A woman reflects about the hope everyday feminism creates in a misogynist world, and what can be done to promote equal rights for women.
A few days ago, I was at a feminist conference organised by She The People TV. 20 folks from different areas of life, talking about feminism. What it means to the world and to each one of us at large.
I was enthralled. So many things that we see around us were put into words. Everyday, everywhere we see patriarchy in different forms telling women what they can and cannot do.
You tell yourself that certain things are a woman’s domain and that to keep your family intact, you have to do those things, or not do so many of them. As a society there are certain rules to live by, but the minute those rules are different for men and women, there is misogyny.
I am myself guilty of many Feminism Lite things, as Chimimanda Ngochi Adichie says in her article, I was accepting equal rights for women with conditions. But I can’t raise my son with that thought. He has to know that women and men are equal and he should be respecting them and their choices completely.
There were some eye openers for me at the conference. How we women act as gatekeepers, limiting the stuff we or our husbands and partners can do. I have forever remembered my mom telling my dad that he does not do the housework as it should be done. And what is the definition of how it should be done? It’s the way in which she does it. This resulted in him helping her very little with the chores at home, that led to a feeling of resentment in my mom that she had to do everything.
She also used to give me and my brother rigid instructions on how to do a particular thing. Micro-managing. But what was really happening is that she was preventing anyone from helping her, by setting the standards so high. The same thing happens when my friend refuses to leave her baby with her husband saying “he won’t feed her well”, or “he won’t clean her bum neatly”. And well and neatly are entirely decided by her.
So if women want more freedom and more opportunities, they have to stop being their own hurdles. Stop being their own gatekeepers. My dad can clean the house as much as mom can, it’s his house too. My husband can and does take care of our child as well as I can. He is an equal parent.
When I realised all these things, it made my life so much easier. And isn’t that the truth? Stereotyping that women can cook and men can understand technology better, that a woman needs to take care of the house and a man needs to earn a living for the house etc. only limits the opportunities we have.
But increasingly, as I read more, as I see and understand more, the angrier I get at how women and their rights have been marginalised for so many centuries. My husband, hopefully in jest, asked me if I am turning into an angry feminist. I told him that I already am a feminist. My mom is a feminist, my mother-in-law is one and even he himself is a feminist.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here doing what I am doing. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to get an education, to work or even to get an evening off for myself if I did not have the choice to do the things that I want to, that I wish to do.
He is my biggest supporter. We work together in our family business, he is the CEO and I am the CFO in our company. When any banking or financial decisions have to be made he never second-guesses my action. Point blank, he tells the people looking at him and talking to him to talk to me as I will be making that decision. He urges me to find time to write, or to do another baking course in Le Cordon Blue in Paris and that he will take care of our child.
My parents in law are equally encouraging of both their daughters-in-law as much as their sons. And they take pride in our achievements. So yes, all of these wonderful people around me are feminists too. They believe in equal opportunities. They believe that their daughter, wife or daughter-in-law is no less than any male counterpart and I hugely respect them for that. Its time that they start taking credit for it and pushing other people to do so by example.
But its always going to be a mixed bag. How do we ensure our girls and women are safe on the streets? Do we tell them to not go out alone at night, to wear appropriate clothes, etc or do we tell them to do what they want to do and that we will take care of it if something goes wrong?
My 12 year old mentee from Mentor Me India, Gauri – how do I explain to her that she is as precious as her male cousin when all she sees around herself is that the girls are considered worthless? How do I tell my son to react if someone makes fun of him when he is baking a cake? Or if a girl hits him, what do I tell him to do?
All of these are complicated questions with no simple answer. But as Chimimanda Adichie says, I have to consider the premise. And believe and make other women believe that they matter. Equally. Not ‘if only’ or ‘as long as’ but that they matter. Full stop.
Of course all of this is reality for us – urban, educated, independent women. So many women around us are still trapped in their own homes, suffering and continuing to live with abusive philandering husbands, in dead-end relationships, aborting girl foetuses, getting their daughters married off at twelve, fifteen; and never know any life outside of that.
But there is hope. When my grandma started working 65 years back in a government organisation or my husband’s grandma got a graduation degree 60 years back, there has been hope. And things will continue to improve, one bit a time.
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Published here earlier.
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