“Gender Equality” and “Feminism” were words and concepts that I hadn’t heard of while growing up. I hadn’t even heard of them in my initial years of college. Social media wasn’t that attuned to women and their issues, and users weren’t sensitised. The numerous feminist blogs and gender sensitive ads that we see today were also not that prevalent.
I, like most of us, believed that there were certain roles that were assigned to men and women and they ought to stick with them. Any deviation from those assigned roles was shameful, and met with judgement from elders and society in general. I was rebellious at certain instances in my life, but most of the time I gave in to such stereotypes. “Women should not wear certain clothes to certain places” or “How can a woman not want babies?” These are few of the many sexist thoughts I had before I stepped into the world and realised how these thoughts backfired on me. I felt disgusted at myself, but soon realised that years of conditioning and lack of exposure had let to this.
In the year 2014, I went to attend the Durga Puja mela in my city. A man groped me from behind and before I could catch him he ran away. Back then, to use words like “breasts” in public, or to scream about a man groping you required tremendous courage. I remember shivering for quite some time. I narrated this to my then boyfriend who, for the first one minute, expressed his anger at the assailant, and then very conveniently shifted to me. He said, “Good girls attend Puja with their families and during non-crowded hours. How did your family even allow you and your sister alone?” I was shocked. I don’t remember what argument followed but this is how most people think. I am just glad my family didn’t blame me.
Youth Ki Awaaz was one the first blogs that I started to read in college. I realised how many of us women hear and experience sexism in our daily lives. I realized how each of us are fighting a battle every single day to get over victim-shaming, gender stereotyping, and casual sexism passed around by our families and places of work. Reading about these experiences gave me the strength and confidence to be myself, unapologetically, to fight back against such blatant sexism and sensitise those around me. I realised that it was important to speak up, to fight back, even if it meant upsetting my family members.
Today I feel much more sensitised and evolved. I feel the same about my family and friends as well. Having gone through the journey of being oppressed and non-sensitised, myself, I feel empathetic towards people. I don’t get as furious as I used to when I heard something sexist. Instead I understand where it is coming from. I try to sensitise people around me and I hope one day we reach a place where women do not have to fight these battles every day; a day they don’t have to justify themselves for being what they want. A day when they can breathe in freedom.