Hema Gopinathan Loves Being Called A Formidable Woman Whose Social Commentary Often Goes Viral

Hema G on the joys of "being a nothing" mom, on the privilege of ageing and what inspires her at the young age of 49, and on the role of feminists in society.

A sharply feminist writer, Hema Gopinathan’s observations effortlessly draw attention to normalised misogyny playing out right before our eyes in our everyday lives. 

Every piece by Hema is rooted in the mundane realities of the lives of Indian women where she astutely points out the everyday, ‘normalised’ injustices women endure in their everyday lives. Hema often draws from her own life and weaves in mythology in a narrative that is at once brutal and gentle. 

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We asked Hema to introduce herself in her unique, witty voice and she did not disappoint!  

“My name is Hema G and I am 49-years-old and perhaps in the best phase of my life, mentally, physically, emotionally. That doesn’t mean to say that my physical health is at its optimum or that I’m not sad, scared or anxious. My knees hurt, my triglycerides are borderline alarming, and I have sleepless nights of terror at the rate at which humanity is approaching doom!”

“Then why is this the best phase, you’d be right in asking. Even though I may not be at my healthiest, I have finally found the wherewithal and the right professionals to help me improve my health markers. I have the stability of economics, the mental  and physical support to  help me get there. I have loving friends and family and above all, I am proud of who I am as a human being, of who I have become, of who I am becoming. This may well be the last quarter century of my life and I suspect it is going to be the busiest.”

On the joys of being a “nothing”

“You are a nothing!” When Hema’s daughter was a 4 year old, she accused her one day after school, where she’d discovered that all her classmates’ mums had jobs, and had important sounding designations. Some were bankers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. Hema, as it turned out, had none of these fancy titles.

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She had left a successful career in media marketing in a top publishing firm two decades ago to become a full time parent to two children. Leaving her job turned out to be a blessing as now there is no one thing that defines Hema – she has given herself space to grow in any direction she chooses to. She is an artist, writer, homeschooling parent, and storyteller, among many other things. 

Trained in the Waldorf/Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, the years spent “being a nothing” went to adding to her blog while homeschooling her children, the “being nothing” years lead to the making of a storyteller with incredible depth. Today Hema’s art, poems and commentaries on societal prejudices, feminism and caste are often virally shared

As an artist, her writings are often accompanied by illustrations ranging from the mundane to abstract. Hema is currently working as a screenwriter while writing a book on women’s sexuality in Indian mythology.

“I’m now at the age when I am called ‘aunty’, mostly by trolls on social media. Often their antiquated, patriarchal, misogynistic opinions cannot handle a calm response and they attack older women by calling them aunty as though their youth, their proficiency with language, their freedom of expression is somehow their own achievement.” 

“I usually laugh at this. Age and the process of ageing is such a huge privilege accorded to so few. One of the best things that happened to me was ageing. Primarily it means that I have the privilege of good healthcare, good nutrition, and a great support system, but it also means I have had the time to grow into my potential. It means I have had a million chances at making mistakes, stumbling, getting up, rebooting, restarting. I have had the chance at not only learning from my own mistakes but also learning from history not to repeat some others. To age means to have the perspective of a longer past, to add depth and wisdom to experience.”

Women inspiring women

Hema draws inspiration from everyday women, unrecognised heroes and champions of their lives. “Just this morning I was called formidable and exactly like a female family friend that everyone holds in high esteem,” says Hema. “This woman never married, never had children. She lives her life on her own terms. When one chapter of her life ended when she was in her 70s, she packed her bags, moved across the country to set up a farm in another state.  She has lived there alone with little or no support from her family, with just her loyal staff. Everyone is slightly afraid of her. She never minces her words; I have seen her stand up to bullies when stronger, younger people couldn’t.” 

“Twenty years ago I felt sad that she was single and didn’t have a family to support her. She continues to be so, but today I am in so much awe. She single handedly showed all of us that women can have a life centred around themselves, to go as they pleased, live as they pleased. And to be compared to her feels like I have achieved something.”

Why do we still attack women for their age or weight to make a point or to win an argument?  

Hema is not afraid to call out the patriarchy and misogyny rampant in our society today. Her feminist views of course makes quite a few uncomfortable. “Recently I was told by a man not to see everything through the lens of gender. That there are things beyond feminism or feminist struggle for equality for all, said he. This man, a hugely popular liberal social media voice, was body shaming an actress with right wing leanings. He called her ‘mad’, beyond her prime etc.”

“When I called him out, I was also trolled and age-shamed, accused of having fascist leanings. It then occurred to me that literally only feminism possesses the ability to look into nuances and intersections of politics.” 

“What is the point of a liberal ideology that still uses the same tired language of mocking the physicality and mental health of a human because they don’t have the same politics as you? How is this going to manifest any real change?”

Feminists are the canaries in the coal mines 

Hema very beautifully explains the role of feminists in society today. They are the visionaries and change makers of society.

“In the last century, before the advent of technology to detect poisonous gases, coal miners used to take canaries with them down mineshafts. As long as the air was fresh, the canaries would sing, but the minute the air got stale or poisonous, the canaries would stop singing, or worse, die. This then would be the warning the miners needed to escape the mines. As feminists, we are the canaries in the coal mines. If we don’t point at things that are wrong, all humanity dies.”

“We fight for not just the equality of women, we fight for all genders, we fight for the marginalised, we fight for the next generation. We fight for gentle, empathetic language, we fight to carve space for oppressed voices. We step back and let the less privileged tell us what course we much charter for a more equitable planet. We fight and fight and sometimes die fighting without seeing any real change in our lifetime.”

Master of her fate, captain of her soul

Today, Hema finds herself the happiest and most fulfilled she has ever been. Responsibilities like mothering her two children are almost done, and caregiving for elderly parents is still ongoing. “I have finally found the time to grow a career as an artist and a writer, and I also finally see the point to this life.”

“I live and learn and grow so those who come in my wake find life a little easier. I speak the truths, fight the fights so the next generation will not have to fight these fights but can pick newer battles. I live life authentically to normalise living this way fearlessly, answerable only to their conscience.”

Hema’s most popular post with us is one where she talks about how people are rigid about kitchen rules especially while using pressure cookers, patriarchal hierarchies in the kitchen and forging a lifelong bond with her mother in law after a few missteps and false starts, The Way My MIL & I Differed On How To Use The Pressure Cooker Was A Lesson In More Than Cooking 

Other popular posts by Hema 

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