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As a feminist, people are surprised when they find me dainty and feminine. They’d be surprised when they know the backbone of steel I can have.
Does the epithet intrigue you? It is antithetical and an oxymoron! Yet, that aptly sums up my true self.
I am 5ft and a little something. If you presumed a feminist to be aggressively loud, donning male demeanours, laughing loudly and all, well I am not. I dress, speak and behave daintily, with utter femininity! By aping masculinity, I feel I am degrading my sex. Woman is different and not inferior to a man! Daintiness is my birthright!
This in no way means that I am vulnerable to male domination! Concealed beneath such gentle exterior is me, rational, tough, ambitious, and determined.
“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely…” Simone de Beauvoir.
During my childhood, my parents made no difference between my two brothers and. We were given the same treatment, same food, love and education. The only difference being that I wore frocks or skirts and sported long hair, which I loved. Somehow, I did not take a fancy to pants and shorts. Time flew in childhood innocence and joy.
My first encounter with gender inequality was when I must have been around fourteen years old, and my mom firmly asserted that I was a big girl, and henceforth should not play with my neighbour’s son. We had almost grown up together, rambled in our huge garden, climbed trees, played hockey, went to school, and at times did our homework jointly!
My initial reaction was just shock! I had tried to reason that Piyush was my best friend, my childhood friend, how could I avoid him? My pleas were all turned down. Gender sensitization was slowly dawning on me. There were many things which my brothers could do but I was barred from. Hereafter, I was strictly told not to venture out alone, and if necessary I would be accompanied by an escort. While my brothers played and enjoyed, I had to help my mother in the kitchen and learn cooking. I intensely detested such domestic chores!
Later, when I completed my schooling, my mom suggested I join the local college for my Intermediate classes. My cousins had all done their education from here and after PUC had got married. They were all ‘successful’ married women now.
I was at my wits end! So that was the future my dear mom had chalked out for me? I had nurtured great ambitions for myself, BA English Hons and then MBA from a prestigious Business School. Hence, I firmly put my foot down and for the first time opposed my mom’s aspiration. No, I would never join that college; I was defiant. It was not up to my expectations! Most of my classmates were joining the popular Patna Women’s College and I too desired to do that.
My father supported me, my mom relented, but my aunties were adamant. How could I go to Patna, stay in a hostel? That was blasphemous! Girls in our community did not venture out for education. I could be spoilt, go to restaurants, and maybe visit discos. My marriage prospects would be ruined! But I was adamant, and my mom explained to my relatives that like my school, this college was run by nuns and rules would be strict about going out.
Eventually I won and joined the reputed Patna Women’s College, Patna. Of course, I passed my honours with distinction and easily obtained admission in Benaras Hindu University for my MBA. There was great dissent but I managed to have my way. My relatives were furious and labelled me a rebel! Naturally my mom was worried.
The real challenge came when I was offered a plum job of an Asst. Manager in a reputed company in Mumbai! The job was impressive and so was the salary. How could I refuse?
This time even my parents were firm and turn down my pleas. It was unthinkable to send me alone to a far-off place. Just when I was planning to give up, my paternal uncle came up with a surprise help. He had been transferred to Mumbai and hence I could stay with him and family! I readily agreed but mentally accepted it as a temporary arrangement. Thus I began my new life of career.
In fighting my way to higher education and a job, I had paved the way for my younger siblings and cousins. But it had always been hammered in me that my job was for my recreation, to earn a pocket money. After marriage, I must quit if it stood a “hurdle” in my domestic life! My World should be my Home and Hearth! All my activities ought to revolve on the welfare of my family!
My next battle sprung up when my parents insisted on my getting married. I consented on few conditions: first the groom should be from Mumbai as I had no plans of quitting. Second, there should be no offering of a dowry.
My granny was furious and blamed my dad of being too liberal with me. Fortunately, Providence seemed benign, and such a match was found. The marriage was solemnized.
In the beginning, life was a whirlpool of bliss. But once the honeymoon was over, life became a battleground of domestic chores. I would return home tired from office and my husband would beseech, “I am hungry. Fix something quickly.” The sink would be piled with soiled dishes! Gradually, I pleaded and then shouted at my helplessness. Could he not prepare something for himself? I too was tired and hungry. Why not get something from some restaurant? It was tough convincing him that kitchen work was not the ‘work of a woman’. If he lent a helping hand, we could be comfortable… blah blah. Sometimes he yielded, and sometimes was obstinate.
When I reflect, I find that my life has been one of a lone battle. However, thanks to my dear dad, who always supported me, I have been able to fight it out. In due course, my husband too changed and was accommodating in raising our two children.
This story is thirty-five years old. Of course, nowadays girls in my family have fewer obstacles. They can study and work anywhere, not only in India but also abroad. But it is still ingrained into their minds, that marriage is the ultimate goal in life. Others are all subsidiary! Well that’s another traditional thought that ought to be eradicated.
Image source: pixabay
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