Posted by Suparna Banerjee
I tend not to believe that women who have no theoretical knowledge of what women empowerment constitute of or how is feminism defined has no idea of how it affects her, in her everyday lives. Let me simplify this statement. A housewife who realises that she can pursue her passion for writing only before dawn or after everyone is asleep, is equally aware of feminism, even if she is not versed in theories. She may not have the courage or the means to protest against the status-quo, but she has the realisation that there is an inherent inequality which is subjugating her from pursuing her dreams. Those of us who talk about women’s issues generally tend to argue from the podium of lofty ideals or academic nuances. This, apart from reflecting on our elitism also draws attention to out myopic understanding of the subject.
I will be talking about everyday feminism. Let us delve into the topic in detail.
Husband and wife both come together from the grocery shopping. Wife has the responsibility of arranging the groceries in the shelves and in the refrigerators. Both of you together go to meet someone for the first time. There will be handful of instances, when the wife will be asked what job she is in. A child will normally go and ask his/her mother about anything, even if the father is available close by. A woman will invariably ask another woman what did she cook for lunch/dinner today.
These are only some examples which highlight the ingrained perceptions that people have about women regarding their household chores or their ability in a day to day life. There are two things noticeable in the examples that I provided. Firstly, I did not concentrate if the woman is a professionally working woman or not. Secondly, I am deliberately not distinguishing between if the discriminatory party is a male or female (in the last example, it is the woman who is asking another woman).
Those of us who talk about women’s issues generally tend to argue from the podium of lofty ideals or academic nuances. This, apart from reflecting on our elitism also draws attention to out myopic understanding of the subject.
This clarification will help to draw the framework of everyday feminism within which the arguments will be shaped. While we are busy challenging societal injustices that have ensured the survival of patriarchy, we often times ignore our own houses. Now people might argue—”are the houses outside of the society?” Definitely not. But what misses out when we only concentrate on the structure is the smaller blocks which make up the structure. This is simply because all parts combined, may not always make the whole. There may be more to the whole than just its constituent parts. Therefore concentrating on the parts, which in this case are our houses, is equally significant if we plan to make any change in the society.
Everyday struggles of women within the four walls of the households are with these institutionalised forms which we either overlook or ignore. The reason being they have been so normalised in our daily lives that we often tend not to notice the anomalies within the structure. The mere fact of expecting that the women would clean and cook irrespective of, if she is a professional or not, is in itself a point of concern of everyday feminism.
Survival within this structure generally motivates a woman to compromise instead of prioritizing her jobs. She will compromise on her writing than prioritize it, despite the fact that this is the only time of the day that she finds her inner peace or self-satisfaction. There are no measurement standards for self-satisfaction or prioritization and hence, within the bigger picture of demanding rights for women or ensuring equality, these arguments forever remain ambiguous.
I am not arguing against such meta-narratives and neither I am voting against it. What I am merely trying to focus is on the fact that these everyday lives bear no lesser a testimony to our struggles than a protest on the street for equal pay. And simply because the normalisation of such behaviour generally does not draw our attention, it does not mean we can ignore them. This is more so, because the people who are manifesting such behaviour are our closest relatives—mothers, mothers-in-law, brothers and husbands.
While it is definitely not expected from women of older generations to be aware of these nuances of everyday feminism, we can make an attempt to acquaint them with such. The next time they ask you what have you cooked, may be you can point out to your husband. Or the next time your child comes running to you asking for the lost toy to be searched, may be you can ask to approach their father. This will reduce tension between husband and wife as well, where the latter often has to shoulder the responsibility of these tasks sometimes at the cost of one’s comfort.
Everyday struggles of women within the four walls of the households are with these institutionalised forms which we either overlook or ignore. The reason being they have been so normalised in our daily lives that we often tend not to notice the anomalies within the structure.
So empowerment does not only mean to be aware of the circumstances and its associated anomalies. It also includes action to be followed, post the awareness stage. It need not always take the form of going to the street to voice our concern. We can begin with our everyday life and among the community in which we inhabit. This is important for the broadening of the scope of everyday feminism and spread awareness. Many may not have the luxury of interacting with the outside world where they can search for platforms to raise their voice.
However, there is no need to feel demoralised or disheartened. We can start from our own house. What better way to address the disease than from sanitising our house first. We have engulfed ourselves in blame gaming. We keep getting lost in the labyrinth of finding the cause. To move the wall, may be, we should start by addressing every brick. A small step at a time. In order to broaden the scope our understanding, we should free ourselves from the prison of binaries and search for newer meaning and newer actions.
Suparna is a final year doctoral candidate at the Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung (Centre for Development Research) University of Bonn, Germany. Suparna is a voracious reader and a passionate debater. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
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