Archu From The Archive, General

Perspective on Feminism

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Aren’t we hearing a lot of feminist voices recently, especially in light of the recent rapes? Last weekend alone, I happened to read a couple of Facebook statuses, blogs and watched a talk show on feminism when I browsed aimlessly or switched channels on my television. Some of the points discussed were absurd making feminism sound like a rude, revolutionary and conflict causing concept but some did make a lot of sense, hitting me bang on my head with the realization that I have been unconsciously preaching feminism myself through my blog and being and I am definitely proud of it. Proud not because I proclaim myself as an activist but because I’ve got the understanding of the concept right with my own life experiences.

I never had any inking about feminism during my school and college years. Mainly because my growing environment as far as gender differences are concerned was comfortable and there was no need for me to break my head upon it. My brother and I got the same sweets and scolding and I went to an all-girls school. First few years of college was okay too as I was misled by movies and preoccupied with the teenage fantasies that feminism couldn’t have been even the last thought in my mind. So, yesterday, when a lady on the talk show spoke that we never bother about feminism until we face a situation where we are treated differently because of our gender, I knew what she was talking about. As I grew from a girl to a woman, such situations presented itself one by one making me resentful at the beginning and a rebel later on. Today I stand with self-realization and that is what I am truly proud of.

I accept that feminism has opened a lot of doors for women, education and equality for instance, and I don’t know how it was all achieved. I was too young when it all happened. Women are there in every field that sometimes I myself have wondered what the fuss on feminism is all about. Now though, I know what it is. Let me bring out the subtle differences drawn from experience.

During college, I participated in paper presentations, symposiums, magazine release and other department activities like many of my male classmates that one of my friends approached me to stand for the department presidential elections. I was so nursing my other losses then that he had to try real hard to convince me until I finally agreed. On a fine day, a few guys stepped up on the dais with the nominees list, all male names of course and I wasn’t even aware that mine was dropped out. I was furious. Not because my name was dropped out but because nobody even bothered or cared about my feelings to inform me about it, especially after taking all the trouble to convince me in the first place. Furiosity triggered curiosity which led to the discovery that I was ruled out not because I was ineligible or not deserved to but because the egos of the guys hurt to consider a girl for a president and who decided that? Guys themselves. As girls who occupied half of the class’ strength, we had the right to vote and pick our president but not the right to be consulted or nominated for it. Even though it may seem very insignificant today, that was my first encounter with inequality.

I moved on and life happened according to its own design until I reached the next junction called marriage. My husband and I have been friends and lovers for a long time before we joined hands in matrimony. We understood, loved and respected each other that as long as it was just us, we were equal and happy. When it came to marriage, there came a baggage of differences and preferences thrust upon us by families and friends. Some simple and yet spotting examples again.

We all know that Indian weddings are eventful and energy draining. In spite of my tired to the bone state, the very next day of my wedding, I was expected to rise and shine early while my hubby could sleep on. I mean, if rising early is a good virtue, we both should be asked to follow it or if our tiredness was acknowledged, both should be allowed to sleep on. Why only me? And waking up early after just a few hours of sleep, I was ravenous with hunger. But then, I was asked to wait to have breakfast until my hubby woke up and had his which was hours later by when I almost felt faint. I was constantly under the surveillance of the hawking eyes of relatives whom I had never met before but who were by default granted the permission to assess whether I followed bride rules defined by the society correctly and hence judge my worthiness as a good wife. I mean, one day, my hubby and I were both free and fun-loving friends and from the day after, I was demanded a drastic role transformation. Women today have the right to choose their life-partners but once chosen, they are still expected to adhere to the code of conduct set by the society even if neither the husband nor the wife are in agreement with it.

Another year went by and our son came into our life. Both my hubby and I were ecstatic and love him with all our heart. With no support from either of our families in handling a colic new-born, we shared sleepless nights and diapering responsibilities. When an occasional visiting friend or neighbour sees my husband giving the bottle to my son or change his diaper, they applaud him for his daddy duties but when I do the same while in parallel cope with my C-section recovery, port-partum depression or initial breastfeeding challenges, there is hardly any acknowledgement. Simply because those things are expected of me, of a mother, of a woman anyways. It is like two students doing well in the exam and getting the same scores while the teacher appreciates his or her favourite student alone. The point I am trying to make is not for glorifying motherhood but to treat fatherhood as a natural role too.

The examples that I’ve quoted are just grains from a pot full of boiling rice. Subtle differences but differences nevertheless. In spite of all the understanding between my hubby and me, outside the sanctuary of our home with our own set rules, it irks to let the jerks of the patriarchal society judge or question the sanctity of our marriage or family. And if someone like me who enjoys a happy home has things to quote here and there, I can only imagine how difficult it would be for women whose basic feelings are ignored, neglected or taken for granted. Hey, I do know that there are women out there who misinterpret feminism as their right to control men just like there are men who use ‘culture’ to continue their chauvinism. Allow me to exclude the exceptions in this post and talk to the rest.

