity then men wouldn't feel the need to hyper masculinize themselves and be less authentic. We wouldn't have homophobia, we wouldn't have gay slurs, we wouldn't have women feeling the need to masculinize in order to be taken seriously. We would actually have men looking to the female archetype for alternative sources of leadership. You know, right now in my country we elected Trump to the White House, who is so far on the male spectrum of things that it's destructive. I want to live in a world where we say "Wow what can our male leaders learn from women such that they don't lead with their ego, they don't lead with competition, they don't lead with the need to dominate somebody else at the expense often of our own country".
What if instead, we thought about how to be better peace builders, how to be collaborative, how to be emotionally intelligent, how to dial into the needs of the moment. I'll watch female leaders take a moment with their team and notice if someone is falling behind or needs a different kind of motivation. Oftentimes in our society because we value male leadership we’ll be critical of her style to value and encourage members of the team like “Oh your wasting time” or “Just let that person go”. But what if instead, we took this idea of investing in people's emotional states as something that is what we should all be aspiring to as opposed to something worth criticizing. So, the short of it is that my brand of feminism is about elevating and celebrating the female voice and about valuing femininity and until we're able to value femininity just as much as we value masculinity our work will not be done.
- Your take on the controversy about women hating to be objectified vs women who openly express their sexuality on social media in a very risqué, sensual and provocative manner?
So, I as I mentioned earlier, I really believe in sex positivity. I think we should we as women and men and anyone of any gender, should be able to fuck who we want to fuck, to be with who we want to be with, to not fuck when we don't want to fuck, to be completely authentic about our state of being, and sex is used to control us and it's used against us as opposed to us being able to enjoy our sexuality and know our own anatomy and our own pleasure points. And women are not taught from a young age how to ask for what they want, how to assert themselves, how to pleasure themselves, how to understand how their own anatomy works, how to ask their partners for what it is that they want. Instead, with the pornification of media and of television women are just taught how to please men instead of vice versa, and that's where the communication breakdown is and where the power breakdown is and I think that's a tragedy.
So, when we think about women on social media posting sexual images of themselves there's two things to think about. One is that, we have long socialized women to believe that their value comes from their looks, so it's no wonder that so many of us do no matter what even if we know better to feel the need to seek validation through our looks, and it's a tragedy. We shouldn't have to do that, but I do think it's difficult to live outside of the brainwashing of society. If you're constantly reaffirmed and given thumbs up and likes and loves for looking beautiful you're going to keep doing that, so I'll never hate another woman for seeking validation and love through her beauty when that's all that society is telling us at every moment that we have to do.
And the other thing I'll say is that there is another aspect where we as humans want to be attractive, [whether] male, female or any gender in between. And I think that's a good thing. I think we are sexually reproductive beings, but our DNA tells us to look beautiful, to be fit, to eat right so that we can attract a partner and reproduce. It's very normal and so posting beautiful images of ourselves no matter who we are is something that I think is normal [for the] human species and should be celebrated.
It's just problematic when we tell one gender, the female gender that they’re only valued for their looks…So, we don't value women for the things, the many things they bring to the table. We tell women we only care whether you're hot or not. That's when the problems start to happen. So, I'm never going to hate another woman for posting beautiful photos of herself when society socializes us to do that. But I do want to live in a world where we can be valued not only for our looks, but also for our skill sets.
- Is there a line between women expressing their nudity as a form of empowerment vs outright self-degradation or are we just living in a hyper self-expressive society where anything goes and everybody just needs to mind their own business if they aren’t being directly affected?
So that's a great question and I think I sort of answered that in the question before. Here's the thing even though I want to be able to walk down the street topless, you know, with my breasts free because that would give me a lot of joy to feel the rays of the sun on a hot day on my body and to enjoy my own youthful beautiful nakedness, the truth is we do live in a society that has already corrupted the female body and has already created a dynamic where if someone looks at me that image is sexualized and I can't enjoy my own anatomy unto itself. It's already been removed and stripped from me as something that is for the male gaze that if I show my breasts it's because I'm seeking a certain kind of attention and that, that really even just saying it now, it makes me so upset. I find that to be a tragedy. It's so unfair that men can run down the street when it's a hot day and they want to exercise with no shirt on, and if I look at them [and] I think they're beautiful and sexy it's on me to avert my eyes and not to oppress him. But the reverse is not true if I run down the street because it's 90 degrees outside and I want to feel free in my own body and feel the rays of the sun on my body. If a man looks at me and does something that makes me feel uncomfortable it's automatically my fault as opposed to us teaching the men please look away and mind your own business. And so because that dynamic exists, it's true, I can't just run freely and pretend like there's nothing wrong with that when we've already created a problem. The way I try to solve that problem is by allowing my beauty and my looks to shine through when I'm really happy and joyful and allowing my beauty to shine through when I'm doing good work, when I'm eating right, when I'm meditative, when I'm vegan, when I'm running as opposed to my beauty shining through in a preconstructed over sexualized male point of view that has already tainted our society.
