“Balle balle! Aurat toh Kamzor cheeze hai. Ghar ka bojh na sahegi akeli. Aurat toh kamzor cheeze hai“(Women are weak, they won’t bear the burden of the household alone).
This was my first exposure to the feminist political movement in the late 1990s, in the form of a song that I once heard my Mausi (Mother’s sister ) practice before going to join a protest at Allahabad University. On asking her the meaning of her song she explained, “It is a way of ‘asking’ to share responsibility of the household, giving equal opportunities to women.” The word ‘asking’ felt a little hard to digest.
Despite having highly educated parents and family members, there was no escaping the moral code of being a ‘good obedient daughter‘ who would make do with the resources available, work hard to show her merit and not ask or demand things. The thought of publicly demanding anything for being a woman was revolting to me.
Also, having a mother who is a Phd holder, who had given up her academic career to join my MSc holding civil servant father as a stay at home mother, I had seen her that she had to make this choice for the sake of a well-functioning household. I had decided that I didn’t want to suffer the fate of the two most influential women in my life.
It was not hard for me to remain dissociated with my gender. I studied in a girls school, had very supportive parents and was mostly asexual for as long as I can remember. My gender was only a subdued identity of my privileged upbringing, which as per my school lessons, was no longer a barrier if I wanted.
When I went to study Mechanical Engineering as one of the seven girls students that year in a reputed college, it felt like being a gender disassociate had paid off. I was going to be one of those women who don’t make an excuse. I realised that being a smart female student was helping me stand out, so much so that I was ignoring the fact that it was actually demeaning to say that someone “has good ‘technical’ knowledge despite being a girl”.
Then one day my teacher, while explaining rolling motion in the “Strength of Machine” class, asked any of the girls sitting in the front rows to explain the rolling motions as we might be familiar with making rotis at home. We laughed it off at the time. Another day, the lab assistant in a Material Science lab while giving safety instructions told me, “Madamji! Pehle dupatta sabhaliya, phir machine operate kijiye ga” (Madam! First fix your dangling dupatta before you operate the machine), in front of snickering male classmates.
Those were my initial experiences of overtly being made aware of my gender in a so called gender neutral environment. As time went by, I had more experiences of sexism from being called Aunty ji, ladies quota, and the like when I stood up to express my opinion, to not being allowed to sit for placement in several big companies who do not prefer women as maintenance engineers in the shift B (night shift).
In those moments, I felt marginalised. All my privileges of being from an educated, gender sensitive, upper middle class upbringing were still not enough to break structural gender barriers.
Even when I went to work as a Quality Control Engineer in a big automobile firm, my gender identity prevented me from feeling equal. Be it being called a quarrelsome woman by the production department, having to ask for competitive work, feeling sexualised or tiptoeing around the male egos of colleagues. it wasn’t easy. On sharing my ordeal with my male colleagues I would often be told, “That’s why these jobs are not considered suitable for women“.
I realised that no matter how much I tried, I had to be like my Mausi and ask for provisions, concessions and allowances in a socio-economic structure that was not built by or for women. Feminism taught me empathy and solidarity to care for other women. I could finally understand the importance of asking and demanding to change the system which made women to be branded ‘cold‘, ‘aggressive‘ and ‘defensive‘, or non-assertive and demure or suffer from imposter syndrome.
I can only imagine the barriers faced by members of the LQBTQIA+ community, and women from oppressed castes, who are doubly disadvantaged because of their social locations and sexuality. I could appreciate my mother who despite having made privileged choices contrary to my approval. I realized that feminism gave me the wings to relieve myself of the burden of being someone who does not makes excuses and try something that gave me the comfort of making a difference.
Being a single woman of 31 years of age, pursuing a master’s course (while living with my parents), I was recently gripped again with the trauma of having no genuine excuses for being the only spinster of my age in my circle, living with my parents, having no stable job or prospects/intention of marriage. I had no idea how to exist in my surroundings where I had seen no one do what I was doing.
My life is nothing like I had envisioned as a child and I have no relatable role models. There seems nothing glamorous about a solitary, hedonic perusal of imaginary goals when my parents and myself are being judged for my choices. In these moments of darkness, feminism is my rescue in solitude.
It allows me to define myself independent of social structures. It normalises my struggle and appreciates my courage to find my own way. It encourages me to think beyond the social norms, live on my own terms and empower those around me to do the same.
Feminism has been a lot of things to me. It has been an enigma, a guiding light, a moral compass, a tool box, a therapist, and a solace besides being a political force. Feminism liberates and empowers me to be myself. I hope every individual of any gender feels the same, so that they can define their own journey without being guilty of not meeting stereotypical expectations of them.
Featured Image: The New York Times