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Can feminist Indian women be open about their beliefs? Or is being a closet feminist better and easier? How does society judge them?
Yes, I am a closet feminist. What is that you ask? Well somebody who does not like to flaunt her feminist ideas mostly, and sometimes, just sometimes based on convenience hides her feminist ideas and modifies her actions to suit the society’s expectations of her. Hypocrite, well yes – that’s me!
Growing up I was brought up to believe that being a girl, cooking and cleaning was an integral part of my life. A girl definitely needed to study and earn, but being the sole caretaker of the house was big business. As a woman you were born to play the part. Your family’s reputation depended on it. Sounds quite funny now considering that I am talking of growing up in late 80’s and not 60s. But such was my family. Yet it would be a disservice to them to say that I did not enjoy my independence.
I had all the freedom – I seldom helped in the kitchen, stayed in a hostel, and partied without a worry. So yes I was a free girl. But mindsets are shaped by conversations, gossips, the way others judge each other, the family structure that you are raised in and much more. Not that I was the submissive kind – I couldn’t cook or never knew any rituals till I got married. But the thought process was strongly ingrained.
So after marriage I took it upon myself to be the ideal home maker, cook, wife, daughter in law. I married the person of my choice, somebody who respected equality and never pressurized me to live up to an image. And yet I ignored his protests in my bid to win hearts, win those brownie points and the labels of being a good woman.
It did not help that patriarchy was too strongly ingrained in my surroundings. Again it wasn’t the kind of environment which would harm me physically, but mindsets can make or break you. And I tried hard to fit into this patriarchal mold. Too many Hindi soaps played in my brain and I thought I could win this one.
But over time I have evolved – it needs time to break free of stereotypical ideas that you have grown up watching. I realized that by bending backwards I was doing myself the biggest disservice. I was a person first. I realized that I could have changed mindsets, and the moment I endorsed centuries old ideas, I defeated my own self. I defeated an entire generation of women who fought hard to get me to school or college. Women who sacrificed their lives so that ours could be better.
I took time realizing that it’s almost impossible to erase patriarchy from the Indian household. The male child will always be the most prized person. It’s just so strongly ingrained in minds that it is actually nobody’s fault. If I, who grew up in a free set-up took so long to change my thinking, how could I expect the world to change for me?
These realizations also hit hard the minute I gave birth to a girl. I did not want my child to be a part of a society that did not treat her at par with a boy. I did not want her to grow up seeing stereotypical roles at home. I wanted her to believe that nobody in the world could undermine her ability just because she was a woman.
Most of my strong ideas on these matters have evolved after I had my baby girl. After somebody casually told me that it’s ok if it’s a girl, the second child will be a boy. I flared up in protest, I flared up to protect her. And I realized my mistakes. It was I who had endorsed these beliefs by my actions. It was a rude wake up call.
Over the time I have evolved, I am more conscious of my actions, my words. I see myself as the role model for my daughter. I am no longer scared of taking a stand on difficult issues.
But as I said earlier I have also realized that in the Indian society the minute a woman picks up a battle based on gender, she gets labelled. I am not really worried of being labeled, but most of the times I know that keeping my feminist thoughts to myself is the easy option. Because sometimes you have to tread these paths carefully, value relations. Its a very difficult path.
Probably if I pick up that battle, I may change mind-sets but most of the times the change is superficial. Does that mean that I shy away always? Well no. Just that I pick my battles carefully.
Like that time when in a gathering of family members, the men got served first and the women of the house got served last. I was almost tempted to pick up a sword. That time when the women of the family toiled relentlessly in kitchen only to be chided on their cooking. That time when the men sat and discussed world affairs, the women gossiped about daily soaps and when for some reason a woman had an opinion on world affairs, she was ignored by the rest.
All these instances have made me cringe, wanting to shake up people and make them realize that we are equal. It’s not right that only the women work in the house, and that women can discuss world business too. But most of the times I have felt strong resistance not from the men, but from the women.
Most women would rather stick to stereotypes than displease people, most women would alienate themselves from a rabble rouser like me and most women would cringe if I discuss business, technology with the guys. They would rather have me talk parenting. And it is precisely for this that I try to blend in, keep my feminist ideas to myself. Unless there are points that I strongly disagree on, or instances where somebody’s health, safety is at stake, I keep my ideas to myself.
Of course there are instances when I cannot hold back any longer and lash out. But those are rare occurrences. Like the time I couldn’t stop myself in an interview when male chauvinist interviewer went on and on about my maternity break, my childcare worries, etc. I finally unleashed my feminist avatar and gave him a piece of my mind. I knew in my heart that next time this man tries to start talking to women from his traditional, orthodox and highly intrusive high horse, he will think twice. He will hold back. These are some of the battles I wish all of us pick up, these are pressing, urgent, need attention.
My closet feminism is always for the outside world. At home I would rather instill the ideals I want my girl to live by. I take on the gentle yet firm feminist role at home. For me, my family should live by certain ideals – it has taken time. But I am proud that I am slowly converting them to the other side.
Just the other day my husband cautioned somebody about me saying, “Oh she is a hardcore feminist!” He said that in jest but I sensed the warning in his tone. He knew that I was on the verge of picking up my battle. Not that it bothers him – he is always happy to stand by me.
I think India as a society is yet not ready to talk about these ideas. Don’t get me wrong. I know of many strong independent women who will hold their ground on such thoughts but the real challenge is in changing your mother’s, mother-in-law’s mindset. Real challenge is in telling your domestic help about her rights. These challenges I am willing to face, pick up and respond to.
The most important challenge, though, is in ensuring that every little girl who grows up in this decade wears her feminism on her sleeve and doesn’t need to hide it. The day she does not get ridiculed for being a feminist, we have won. Or rather if we didn’t need feminism, gender equality just became the norm of the day. I will wait for that day. Till then I will remain a closet feminist, at least for the outside world.
Image source: Indian woman with daughter by Shutterstock.
Mommy to a little Miss Sunshine. I write for myself, most of my rants being
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