By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Hello, fellow feminists and people who say they aren’t “really real feminists” but read articles like this anyway. Welcome back to the fold. Let’s begin.T asked:
My parents are really clued into women’s rights and freedoms and all, except when I’m getting late in coming home. Why are they progressive in their thoughts as long as it’s not about me?
I remember having the same argument with my parents when I still lived at home. I couldn’t believe I had to have a curfew when it seemed to me that it would make no difference what time I came home—11 pm was surely just as dangerous as 1 am? The point I made was that they trusted me, the individual, and that trust should hold them in greater stead than a sort of nameless fear of “what will happen to our daughter?” each time I left the house at night. We had many, many arguments about this, so usually, if I wanted to stay out nights, I spent the night at a friend’s with a more flexible curfew. I felt like my mum was just using a knee-jerk “no” each time I asked her if I could do something that went even slightly out of her comfort zone. It was the same when I asked if I could get my arms and legs waxed at 12 (which led to the Great Summer Arm Waxing Fight of 1994), the same when I asked if I could go to a very popular “conti” party four years later (by which time, I grew wise and just went anyway) (Sorry, mum, I know you read this, but, look, I totally survived to adulthood!).
But then, as I age, I begin to see things a little differently. It all began with my yearly Gilmore Girls re-watch (If you haven’t seen the show, here’s where I tell you you must, as a generous aside). As I got drawn into Star’s Hollow, and all their antics, enjoying some of my favourite lines again and again, I noticed the way my opinions were leaning had changed. I was now much more firmly on Lorelei’s (the mother’s) side than Rory’s (the daughter’s). Worse: I felt like all the times Lorelei shouted at her kid were actually justified. What was going on with me? I was so horrified, I couldn’t binge on any more episodes for a week. Picking up more TV shows, I noticed my biases were all leaning towards the adults. Of course you can’t do that, I’d tell one drama-filled TV teen after another, do you want to die? What had happened to me? Was I finally an Aunty For Real? The true test is what you would do if you ever travelled back in time and got to influence your past self’s life. Would I let 12-year-old me get an arm wax knowing how many more years of hair removal she had in her future? I’m…not sure. Would I let 16-year-old me out with boys who were just barely shaving? Um, maybe not.
That’s what being an adult is, thinking of all the stupid risks, and all the ways things could go wrong. Last year, I was on a panel on teen lives with fellow author Nicola Morgan. She goes round the world talking about the teen brain, and one thing she said that day which was quite interesting was that up till your twenties, your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that weighs outcomes, basically helping with risk-taking decisions) doesn’t fully develop. We basically want to do all the scary stuff without actually looking down a future road to see what’s going to become of us later. Which is probably why my twenties were a haze of bad decisions, one tattoo, several piercings, and lots of unsuitable life choices.
So, no, I don’t think your parents worry about you has to do with feminism, not exactly. I think it’s just that we take fewer risks as we get older, and then we get cautious, and about people we love, we get over-cautious. (Parents, especially, find it hard to chill and let go.) I bet they think you’re perfectly capable of making the right choices, they’re just not so sure about the big, bad world around you. Not a judgement call against your woman chops, which I’m sure are pretty kick-ass, just that people get robbed, raped, run over, murdered, assaulted and so on and so forth. Men and women, it’s just that more bad things tend to happen to women as softer targets.
Here’s my advice: talk to your parents and figure out a way you can have fun and they can feel like you’re safe. Maybe a car service? Maybe send them your Uber/Ola co-ordinates as soon as you get into a cab? Maybe they’d like you to text them every now and then to confirm you’re alive? Maybe all three of you could sign up for a self-defence class? It kind of sucks that you have to do all this just because there are monsters that want to hurt, kill or maim, but that’s the world we live in, and in order to be stronger than the undertow, we need to learn to fight fire with fire.