Three years back, freshly graduated, I joined an MNC in a sales role. My work took me to field visits to meet retailers, who were my customers. During one such visit, when my solutions to his problems were not to his liking, this particular retailer resorted to sexist slurs telling me that, ‘my place eventually lies in the kitchen at home, no matter how hard I try and, that, if all the girls started working, who would cook roti at home?’
It took just one sentence for him to shatter my strong, independent image; an image that I had worked hard to create by excelling in the same tests, acquiring the same skill-sets, and having the same aspirations, as my male counterparts. I should have retaliated, given it back to him; but somehow I failed to find my voice.
Six months back, I was coming back to my home in an Uber cab; the driver, presumably infuriated by the driving skills of his fellow riders on the road, complained that ‘these women should not be given a car when they don’t know how to drive’. I was surprised because I hardly saw any lady driver that day. On confronting, he accepted that ‘he didn’t see the people behind the wheel, and just assumed that such careless drivers could be women only.’
The driver & the retailer were the outcome of the same society which had taught them that, ‘women are not good at Maths’, ‘women love Pink’ and ‘a good woman should be gentle-mannered’; and that, ‘all men love sports’, ‘men don’t understand feelings’, and ‘men don’t cry’.
Imagine how liberating it would be for all of us, to be free of culturally defined norms of masculinity and femininity!
Two years back, between shifting houses, I lived with a married couple for four days. The husband and wife, both educated and working, used to come back to home by 8. So while the husband lazed around, watched TV, and occasionally stood in the kitchen to ‘give moral support’, the wife did all the cooking.
On one such day, while having dinner, the dissection of food began – the roti could have been rounder and the curry, a little better. When I jumped to the girl’s defense and asked for his contribution in the kitchen, I was asked to stop my Naari-mukti Aandolan. Stop your campaign to liberate women. Stop behaving like a feminist. It was not a compliment; I could sense that from the tone.
Last time I checked feminism stood for legal, social and economic equality of both the genders – without any ifs and buts. It never meant fighting for women’s superiority over men. Since when did advocacy for equality start warranting the same response as committing some crime?
A few months back, I watched the fourth season of the Netflix show, ‘Orange is the new black’ and got exposed to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement going on in the US. BLM movement campaigns against extreme police brutality, and overall unjust judiciary system allegedly targeting black men and women.
Expectedly, the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ was soon coined as a response by BLM detractors. But had all lives mattered, black people would not be dying in the hands of the police. BLM signifies that ‘black lives matter too’, and not ‘only black lives matter’.
You see why we say feminism when equality is what we demand, and not say something like humanism. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie answers this often asked question wonderfully in her small little essay, ‘why we should all be feminist’,
“Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not woman who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets woman. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It’s only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that.”
A week back, after reading the book by Adhichie, I had an intense debate with a friend. While he agreed that women might face prejudices in the workplace, he sincerely believed that everything was fine for women; and that they face no sexism at home. None at all.
My friend is a good cook, and he loves experimenting with food. So when asked if he would be fine to cook in front of his parents while his wife takes care of other aspects at home, it didn’t go down well with him.
“But my mother would want her to cook”
“But what if she has no interest in cooking. Or if both of you are interested, she can cook dinner and you, lunch. I know you like it, what’s the harm?”
“My mother would never understand. It’s very difficult to change her. It’s our culture, after all.”
Culture. Traditions. Norms. End of all arguments, is it?
200 years back, Sati was our culture. 50 years back, women in India could not dream of having a career. The purpose of culture is to evolve with times. It’s so easy to fall in this trap and accept status quo, that, it often becomes difficult to raise a voice!
You must realize that while favoring patriarchy, you are supporting the fact that tomorrow if you give birth to a girl, she will be a second class citizen. Her rights will be violated and she won’t say anything because ‘tradition’. How can we differentiate against people we love?
Two years back, while reading comments, often unintentionally funny, on a post; a new word was added to my vocabulary – Feminazi. Weren’t Nazis responsible for killing millions of people? Where are these Feminazis who are busy doing the same?
Anyways, I’m not going to dig deeper into something which I suppose is tongue-in-cheek. But I was appalled at so many comments, mostly by women, in the same post declaring that, ‘they are not feminists, but they stand for equality…’ Isn’t it like saying I love you but I don’t love you. Does that make any sense?
At the same time, I get why they wanted to distance themselves from this F word. It invokes an image of an aggressive, male-basher, angry woman, who is asking special privileges for herself. In every movement, there are radical voices – voices which are loud and extreme, and busy imposing their ideologies onto others. We get to hear them because moderate voices never make a good story in mainstream media. There are extremist voices in every religion. But we never blame the action of a few to belittle our own faith – we always rationalize. Then why such hatred towards this word?
And that angry, male-bashing woman we met earlier; she is not a feminist, she is a female chauvinist.
Years ago, when I was unmindful of this gender-induced-role-division – mainly because I was raised by middle class parents who valued hard work & sincerity over gender, and who always encouraged me to dream – I bumped into a distant relative; the kind who even meeting after a gap of 10 years, asks you, “Oh, when did you grow up so much”; the question was different though this time, “beta, what all can you cook?”. Free like a young bird, as any sixth grader, my reply was a loud and unapologetic NOTHING.
I wish I could get that little girl’s voice & courage back with me. I wish I could be unapologetic and unashamed about being a girl. I wish I could un-learn many teachings on gender which I internalized while growing up. I wish for a better world, an equal world, a world where every girl can choose – to be at home or work, to raise a kid or not, to be single or get married, to live with her parents or his parents (or maybe both), to cook or not to cook, to be in a relationship or break apart. And I wish the power of choice is with each one of us – regardless of gender. It’s not an easy cause, but I believe it’s one worth fighting for.
And why do I fight? Because I find this power imbalance to be unjust and unfair. Because I owe it to the thousands of feminists – both men and women – who have fought for my rights; rights which, at times, I take for granted. I am reaping the benefits of those brave souls who relentlessly challenged societal norms, for me, for my right to live, and to get education, due to which I’m able to voice my opinion now. Because, I am an optimist who believes things will change, for sure, for better.