And honestly, I think it's a bit of a tragedy Thomas. I think it's a tragedy because there are so many times where I’ll perform and I'm sweating on the stage and I know that if I take off my jacket and I'm just in like a sports bra or I'm in a tank top and my cleavage is showing, I'm already signaling something different to the audience about consuming me as a sexual artist as opposed to just the fact that I'm really good at playing the drums and I get really hot playing and I want to be able to feel free and comfortable on my own stage, but because they've ruined it for us and the female body is so over-sexualized I can't just be free in my own skin. I have to be doubly thoughtful about the message I'm sending. So these issues are complicated.
It's unfortunate that we live in a world where women's bodies have been [so] removed from us that they are already oversexualized before we even do anything. And I think we have to move towards a place where we show our sexuality in a way that's convenient to us when we want to attract certain people or certain partners who we love and it's also on society to start valuing women for the skillsets that they bring to the table and not just for their sexuality.
- What can guys specifically do better to help lighten the burden of some of the stigmas that the modern woman carries?
It's a great question. You know, if I was sick tomorrow and I sneezed, I would imagine if I had a male partner … he would probably be like “hey babe can I get you a tissue? Like do you have a fever or do you have a cold, do you want me run down the store for you?” I think the same thing should be true for women on their periods, you know if a girl has a fever that day or she has really bad cramps or she knows that if she eats like really clean vegan food the week before that it helps her. Like these are the kind of things that males and men and their partners should be dialed into, you know. If you've been dating for a couple of years I want to be in a world where instead of the guy thinking about himself and saying like “Ugh you know I have to like put up with my girlfriend being on her period” why don't you instead play a supportive role and be like “Oh that's my baby, like I'm going to take care of her. I'm going to make sure that she has whatever food she needs or whatever medicine she needs or I'm going to give her a ride to work that day so she doesn't take the subway.” or stuff like that. You know that's true equality in partnership, where we each support each other and love each other.
So I think that's one. The second is for men to not make women's bodies about themselves and instead of saying "How can I get pleasure tonight?" you should ask "How can I give pleasure tonight?". I think the female form in all of its beauty is so underappreciated and underestimated. Having sex that is slow, thoughtful and delicious and dialed in like sensitive to the needs of the moment. Reading each other's bodies. That's really where we start to make a change. And I just think that women are so used to having this very pornographic sex because that's what men are first exposed to before they even sleep with real women that the whole thing is just a mess. I think that men should be thinking “How can I read my partner better. How can I know what turns her on? How can I ask, how can I not give terrible head?”. If she says she doesn't like oral sex she probably loves it just means that you're bad at it and you have to learn how to be better. I'm telling you there's so much work that has to be done. I think that I'm most interested in men being better sexual partners, men being more sensitive to the female body and to her needs, men not making jokes at her expense and men not quieting her voice in order to elevate his own, men off deriving their own power and self-worth by acts by oppressing other women and instead just deriving men's self-worth by how much value they're contributing to society and those in their immediate circle. And I think that's when we start to live in a world as I always espoused [in] my music that is collaborative and emotionally intelligent.
- Was your free bleeding marathon run as radical as your activism is going to get or do you intend to push the boundaries further until the issue starts getting the attention it deserves?
What a great question. I believe that I shifted into making music because I wanted my radicalness to be in my music and so I can only imagine that my music videos and as budget and the project grows that we’ll be able to do even more radical works [and] that I can embody the very things that I'm telling you on this voice note.
- Are there any contemporary activists who you look up to or feel like are doing things in a right way that is truly bringing about change?
I mean, always MIA. Definitely Rihanna. I think Beyoncé. I think that it's just so extraordinary to see these women who kind of played the industry game in the beginning of beauty and sexualization in pop and now using the platform they built and reclaiming it to comment on oppressive norms to be vulnerable about men cheating on them, to make their own clothing, to celebrate their own femininity, to comment on all the injustice of the world. I think that really makes me feel happy when brands and platforms and artists use their influence for a good.
- Your top 5 songs that best capture the spirit of feminism and women’s empowerment?
I would love if in the article you could just link to the weekly Spotify playlist that I put out every Wednesday called ‘The future is female’. It's right on my artist page. You know we update it with 30 songs every single week based on either new artist who I've seen or come across or performed with or people writing me. And I think that's sort of how I understand the soundtrack to the modern feminist movement as by the various artists I'm putting on that list.
Thank you again!
This is super super cool. I thought we were going to talk about veganism, but it's pretty dope that we didn't. And let me know if we can get you anything else.
Lots of love bye.