Editor’s Note: This month, that is December 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Modern Love and Relationships, where we invite various articles to highlight how love has been fundamental in our lifeworlds and how these experiences and perceptions around love are shaped by our identities in a modern Indian context. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having grown up with parents who had put notions in my head that they’d select a great partner and that I had to avoid finding love because I won’t decide well for myself and that a woman has to grow up submissive and adjust a lot—when at 23 I decided to have sex, guilt washed over every aspect of my being.
I grew up with phrases like ”yeh modern ladkiyan”, ”yeh outgoing aurat”, etc., and also with the concept of feminism which always clashed outrageously. Feminism is still a confusing concept because there isn’t a proper guide for it to teach it to young developing minds. What is the point explaining how important mathematics is, without having a basic idea of it, right? Similarly for feminism—Practice what you preach.
The importance of feminism is life-changing for women because it involves us directly and in India, basic feminism is seen to clash with conservatism and we all miss the point altogether. Feminism is a basic right whereas the ideas of conservatism is to make sure people live to their fullest capacity with the changing times—which means a few ideas have to be discarded or modified. What makes me laugh often is; men often complain that they have maximum pressure from society to earn and build a family and women can relax—but the same men also complain if the woman isn’t earning. Sad part is this attitude is also endorsed by the older women of the families, and this is just one of a million examples.
Coming to the core idea—for a lot of women, feminism strikes them when they’re in a relationship. Their innate urge to stand up for themselves is put to test in a relationship. Why it is so hard and alien to take bold steps to stand up for ourselves is because, I feel, we should’ve learnt at a young age that we have the right to choose our partners. Our elders and peers should’ve guided us about it; how adjustment and compromise isn’t what makes a relationship, but friendship and mutualism. It is like how they guide us into making life choices like colleges or buying a car: they’d tell us to weigh the pros and cons, find out if it suited us and how well we would benefit and become better people from it. That guidance is rare in India.
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Modern relationships have evolved to suit our needs. The previous generations settled okay because half of their mental stresses were dismissed and they were taught to adjust and adhere to conservative norms. But our generation is a butterfly struggling out of its cocoon and there is now some awareness of issues like mental health, overwork, social anxiety, etc. These tell us that adjusting with some huge decision like a forced life partner will not bring out the best in us.
Despite selecting a partner where you’re bearing your physical and emotional vulnerabilities is trial-and-error, it’s at least a trial-and-error that you chose. Modern relationships are about taking it slow, getting to check physical and mental compatibility before making a commitment is healthy. This avoids messy dysfunctional relationships, familial politics and people are responsible for their own choices. The amazing twist is that, even if you want an arranged marriage, let’s say you don’t come from a family of love marriages and you don’t want to get into the love-shuv drama or you’ve seen your parents’ or elder sibling’s arranged marriage work out and you are confident that it is the path for you—it is. That freedom to say, ”Yes, this is what I want,” without the fear or shackles of societal pressure is feminism.
Why I tie this to feminism is because women think they’re not entitled to this. There are times where women themselves reject this idea and say they are not ”allowed” to put their needs before everyone. This is wrong. Sure, there is an emotional age for all these decisions, some level of maturity is required and it is necessary to choose correctly. You can’t choose your house, plot and location when you’re 4 years old—it comes with time and lots of factors. Same goes for your choice of partner.
Women have always been made to feel guilty about thinking of themselves, but this changes with modern relationships in modern times. It is a broad statement of feminism to date or to not date by choice, to get into sexual relationships or to abstain, to find someone whom you love and who loves you back and not wait till marriage to do any of these. Marriage is a societal contract but choosing a partner with your logic and love should be a contract you make with your principles and whole being.
When at 23, I decided to have sex with someone willingly and whole-heartedly; my guilt washed off as my body and my mind put themselves first.
Rushali just finished master’s in biochemistry. You can follow her on Instagram.