It’s naturally very seasonal to talk about the upcoming women’s march in Washington and all the good noise around it. The greatest thing about America is that it forces you to take a stand. I do not mean passive aggressive sharing on social media. I mean doing something about what you believe in. Whether or not you believe in labels, there’s every reason why all of us need to be feminists in today’s world. We’re all responsible for the society and culture we co-create.
Why all of us need to be feminists?
I was recently quite inspired by small town Brooklyn designers and Indie filmmakers. The world may look bleak right this moment, but the big picture of where we’re going feels heartening. We’ve covered massive ground between my mother’s marriage to mine. The right to vote, education, maternity leave and many others are not by accident. And there’s no reason why we should stop now.
Are you a feminist?
It’s not a crime, a political or religious statement. It is not connected to Trump or Modi. Feminism is a question of gender which may get political but exists well beyond it. I may have said it several times before, but Chimamanda Adichie’s definition of a feminist deserves all sorts of reiterations:
A feminist is a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there is a problem with gender as it is today.” And we must fix it, we must make it better.
Feminism does not automatically translate into you being activists (or mad women as Indians often tend to refer to them). You do not to need to suffer as a man or woman to prove your feminism or masculinity. It’s about equality- the freedom to make similar choices, get similar opportunities and command equal respect. It’s not just a rural or sub-urban phenomena. It exists all around us, today. And we do not need to accept it. Education does make a difference but some cultural norms are so embedded in our subconscious that we don’t even question them any more. Feminism forces you to question things.
Have you experienced everyday sexism? (Chances are you have)
I’m a college educated (3 university degrees), urban woman of a higher caste in India. This puts me in a privileged category. Yet, my experiences are not the same as a man from a similar background. The everyday sexism I have faced is not from people of Haryana or Uttar Pradesh who were uneducated or entitled. It’s from regular people in office, at school or even people who I grew up with- men and women.
Here are some examples that don’t always stand out as sexist but are just deep-rooted biases from people who claim to be progressive. These statements haven’t all been targeted at me, but I’ve heard and seen them (even shared on Facebook at times) often. And these are statements largely made by the Indian educated gentry.
- On Living Abroad: “Don’t send her abroad, you will find it harder to look for a husband”,”She’s too educated”, “She’s lived abroad before getting married”, “You’re living alone?” …
- For single women/men: “Ladke ke soorat nahin seerat dekhte hain” (you don’t look for a boy’s features but his brains) automatically translating into it’s ok to just look at a woman’s socially accepted beauty standard over her personality. “You can’t get everything in a guy”, “You’re 24 and you think it (marriage) is early?”, “I don’t want to marry anyone who has had a relationship before me” …
- For married women/men: “What did you cook for him today?”, “What about dinner if she travels for work?”, “The kitchen is a woman’s territory”, “You’re not changing your name?”, “Are you married to a Kashmiri? (no boy ever gets this question)”, “Dear Wadivkars” (auto assumptions with names), “He makes very good chicken” (even if the husband is a more accomplished cook, he is often reduced to chicken because it’s a hobby), “Don’t fight”, “Don’t raise your voice”, “Marriage is a compromise”, “I will never let my husband do this kind of work”, “The kitchen is my territory”, “If you don’t dress up for a man, who do you dress for?”
- By educated Indian men in parties (in the US too): “You should get her started on wine” (because a woman has no exposure or choice without the blessings of the husband), “You join us, she’ll be fine with the girls” …
- At work: “So chi Principal bane Jiyalal” (She thinks she’s more important than she really is. Her importance is compared to a Principal called Jiyalal – a man), “Now we have to consider her job over his”. “Women who are too feminine or well dressed are taken less seriously.” “She’s here to get married.” While getting hired, I’ve once been asked if I am married, wanting to get married and other things which guys never hear. Men make more money for the same jobs, they negotiate better and are often more confident in what they ask for.
Most of the statements I shared above have been shared by my own friends, family and acquaintances. They have been verbalized by both men and women. Very few people who shared these statements are uneducated or impoverished. In fact most people have had similar educational backgrounds and exposure as me.
Are you more privileged?
It is possible that even though you’re a woman, you are more privileged than others. If you didn’t believe me, here’s a good poverty risk calculator. Even within a single gender, age, education, race and marital status make a significant difference. For India, I’d imagine caste and geographical locations to be significant as well. It’s important to consider this because experiences can’t be generalized and some people suffer more which requires acknowledgement.
The recent example of a Kashmiri girl apologizing for acting in a movie because she was trolled made me so angry. Had she been from any other area, her abilities would have garnered appreciation. At that moment I felt a tinge of realism. I was better placed than her at this moment.
For strong men and women
I watched a movie called Parched recently. It shares the experiences of three women in a remote village in Rajasthan. The reality of many women in such remote corners of India isn’t very different. The movie is racy, sharp and has very humane moments. A single woman raises her son who in turns into a monster all by himself. Finally when she stands up to his sickening behavior, he threatens to leave saying, “ab mein dekhta hoon yeh ghar kaise chalega ek marad ke bina” (let me now see how this house will run without a man.) This despite the fact that his mother brings in all the money and raises him.
Of course a home is incomplete without the companionship you seek- whether through men or women, but it’s not because of their gender. As urban, educated adults we may not hear things in such a crude way like the young boy in the movie. But in my experience both men and women tend to resort to various subconscious notions which are biased or inconsiderate. It’s inherently important to question what you’ve said, internalized and thought of as normal. The new normal is the one you create for yourself and for the future.
How can you not be a part of this women’s march and philosophy?
Disclaimer to the post:
मैं तहज़ीब, तमद्दुन, और सोसाइटी की चोली क्या उतारुंगा, जो है ही नंगी। मैं उसे कपड़े पहनाने की कोशिश भी नहीं करता, क्योंकि यह मेरा काम नहीं, दर्ज़ियों का काम है ।”
“Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that’s the job of dressmakers.”