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Circumstantial Feminism

Posted: February 11, 2014

Why India not only needs feminism, but it is the only way to live life. And we need it now.

‘You are such a Rani of Jhansi sometimes. You know you can’t fight everything, don’t you?’

I used to get that remark from my husband quite often. (I may add a disclaimer here that he is all for women empowerment and gender equality, and never hesitates to assist in activities that are labeled women-only. I wouldn’t have married him otherwise)

Over the years he stopped saying that to me and we just got along with our lives, house, baby and yearly trips to India to meet our families for a couple of weeks. Although I generally write about parenting, I recently wrote a piece around marriage jokes and how they get on my nerves. The post was tagged under ‘feminist’ by Women’s Web.

Feminist? Really, am I one? I wondered to myself. I then dusted some old shelves of my past and found a rather thick book of feminism lying at some corner of my inner self. I picked that book out and started reading it, straightening the dog-eared pages. It was almost like a high school yearbook, which like a time machine transported me to a different era. The stark difference here was that this yearbook hardly had any happy memories.

In one chapter was an incidence of not being allowed to stay out after dark for a college party, tagged under ‘Things only men are allowed to do’. On another there was a very angrily written account of a man masturbating outside a school trying to stop and make conversation with two young girls. This, along with a number of other similar incidents of groping, lewd remarks and vulgar stares was highlighted with red markers and filed under ‘Patriarchy and the resulting commoditization of women’.

A few pages further, there was a bookmark opening up to ‘Sexism and misogyny’ which talked about how women were falsely accused of using coquettish ways to climb up the corporate ladder, pushing their poor, hard working male counterparts behind. The next chapter was full of pictures of me in colourful, ‘decent’ clothes that carried hallmarks of approval by the society at large. I quickly flipped through those to save myself embarrassment.

Further down there was a section on ‘Customs forced on women getting married’. I took the longest to go through this one, stopping now and then to wipe my father’s tears while giving me away and clearing the knots in my throat. I may have torn off all pages of ‘Expectations from a married woman’ – the last chapter in the book, in utter frustration.

Rage engulfed me as I flipped through all the pages. Unanswered questions cobwebbed my head. Helplessness paralyzed me. It was those very incidents that had made me don my feminist cap and fight like a Rani of Jhansi, even if to be defeated again and again. For the last 6 years, living in 3 different countries outside India, I almost forgot what feminism meant. I haven’t had to fight for women rights here. I don’t have to ask to be treated as a human. I don’t have to live with a permanent chip in my shoulder.

But when I return, as I want to and long to, the book will come in handy. Sadly, in my country, feminism is not just a movement for women, it is the only way to live.

Image via Shutterstock

Shivangi is the author of the hilarious yet compelling book 'I made a booboo', published

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  1. Hi Shivangi,
    It is very good thought process and well written about all the frustration you are undergoing for a cause. The cause is important, imperative and one of the ways to over come the long established practice of women subjugation. But do you know something? It needs to be felt ‘AS IMPORTANT’ by more women and men, than only a very few like you and other few of us here.
    Well…since you had mentioned about the ‘marriage jokes’ in particular, I thought that I would read that article, (somehow, I seemed to have missed reading it earlier, and thanks for the mentioning that one in this article). I went though all the comments, and noticed that there were people who felt the same about the problem and were termed as over reacting to a ‘small thing’ or whatever. Something which I also found striking in those comments, were the last few comments of 2-3 of them, (Mohan, KP and God be with us). The comments followed a similar strain of one speaking for the cause, and the other 2 undermining or trying to underplay the need for such discussion. I did not read any comment supporting the issue that was clarified, which would have led to emphasizing the need for not slighting the women’s problems. It was as if one person was fighting for a cause and there were no other who had commented supporting that view. (especially when the views expressed were being supportive of the women’s cause).
    I have seen this in some other newspaper articles too, where one woman will be fighting tooth and nail, and there will not be another woman, who will join with her, and support. But there will be at least 4-5 men, saying the same point against the women. So now men’s misogynistic view will take the upper hand right?
    Basically are women afraid still to voice their opinion or for being aggressive in their approach, or is that they cannot stand together for their own cause. If we are still not able to come together for a common purpose, then how can our voices be heard? When men speak of misogynist views standing with one another, then why cannot women assert her rights with the same cohesiveness??
    I speak this with the same angst that you have spoken. The solution is that, instead of only approving and thanking others when they approve our comments, we should also be alert when there is an attitude problem in ANY of the comments, so that whenever the comment is posted we should see to that we raise our disapproval to them immediately. This will help bring in cohesiveness and also show the women’s strength in fighting for a cause. I make it very clear ‘fighting for a cause’ and not fighting against men.
    Thank you so much for bringing this topic, as women need to first ‘FEEL the need’ for change rather than ‘wait for it to happen’.

    • Lee, I completely agree with you. The problems are deeply ingrained in our system and hence it will take more and more women to tackle this. If they don’t acknowledge this problem at first, things will never change.

  2. Shivangi so well written and truly agree. In India we have to don’t the feminist hat to be able to live like a human. Sadly equality for us is not as yet a right, every day every second we need to fight for it!

    • Thanks Aditi. Yes, that is an extremely sad state of affairs. If you don’t fight you can’t survive. I hope I get to live to see the day this changes, as it doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future.

  3. Good one Shivangi and sad but true. It made me look for my own book of feminism!

  4. This is an excellent one shivangi. Kudos to you for this one. And, yes, I agree that in India, it’s a must for women like us to be feminists. If you have the killing desire to do something, you cannot do it by being just a “women”, you have to be a feminist. Else, people force you and expect you to give in to the traditional “women’ ways over and over again.

  5. It makes me sad as to why I did not try hard to immigrate to a foreign country 🙁
    Life as a woman in India sucks and there are very few parts in this country where a woman can feel like a free human for an extended period of time!!!
    A dazzling article that lays open all the frustration undergone by a typical Indian woman who is besieged with expectations, humiliation everyday.

  6. Yes, Shonali. This is the only reason that makes returning to India really hard for me. I hope (against hope) that this will change one day, at least for the future generations if not ours.

  7. This is so true, I have friends who talk about similar incidents and how they miss the freedom found outside our own country. Hope we are changing it bit by bit.

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