When we live in a patriarchal system, we grow up with many ideas that are so deeply etched in our minds because of conditioning that we take them for granted without even attempting to question their problematic nature. The best part of coming to a social sciences institution was how eye-opening it was for me with respect to my personal life, and how immensely it helped me to unlearn plenty of problematic ideas I had been normalising for the last 18 years of my life.
Growing up with more male friends than female, I had, for a large part of my life subscribed to the notion that it was easier to be friends with boys than girls as it was ‘less drama’ and how I would not be spending all my time talking about fashion and makeup (that’s what constant exposure to stereotyping does to you). However, once I moved to Hyderabad and shifted into a women’s hostel, I began interacting with a lot of people my age from varied socio-cultural backgrounds and developed a relationship with most of them, which forced me to step out of the preconceived ideas I had about female friendships in general. I realised how essential it is for me to have strong female friendships to survive, and how it empowers me to deal with the obstacles I face. A mere exposure to an academic environment which was open to exploration and discussion of ideas equipped me to learn more about different cultures and lived experiences. The more I learned, the more biases I unlearned.
One of the very first courses I had taken in college was Sociology, and it exposed me to completely new perspectives of understanding the social reality around me, which further strengthened my understanding of how oppressive patriarchy is, as a structure, which constantly functions and manifests itself in various forms in our lives. I also realised how problematic the popular representations of gender roles have been in mainstream books and movies. At one point my favourite hobby was to revisit the films I had already seen to find out how the implicit misogynist undertones.
Each time my illusion of ‘everything is okay with the society’ was hit, I was a little more uncomfortable than before. The more I fought with my family and friends over differing opinions, the more I evolved as a person. No longer can I pass off an incident of rape without analysing the power dynamics involved; no longer can I overlook the problems of diverse popular representation when it comes to gender disparity; no longer can I enjoy a Bollywood song without cringing at its staunch objectification of the female body, and no longer can I even let my friends make sexist comment ‘in jest’ and get away with it.
So, yes, the transition was not easy, and I have lost a lot of friends in the process, but the person I am now, I owe most of it to the college atmosphere which has provided me with not just the most open-minded professors and peers, but also a cross-cultural platform to critically engage with multiple ideas and perspectives, which eventually gave birth to the feminist in me which I am proud of.