I was watching a beautiful show called Zindagi Gulzaar Hai when Emma Watson’s He For She speech went viral. Both these events together and seperately made me question my idea of Feminism.
I remember, like Emma, my first brush of sexism was when I was very young. It started with my mum when she insisted, albeit jokingly at that time, that I make tea and learn to cook, because I have to do it one day. (The implication, in case you didn’t catch it was that the man you’re going to marry wouldn’t do it.)
Later there have been many such instances, starting from gender role socialization to cutting my hair short. Even when your typical pop culture portrays women as weak, shallow, vain, and as a mere shadow, to men being deified on the mere grounds of being a man (Pati Parmeshwar), I have questioned myself as a woman. How is it that I cannot see these dreams? Why do I want to call my future husband by name and not by some weird representation of elderly respect? Why was it wrong for a girl to openly share the boy she’s crushing on, while the boy hoots and teases the girl? Why was it that daughters never got to mourn, ritualistically, their patents especially fathers?
I remember this one particular incident in high school where a friend of mine told me she asked a boy out. I am sorry to say that I judged her. It might be because said boy was already in a happy, open relationship with another friend, but judged her I did. It kept me up at night feeling guilty about it. I’m sure all of us wouldn’t have judged her if she were a boy. Boys are allowed to flirt. Boys are allowed to cheat. Boys are supposed to initiate, while the girl is supposed to play hard to get.
In this sexist world, I’m a feminist. And like Emma said, I believe in equality of the sexes. Everyday sexism is such a delicate issue that doesn’t stop at cruelty against women. I question the same things that Emma questions. She quotes how suicide is the leading cause of death amongst English men. But suicide is just the end of trial. Can we stop and think about how many men would refuse to go for therapy? If you’re depressed or bipolar, or phobic, and if you’re a man, you’re to “quit acting like a woman”. It astonishes me how anybody would laugh at a man who’s depressed, yet that happens. It shows why the gender ratio for such a disorder would be so distorted. I question here- why is it that men are encouraged to shove their feelings away.
I’ve seen the way well educated men perceive women as something inferior with the reasoning “I’ve not seen women who are truly intelligent”, or “All my girl friends are pretty dumb.” It is even horrifying to see how these men treat women with intelligence equal to them- “You’re an exception to the rule”, or “You’re one of the guys.”
But women are not different either: they act stupid or play dumb just to get attention. But have we stopped to think why she does it? The attention she gets because of acting dumb reinforces this behavior as she continues acting dumb, and in the process subconsciously,identifies herself as somebody who is somehow non-intelligent and not worthy.
I have wondered in my growing years why I never liked what girls my age loved- shopping, clothes, Forever 21, accessorizing, make up, or nail paint. My experiences with these things were always a disaster.No matter how hard I tried, my sense of comfort came from books, stationary, and topping classes. I have to give it to my parents for letting me indulge in these things even as they bought me pink butterfly hair accessories (I preferred a plain black), or a pink waterbottle (I again preferred a basic one) when I was a little child.
I remember not wanting barbies as a child till I saw all my girl friends had it- even then I remember being more interested in breaking its head; I remember not having teddy bears ever- till I was fifteen, and even that one occupied dust in 10 days of me buying it. I’ve been told stories of how I used to hate wearing frocks and skirts as a kid, and preferring running shoes to heelsand other footwear. My sister’s best friend, when she was three was a guy and both of them together owned hundreds of cars.
So perhaps I have my parents to thank for teaching me it was okay to not conform to gender roles. I have to thank my dad for cooking and cleaning on weekends, and my mum for not forcing me to wear sarees. I have to thank them for letting me stay out late sometimes, as long as I had company- not necessarily boys, but enough people so that I am safe. I have to thank them for raising me a feminist.
And while I am fiercely independent and don’t “act like a girl”, I cannot say that the society I live in is anywhere close to being easy. I do get taunted for not caring about how I look. I do get odd looks when I say I’d rather shop for books than for cloths. I do get stares when I say I prefer staying in rereading a favourite than go out partying. People wonder why I don’t like cooking, or love babies. And I’m pretty sure that they’d wonder why I don’t know stitching, knitting, or weaving.
But thankfully they don’t thwart my dreams. Thankfully they don’t want me married by 21, or at least engaged. Thankfully they don’t question my choice of clothing- why I don’t wear skirts, dresses, or heaven forbid, sarees. Thankfully they don’t question my right to a career, or tell me not to hang out with guys.
But this doesn’t stop anybody from pitting boys against girls, right from school days where we are forced to sit in different rows of benches, to participating in different kinds of sports, to having different rules, school uniforms, and dress codes. We are taught to compete against each other in every class and outside of class. Girls are taught not to fold their socks, and to wear skirts touching their knees, while boys were supposed to wear shorts till high school. Girls are taught to hide their imminent signs of puberty while boys were encouraged to show it off. Girls are supposed to fight each other, while boys are homies and bros. A boy in a relationship is a stud, and a girl in a relationship is a slut. A boy who wants to have sex is normal, while a girl has no morals. And as we grow up, girls are encouraged to talk of their girl crushs, while boys are discouraged from, and even get creeped out thinking one of their associates are hot or incredibly good looking. (Honestly, how can you look at Brad Pitt and not go damn?)
Both men and women are being subject to gender roles. And even when we fight to break it off, it is the man who is loosing a major chunk of what was taught to him as rightly belonging to his. It is the man who has to bear the maximum cost, while the woman reaps the benefits. In a fight for equality, it is the man who loses his sandwich, and the girl who gets her equal pay. But in a fight for equality, the man gets the right to feel, and emote, as the girl learns to be independent. The guy learns nurturance, while the girl learns it is okay to put her career ahead of her family. And maybe, one day a man and a woman can be truly each other’s counterparts. They can truly be partners.