“But I’ve never stood up to patriarchy!”
This was the first thought in my head when I sat down to write an article on how I stood up to patriarchy. Striving for some inspiration, I asked my small community of Instagram followers to share their experience with thwarting patriarchy, and to my surprise, in more than 24 hours, not a single person responded.
The thing is, we’re surrounded by stories and anecdotes of men, women and children who’ve smashed the patriarchy in colossal ways. We’ve all read about young girls who’ve fought with entire villages to have the right to study, women who’ve left abusive households with their children and survived on their own, CEOs of huge corporations who’ve overcome numerous obstacles to be where they are today.
Compared to them, to an average woman, privileged to be born in an urban setting, it seems that she’s never really even felt the need to stand up to patriarchy. After all, most of us didn’t have to fight to get an education or escape horrible marriages. Does it mean that we, as those women, have failed to help further the cause of women empowerment?
One doesn’t stand up to patriarchy by newspaper headline-worthy acts only. If you’ve ever refused to laugh at a “women are such bad drivers, lol!”, you’ve stood up to patriarchy. If you’ve ever called out “that’s sexist!” to someone saying “Hey, you throw like a girl,” you’ve stood up to patriarchy.
If you’ve ever overcome that voice in your head that tells you how a pretty girl, dressed up in pink and sparkles, if probably dumb and told yourself that she is as smart, intelligent and unique as the next because her beauty can very well coexist with brains, congratulations, my friend, you’ve stood up to the patriarchy!
The night before my first day of 9th Grade, my father wouldn’t let me sleep because “you can’t wear your school uniform’s skirt with those hairy legs, shave them.”
Cut to almost a decade later, when my younger brother insisted on shaving his moustache and trimming his leg hair, my father asked him not to because “Those hair are natural” “as opposed to my leg hair that are completely artificial, aren’t they?” I remarked. He didn’t object to my brother removing his hair afterwards.
Belonging to a household of right-wing fundamentalists, I’ve heard my grandmother instruct my mother to clean up my father’s messes because it’s the ladies’ job and upon my protest, told me flatly that whether or not I like it, we live in a male-centric society.
First, our cook decided to take a day off and my mother felt a little under the weather. My father assumed charge of the kitchen. True, he didn’t know where we kept the atta (flour); true his rotis were little more on the burnt side, but he cooked the entire meal, in spite of my grandmother feverishly insisting he leave the kitchen at once. Over the years, I’ve seen him get more and more involved with such tasks, not shying away from washing utensils and sweeping and mopping as and when required.
Second, my proudest and biggest stance against the patriarchy is helping raise a gentle, compassionate and feminist younger brother, who on his 11th birthday, after everyone had left, sat playing with his cousin, then about 8 years old. As they stacked blocks and arranged action figures into a nice little narrative, I heard him say in the most pedagogic way, “Do you ever feel you’re less than a boy? Never ever feel you’re less than a boy. Girls are equal, if not better than boys.”
The little girl, like a devout student, promptly replied, “Yes bhaiya, I will never see myself as less than a boy”. And just like that, they went back to playing, unaware of the sheer magnitude of their small conversation.
It’s also the women we might see as orthodox today. My grandmother, who finds herself to be quite old fashioned, not only is postgraduate but has worked her entire life in spite of her father being horrified with the idea of a woman of a respectable family working.
Our lives are littered with small instances where we’ve all stood up the chauvinism. Just because they may not meet the magnitude of what we see glorified around us, doesn’t mean they are any less valuable or powerful.