I still love to cook and dress to please my husband. That is because I love to see that smile on the face of the man I love and not because someone has defined that as a wife’s duty. He likes to give me a head massage at the end of a tough day because he likes to see the woman he loves relax, even if someone mocks him for doting his wife. We wait for each other at mealtimes to have a meal together and when one of us is hungry while the other is busy, we still go ahead and eat. These are intimacies that we share because we want to, for ourselves and not for some cultural policemen/policewomen who had set different standards of living for men and women. Feminism is not about threatening these intimacies. It is about letting us be and deciding for ourselves what feels intimate to us without a pre-set list of dos and don’ts.

A couple of days back, an old friend congratulated me on a controversial blog post that I wrote, saying that I am lucky to have a husband who has given me the freedom to write one such. I am of course lucky to have the husband I do for his honest and natural expression of love and care and not for the freedom he gives. With all due respect, my freedom is mine and not his to give. Everybody’s freedom is their own natural right and not for anyone else to give or take. I think that is or should be the point that feminism today should be addressing. The educational, economic and political sectors are vastly covered. It is the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, in-laws, husbands and wives who should be talked to for families are the places where society begins. Let feminism help lay the foundation for families to build a bias-less society. A society where our daughters don’t crib for the same reasons that we do today.

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14 thoughts on “Perspective on Feminism

  1. Hi Archana..
    Im glad u took in all the essentials for the right sense of feminism. My sentiments exactly wen i saw the show in vijay tv. And we should be eternally grateful for the “dominant” feminists of the past, who have led us to this era.
    Take care..

  2. Great post Archu, for its content. Shocked at the college president story! And, yes, freedom is not something that is given. I find it harder to recall instances of being treated differently because of my gender, girls’s school, a sister at home, no husband yet and a pretty much gender blind managers/ superiors and colleagues, so I think gender hasn’t just been stopping me from doing what I want to do (other than you know the constant girls should be married by 25), but you what stops me :p conservatism steeped in the people even closest to me and my own attitude of being a push-over, not speaking up for myself. you just know who I am, don’t you? 😉

  3. Well said achu even i saw the debate it was enlightning in many ways. Came to know abt a lot of important things which i would usually neglect to consider.

    with all due respect to the topic i am asking a question out of it.

    how do u remember all these incidence in life even after such a long time, it is almost 8 to 9 yrs long story abt ur college days.

  4. Loved loved loved this post Archana.. a journey many of us go through but not many can articulate so well. And so insightful to realize that feminism doesn’t seem significant until it comes to a stage when it affects our lives :).

  5. Hi Archu,
    A very thoughtful post. Its every time a pleasure to read your blogs. I second your thoughts and I am quite happy things are getting better day by day I am hoping the future generations will able to see things the way they are free of all these tainted past and treat people for what they and not who they are. I am sure Himadri will turn out to be a very wise girl 🙂

  6. Vijay Venktesh: Thank you darling! Thats why I married you 🙂

    @Pranitha J: I don’t think ‘dominant’ is the right word here. That makes the whole concept seem anti-men. No, thats not what feminism about. Lets just thank our ‘active’ feminists of the past to have led us to this era.

    @Anon: Oh yes, I recogzied who you are from the word ‘go’. You do know what is hindering your dreams and its sad you are not using that knowledge to overcome it. I guess that is why you need to embrace feminism as well.

    @Arun Kumar: Thank you! Like I had mentioned in my FB comment, in a way feminism is as much for men as it is for women because our society does categorize things as manly and unmanly, making natural expression of love and feelings difficult for good-hearted men too. We all need a balance and lets hope our future and progress paves way for that too. And about remembering things, I don’t know, I’ve asked this question to myself many times. I might not remember my childhool lessons but every incident or experience of my life that affected me in some way and at some point somehow stays in my memory forever. Both a blessing and a curse I suppose.

    @Aparna: Thanks for the compliments! All these posts and preachings towards feminism is just so that our children are never brought to that stage where it affects them.

    @Santosh: Thank you! I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged but now I want to and I will.

    @Ramya: Thanks! You’ve given a beautiful summary of this post and thats exactly the point. Whether Himadri grows up to be a wise girl or not, I do want to raise her as a kind yet bold and strong yet stable girl. Best of luck to me 🙂

  7. Archana, it was pleasant to read such a nice blog post. I hope things change eventually if right seeds are sown today.

    I personally feel sick with outlook of senior citizens towards feminism, young women, in particular. To cite few examples : i)preventing daughter-in-law from discharging duties towards her parents even when the latter are recuperating from any accidents or serious ailments, by justifying that she belongs to another family and it is only the duty of her brother. ii)beleiving that daughter has no right or claim over ancesstral property as they are ‘handed over’ with bridal jewels iii)expecting daughter-in-laws to be in house within ‘sunset’ even when next day happens to be a holiday for children iv)generally speaking parents while seeking alliance for sons prefering only girls who are shorter(in height) than their son.

    sorry for the long comments and thanks for such a good post.

  8. Very well said Archana and hats off to you for bringing this out. Though lot of us have experienced similar instances during our past and continue to face the same very few take a revoluntionary attempt in highlighting this. And thanks to all d grt souls who have made an impact and have created a better society and you are def one among them….

