Feminism, Atomic Living, and Following Your Bliss

By Lily Khuu for AfterEllen

It’s easy to become an instant fan of Kiran Gandhi, known by her stage name Madame Gandhi.  Many know her as M.I.A.’s former drummer, but she is much more than that.  Gandhi made headlines when she ran the 2015 London Marathon on her period without a tampon. She then presented a TEDx talk on her theory of how to most optimally follow your bliss, called Atomic Living. I was very excited to interview Madame Gandhi for AfterEllen, and get to know a little more about the beautiful soul behind the drums before heading out to see her perform live at Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend in March. After being the drummer for M.I.A. and Thievery Corporation, your 2016 solo album release of “Voices” was a unique display of your abilities as a musical artist.  Your song “The Future is Female” became a feminist household favorite. Lately, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the slogan, “The Future is Female”.  You did a beautiful job at explaining why this phrase is so important to gender equality on your website.  What would you like to say to those who are quick to criticize this statement, going even as far as to calling it “problematic”?

Kiran (Madame) Gandhi: “The future is female” to me is about valuing femininity in all of us, regardless of our gender identity. Gender exists on a spectrum with some mix of feminine and some mix of masculine, forming our unique gender identity and sexual orientation. I believe that, in our society, femininity is still valued less than masculinity — an example being that “don’t be so girly” etc. is still considered an insult — yet in my life so much of what female energy brings to the table has been what has inspired, uplifted and healed me. I believe that female energy seeks collaboration not competitiveness, it is more emotionally intelligent.

I believe that looking to the female archetype for alternative forms of leadership is our only hope to combat the implosive brute force hyper-masculine forms of leadership that our capitalist patriarchy has continued to value. But with 45 in the White House, we are seeing that fail. I want to see what female energy can bring to the table.  There is toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. But we have, in the history of the planet, only seen 19 [female] leaders of countries, presidents, prime ministers. We must see what the feminine can even bring to the table before we tear it down.

And lastly I’ll say that the slogan in the 70’s did originally have trans-misogynist roots, but I believe that it is the responsibility of each generation to adopt a unifying phrase to meet the needs of the time, which is what I do in my work and why I think “the future is female” has been an effective unifying slogan for the fourth wave of feminism we are in. The focal point for me of that fourth wave is loving what is feminine, instead of teaching women to adopt male qualities in order to succeed, as we have seen in the past.

AE:  Thank you for eloquently articulating your thoughts on the phrase so lucidly.  Speaking of fourth wave feminism, the feminist statement you made by free-bleeding during your run in the 2015 London Marathon is extremely impressive and inspiring.  What type of progress have you see happen with the campaign against the tampon tax since your decision went viral?

MG: Google showed that the words “period” and “menstruation” were used and searched for 25 times more times in the year to follow 2015, indicating that we have been deeply effective in breaking the silence around menstrual health. This has always been my personal focus, combatting stigma. It’s why you’ll see the phrase “own your voice” throughout lyrics and messaging of my work. I believe that once we destigmatize periods, we are able to then look at combatting unjust taxing, innovate better solutions to menstrual care, affordable access and improved education around menstrual health.

In the past 2.5 years since the marathon story went viral, I have seen more women entrepreneurs emerge who are innovating affordable menstrual care solutions like underwear, cups, organic cotton tampons and tracking apps. In India, I spent two weeks touring and visited Aakar Innovations, who now have been able to receive funding for their compostable, earth safe, female-made pads because this conversation is more culturally relevant. Newsweek put it on the cover – the Times, the Post, BBC, the economist, all the major publications have covered this topic extensively. School education is improving, keeping the male-identifying students in the room during the talk. Trans inclusivity has improved, citing that not all people who bleed identify as women and that not all women bleed. There are conferences founded around menstruation. More funding dollars are going to on the ground orgs in the most vulnerable parts of the world like Africa and the Indian Subcontinent now that people understand the deep importance of this issue. These are some of the examples of impact.
AE:  As an accomplished 28-year-old musician, activist, and analyst you really are the perfect role model for little girls who strive to be strong and multi-talented. What advice do you want to give to these young women?

MG:  My advice is to be brave enough to spend time alone, investing in yourself and your skill sets. And alone can also mean with a coach, teacher or mentor. I spend a lot of time alone improving my production skills, writing lyrics, reading feminist books on topics I want to learn more about like, studying the intersection of math and music and melody/frequencies, surfing, running (next marathon is in a month!), etc. when we spend too much time socializing and with our friend groups I think it makes it difficult to keep changing and improving yourself, and therefore we end up stifling our own growth and ability to contribute value to the world.

AE:  Your theory of Atomic Living states that we should prioritize engaging in unexpected moments over planned responsibilities when the situation aligns with our core meaningful focuses.  Am I understanding this correctly?  What would you say is a way to gauge when it is NOT an appropriate moment to give into a more spontaneous, pleasurable, choice rather than a mundane obligation?

MG: Atomic Living is about knowing your core values and therefore using spontaneity productively to nourish those values.  An example of when not to live atomically is if it has the potential to cause harm to someone else.  Mundane is not exactly it… Sometimes practicing a tough piece of music can feel mundane but that’s definitely what you should be doing because that will nourish you over going to a whack party someone might have just tried to pressure you into attending that isn’t good for you.

We have to follow our intuition and return to our roots. Often times we feel obligated to others, but operating out of guilt or fear isn’t good for anyone. We must honor our own gifts and ability to contribute to the world, and keep saying yes to each organic opportunity in the moment that can only nourish those gifts. This is Atomic Living.

AE: What can we expect from you next and is there anything else you would like to tell our AfterEllen readers?

MG:  I am working on my next album!!!  So stoked about that!!  Next couple of months are dedicated to finishing up the record. So that’s feeling really good. And for AfterEllen readers, my number one piece of advice is to quiet out the noise, look inward for the answer and pursue what nourishes you.

You can catch Madame Gandhi live next month at Club Skirt’s Dinah Shore Weekend! The star is slated to perform at the Dinah’s 50 Shades of Pink party on Friday March 30th.

This year, the world’s largest and longest-running lesbian party is amping up their message of female empowerment, promising The Dinah 2018 to be the best one yet in their 28-year history. Madame Gandhi embodies The Dinah’s message, as a champion of sisterhood and female empowerment. She previously commented, “I want music to make feminism culturally relevant. I want my music to make gender equality culturally even more relevant.” 

Seeing Madame Gandhi perform live is an experience you don’t want to miss, and is the embodiment of Atomic Living.