Dear Daughter/ Son,
I knew this day would come, when one evening, you would rush up to me and ask me what the word ‘feminism’ means to me. I have to confess there is a part of me that was waiting for this day, hoping I was someone you found approachable to ask questions that intrigued you. I wish I could tell you my story that day. The story of how I learnt about feminism, identified with it and made it my own.
Feminism, as the Oxford dictionary defines it, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. I know you will be raising your eyebrows to this and making a face that suggests that you already knew the definition. Maybe you should have asked your father instead and that I am wasting your time with definitions without getting to the point (like I always do). But there is a reason for doing that, because definitions and boring beginnings just like Bollywood movies may sometimes lead to an unexpectedly great story.
As I write this to you, I can clearly remember the day and time that gave me a reason to identify myself as a feminist, and not just use it as a definition to associate with. “Life is messy and so is feminism,” was something my professor in college always said and something that has remained with me only to reiterate itself time and again. So, while the world around you would have already given you numerous notions/definitions about feminism, let me scatter them all and say that there is really no single way to define feminism.
The ultimate truth is that there is no truth. This is what experience in all its intensity and completeness taught me. It helped me realise that all feminists are not the same. They might be a community but in their ideologies and actions, they can be radically different and unique. So, I am putting down some points that helped me understand my feminism and I hope it helps you too.
You aren’t born a feminist.
Having been a feminist for 15 years of my life, I find myself guilty and little short of words while writing this. Born and brought up in a joint family, I often took pride in being everyone’s favourite and having so many people who cared for me. When, as a teenager, people would ask me if women were treated differently in my home, I got rid of the topic by simply saying ‘never’. It was not until I was in my 20s that I realised how wrong I was.
I remember chuckling as a child when my mother scolded me. She would get scolded instead because I was the precious child of the house and my mother, the child of another house. I remember one of the days when my mother had gone to work and I threw this huge tantrum, she was asked to rush back and quit her job. My petty tears were given more priority than my mother’s hard work. Looking back, I know on that day and many other days I lay on the couch watching TV like a slob while she brought us food and took care of our needs. I was one amongst the patriarchs, the oppressors and I am guilty of it. While my grandmother and I still have arguments on feminism, I realise that she is more feminist than I could ever be. Her struggles to earn in a family where women didn’t, her strength to live with people who had different ideologies than her own and her perseverance to keep going has been something that has kept me going.
Feminism is not your job, it is the way you do your job.
While at this moment when you learn about the struggles of women all around the world and read the works of feminist writers all you want to do is jump up and be a feminist. Stop and think. There are ways in which you can channelise your ideologies to bring about a change. That can be more long lasting and impactful, than shallow words. Be a Paromita Vohra who makes movies that sensitise you to feminism, a Baby Halder whose books shake you to your very core or an Urvashi Butalia, whose grace and patience inspires me. Use your feminism to inspire your art/job and your job to curate your feminism. It will help you and your ideology to grow.
I can now sit in the same room with people with radically different opinions making comments, completely contrary to my opinions; yet keep my calm. That is because I know my struggle is larger than that. Empower others with your ideologies, don’t ostracise them; the former will help you grow and the latter will only make them repel it. Sometimes being the only girl who welds in an automobile engineering class makes a bigger statement than an angry female startup co-founder who keeps blowing the trumpet about her rights. Trust me when I say I have been both.
The world might not understand you. Just make sure you understand yourself.
There was a time when I walked around the corridors of my college alone and sat on long mess tables alone because of the beliefs I held close to my heart and that others didn’t understand. It was a rough time but many years later I can tell you that it helped me grow many folds.
Your ideologies are your own, you have a right to possess them but not to impose them. The multiplicity of people and opinions exist in this world to question our beliefs, shake them and to reconstruct them again. So, it’s okay if your friends or teachers or acquaintances don’t agree with you all the time. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means that between your thoughts and theirs, lies a grey area of ambiguity and acceptance.
When the people of the world don’t get you, find you weird, wild and defeat you, don’t get disheartened. Just tell them they haven’t met your mother. So keep fighting for your beliefs little one, make your opinions count, listen to others, yet believe in your individuality.
There is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. No matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life, says Sarah Kay.
With immense love,