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.