This fortnight, our house is almost all male, with two foster kittens adding to the general madness. I’m teaching them to grow up to be good little feminist cats though. Let’s get started!G asked:
My uncle laughed at my dad for buying sanitary pads for me. How do I make sure my dad doesn’t feel let down or like he did something wrong? He really looks up to my uncle.
Ah, the Well Meaning Relative. We all have one. Perfectly nice people, who would cross the world for you if you needed them, but only if the reason they were crossing the world was something that aligned with their own particular beliefs. As a kid, it didn’t really matter—you were patted on the head and offered sweets and you ran along, content that all was well, but as an adult? Oh boy, so problematic.
The Well Meaning Relative is someone who disagrees with your politics so deeply that the first and only time you ventured an opinion about the party you like, they take it as a personal offence. This same person talked your mother out of letting you go out to that party you really wanted to attend when you were 16, because it wasn’t proper, even though your mother was inclined to let you go. This is the face that swims up when your parents say, “What will people think?” This is the person you need to mind your language around, the person for whom you will sling a dupatta across your kurta, the person who turns your Mom and Pop into strangers, who look at you with alien eyes.
Because, as much as our parents raise us, we raise them. The rise of the nuclear family in India means that more often than not, we’re brought up by no more than two people. Two people learning how to be parents as they experiment with you. Two people who love you madly, and hope you get everything you deserve. Which doesn’t change — one hopes — whether you’re a woman or a man. More so for women, I think. Suddenly, parents of little girls start to see the world in ways that can hurt their best beloved, and they try and compensate for that in every way they can. Including, but not limited to, making sure you have sanitary towels in the house when you need them, without embarrassment. (The dad you mention sounds like that sort of parent. I know there are many different models in the world, and not all of them are great.)
Now parents are only human—this is a good mantra to repeat when you’re particularly mad at them: my parents are only human, breathe in, my parents are only human, breathe out – and so can sometimes be influenced by people they’ve always looked up to set an example. Like your Well Meaning Relative uncle. You tackle this by going straight to the source. You say, “Why, what’s so embarrassing about buying sanitary napkins?” Say it nicely, remember, the Well Meaning Relative gets a lot of his righteous anger from your manners. If you’re rude, you’ve lost the whole argument. Or, if that ship has already sailed, ask your dad to pick up your pads next time. He might be embarrassed, but he loves you, so if he hesitates, just pretend like all of this is totally normal. You’re just asking him for the same thing you asked him last month. Thank him for being so cool about it last time. Be as supportive of him as he is of you.
In the end, he’s Team You, dear G. That means a lot more than Well Meaning Relatives realise.