  9. CLAP ! CLAP ! Good one. Remembering bharathiyar lines here
    ஆணும் பெண்ணும் நிகரெனக் கொள்வதால்
    அறிவில் ஓங்கி இவ் வையந் தழைக்குமாம்
    பூணு நல்லறத் தோடிங்கு பெண்ணுருப்
    போந்து நிற்பது தாய் சிவ சக்தியாம்
    நாணு மச்சமும் நாய்கட்கு வேண்டுமாம்
    ஞான நல்லறம் வீர சுதந்திரம்
    பேணு நற்குடிப் பெண்ணின் குணங்களாம்
    பெண்மைத் தெய்வத்தின் பேச்சுக்கள் கேட்டீரோ!

  10. @Arul Murugan: You have quoted some right additions to my post. As of today, this list is still not exhaustive and not just by senior citizens alone. Like you’ve said, let us as individuals sow seeds now for a better tomorrow.

    @Roseline: Thank you! I am just one tiny paper tiger using my blog to voice my views. Not sure how much impact it will have in the larger picture. Nevertheless, I get the satisfaction of having done my part, even if it is as miniscule as a blog post. Thanks again for recognizing that.

    @Shiva Subramaniam: சுப்ரமணிய பாரதியாரின் வரிகளை நினைவு கூறும் சிவா சுப்ரமணியத்திற்கு எனது நன்றி கலந்த வணக்கங்கள்!

    “நிமிர்ந்த நன்னடை நேர்கொண்ட பார்வையும்,
    நிலத்தில் யார்க்கும் அஞ்சாத நெறிகளும்,
    திமிர்ந்த ஞானச் செருக்கும் இருப்பதால்
    செம்மை மாதர் திறம்புவ தில்லையாம்;”

    பாரதியின் இந்த கனவை முழுதாய் இல்லாவிட்டாலும் முடிந்த வரையில் மெய்பிக்க என்னால் முயன்ற சிறிய முயற்சியே இந்த படைப்பு!

  11. Some background:
    As far as India is considered, we have been in a patriarchal/ male dominated societies for at least 2 milleniums. (Could be even more)
    This has started changing(somewhat rapidly) especially only in the last 30 years. Economic independence of the women having their own jobs has helped to live free (mostly)and the IT boom has certainly helped the women a lot.

    Women are being treated equally but definitely not all.
    Male superiority will take more time to go away since we are used to it for so many years. Maybe in 30 more years or 50.
    But eventually it has to go. And all have to make sure that happens. To treat both sexes as equal. And to understand, that woman is not a possession. No human is. 🙂

    1. Sad to hear that class president incident and relatives bugging you with many bride rules right after marriage.
    Over years, we had lived with male superiority. It has been so ingrained that several women themselves feel that men are superior to women and repeat that to the children. Happening for generations.
    A male child is treated better and female child is lesser and so on in each stage of life. and it simply gets passed from generation to generation. Now we should bring awareness that it is a wrong thought and should be removed.

    Some cannot bear equality (both male & female) especially the older generation. But as they wither away, we should make sure that these foolish concepts burn away and dont go on to the next generation.

    Certain traditions are followed at certain times to make life simpler for that time. But unfortunately most of us cling to that and try to force it on the next generation. We dont realise why such traditions are there but simply want to enforce. Perhaps if we had understood fully, we would have realised that many of them should be discarded as the times change.

    It is like sticking to the deprecated API’s without upgrading to the better ones. happens since we’re simply using the old API’s without understanding them. 🙂

    2. “It is like two students doing well in the exam and getting the same scores while the teacher appreciates his or her favourite student alone.”
    Nope not the favourite student, the teacher is so happy to see the poor student perform very well. 🙂
    The good student is always doing well. Since we’re so much used to see men not performing their roles well
    when we someone does it well, we can’t help ourselves to praise such men who do well or even normal.
    Imagine if you had a very unsupportive hubby , pushing all chores on you (many still have this) and you see your friends hubby taking care of the child very well. You’d also be appreciating him.
    When fatherhood is normal such praises won’t be required.
    Motherhood is divine and like divinity it is not recognised as such by many and taken for granted.

    3. I agree we need to bring awareness and work towards a bias-less society. and it is responsibility of each and every one of us. I too had the thought of male superiority based what I heard and brought up.
    But saw that it is a false thought and female strength is not an obvious one like physical strength. but their emotional strength is immense. I have seen it at home and around. The things women & moms can manage on home and work!!! It is simply amazing. It would be foolish to discount/underestimate the strength of women.
    A simple flowing stream cracks rocks.

    +anon: you can choose to be not a push over. 🙂 I agree about conservatisim and thinking of marriage is essential for everyone. nope. thats not the case.

    +arun: things which affect us a lot stay with us till we breathe. 🙂 especially the negative stuff.

    +arul murugan : yes, it still happens to many. and it continuing, so thats why its important to focus our efforts and get rid of them as much as possible. anywhere we see. 🙂

  12. @Aravind: Thank u for a well thought-over blog post, err..I mean comment on my blog post 🙂 Jokes apart, you have covered it all and that leaves me with nothing more to add on. So, thank u again!

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