Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for January, 2022 is Our Evolving Relationship With Feminism. We invite submissions on the many changing aspects of the feminist discourse, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
Being born into a patriarchal household like almost any other Indian household, I had been a meek, silent survivor of the kind of normalised misogyny that we practice. My brother would go to the better school and shame me with the help of my parents for my school not having a canteen or faculty as ‘superior’ as his. I tried hard to fight back, finding new arguments every other day, but they were in vain as I had myself accepted that he went to a better school.
My schooling at an institution run by a convent was also not very helpful in framing a better feminist in me. The exclusively female circle I gained from there would be an asset for this lifetime. But it remains a sad reality that it is the trauma bonding that patriarchy built, that holds us together more often than not.
Feminism was not a term unfamiliar to me from a young age. Though I cannot recall where I came across the word first, I have always enjoyed being called a feminist rebel which I now realise, I was perhaps not. By arguing and most often ending up with tears on my pillow, life has always been a struggle about trying to be equal to the male sibling at home.
I look back with embarrassment at the times when I used to watch TV debates and nod, agreeing to men bashing women demanding an explanation on their necessity to go out at midnight or wear ‘immodest’ clothes. At the same time, I empathised with my seniors who were slut-shamed for wearing sleeveless attires, or anything that would stand above the knee. I always wanted to be a rebel who would wear these clothes to school on occasions of celebrations, but there was always the society ready to label me an ‘ugly fat girl who ought to learn what clothes suit her’ or even worse, a ‘slut’.
Later, in my early teens, I would sit with my evolving feminist friend group and criticise Chetan Bhagat and his female characters, while continuing to read them just for the sake of having this lunch-break discussion. Reading One Indian Girl, I was aghast at how the protagonist’s life revolved around just three men.
Simultaneously, I was attracted to the words of Brijesh when said he was a humanist. For a while, it made sense to me. But soon, I was questioning myself as to why should it be humanist and not feminist? The dilemma that I faced as a teenager has only grown more complex as I progressed to adulthood.
The question of whether to rebel and call out your family against their misogyny or to give them the space to do their own unlearning and acknowledge their efforts is also a difficult obstacle to conquer. Patriarchy’s idea of a ‘good daughter‘ and our idea of a ‘good feminist‘ place women in a confusing spot. Again, the pillow becomes my resort. Does appreciating my father take tiny steps to unlearn, which is in effect also just the bare minimum, make me a bad feminist?
The most difficult part of being a feminist has been being a fat one. For someone who has been body-shamed from a very young age, I like to believe I have tried to give an image at least to the people around me, that I was not bothered. But as you grow up and enter the young lady phase, it is impossible to escape the imposition of toxic body standards on you.
My only resort again, has been my pillow, just like from the time I was a kid. While labeling myself as an ugly, fat person, I am faced with the dilemma of embracing my body as it is, and being an obedient daughter adhering to my family’s toxic standards which they consider normal and achievable. The feeling of being a bad feminist strikes each time I dig my face into the pillow.
On the heavier side would still be the feeling of being ugly and fat. The conflict between these would make one feel like a failure. Often, thoughts of fighting the male gaze and patriarchy being a burden, occur. Ranting to people about my weight and body fat again puts me in a vulnerable place where I feel like less of a feminist as I am here again, passively making them bothered about their bodies.
I wonder at times, had I been not on the ‘heavier’ side, I would have been more of a feminist. Now, I feel consoled by the fact that even Fleabag was a bad feminist.
My social media feed is filled with body-positive influencers who have been of great help. Yet, the thought of being a ‘good feminist‘ like them causes enough trouble. But the journey of evolving as a feminist has been thrilling. The journey from thoughts like ‘you are fat and ugly‘ to ‘you are fat but that doesn’t make you ugly‘ to ‘you are fat and beautiful‘, comes with its ups and downs.
At the end of the day, as a friend once mentioned, this could be a compelling case for my feminism. It is not that one becomes a feminist one day and gains all the strength to smash patriarchy every moment. It is a journey that entails emotional and personal struggles one has to fight within.
Meenakshi is currently pursuing a Masters in political science at Delhi University, struggling to breathe while figuring out politics, and gulping down ice creams. She is keenly interested in reading about feminism and writing stories. You may find her on her blog or on Instagram
Featured Image Source: Everyday Health