A big part of my teen years was consuming pop culture and literature from America, a world that was too foreign, too free. Sex and the city episodes were consumed late at night clutching the remote worried that I would be caught watching women being uninhibited and unabashed. These women lived multi-faceted lives, with thriving careers and personal lives. A stark contrast to reality for Indian women. We’re meant to be feminine, to live a life of servitude. The notion of femininity quashes individual desires, aspirations, ambition and dreams of living a self-centred life. The feminine is docile, demure, less intelligent and better suited to a life in the private sphere. Beautiful too look at but not too be taken too seriously. Lesser than a man, always. Indian society conditions women to confine themselves to domestic duties, childbearing and caretaking. Even with increased participation of women in the workforce, the expectation is to not compromise on these ‘duties’ while navigating the workspace. Instances of casual sexism, harassment and rape are all too common.
At this stage in my journey as a feminist what hurts me the most (aside from the glaring human rights abuse) is the call for ‘humanism’ or ‘equalism’ as an alternate to feminism. There are a few reasons for this, primarily that feminism is a movement for equality, which is all-encompassing. Within its framework rights of women, transgender individuals, gender non-binary individuals and men are all covered. It doesn’t advocate for selective advantage to one gender, its objective is to fight for equality. So using the term humanism or equalism, you inherently show your bias against the female, by rejecting the term feminist because it is derivative from the word female. Second, it highlights insecurities that arise from an inherent belief that progress in the rights of the above-mentioned groups would somehow lead to a decrease in the rights enjoyed by men. Which isn’t the objective of feminists, feminists seek to remove the importance attached to gender and expectations that arise from that. Toxic masculinity puts pressure on men from a very young age to act and behave as a man should, to not express emotions, to be strong, to be the provider of the household. The patriarchy is an enemy of all, not just one. Third, when you say humanism you refuse to acknowledge the selective discrimination and violence faced by women. If one is afraid to identify themselves as a feminist, question the negative ideas placed by the patriarchy against feminists, we are not angry and we don’t burn bras.
Feminism, found me when I need it the most. As a child, differences of gender don’t matter as much (or you lack the awareness to register such differences), with puberty that changes completely. Periods, new growth spurts and constant policing of your appearance at school indicate a shift. The length of your skirt, the way you tied your hair, your nails, wearing a slip, become measures of purity and determine how you are perceived at school. Yes, rules for boys existed but it was largely not wearing your pants too low. There was a clear difference in treatment. Appearances became key to the amount of attention you received. Upper lips and eyebrows were made fun of, once a close friend thought it was appropriate to comment on my moustache. This was still a kinder comment compared to the ones said behind your back. The Boys locker room existed then as well. My parents, fortunately, encouraged all their children to be their best and aspire for even better, regardless of gender. Having an elder sister also played a major role, I’ve always had a best friend in my life who understood exactly what I’m going through having gone through something similar herself. Our school had a great library, which proved as my saviour. Having spent countless library and non-library periods going through the fiction shelves, fictitious characters allowed me to see the world, not just as my own. Their struggles resonated with mine, their conflicts allowed me to look at simple instances of sexism for what they were, issues with friends and families could be escaped by turning pages. Books have always been a constant source of wisdom and love, they’ve led to tears and laughter. I’m grateful for the encouragement my reading habit received at home. From then to forever books have been the best birthday gift.
In Class 10 to 12 the exposure to social issues increased grade-wise, Class 11 and 12 fueled a clearer understanding of my privilege and the imbalance of power structures. It was in college surrounded by strong women on all sides that feminist theory became clearer. As a part of our first year, we studied feminist theory, different schools of feminism and waves of the feminist movement. It was then that I found an ideology, a term to consolidate my beliefs. Education thus was my saviour. Education is a basic right that is denied to countless women on the flimsiest of reasons. This passion translated into my dissertation which focused on girl child education.
To all my fellow feminists and non-believers, educate yourself, feminists we need it to convert non-believers, non-believers you need it to defeat the ignorance that makes you afraid of the beastly feminist. Under the beast lies the beauty and a more equal world characterised by acceptance.
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