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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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