The whole of last year, most people were stuck at home with family. When they got bored of taking up challenges or ran out of topics to bond over with family members, they started rummaging through their old things. There are a lot of memories stored in old, dusty albums, diaries, mementos and worn-out clothes. There may be some special moments and a lot may just be the everyday memories of experiences of playing with friends, having fun at school or just random stuff they can now laugh about with their siblings. I have been doing the same thing, too.
But the twist is that even though I may have had a “normal” childhood, I now realise that there were a lot of toxic elements involved. And remembering those, over this period of eight months, has caused a lot of trouble for me and my mental health. As an independent and confident woman now, it is distressing for me to know that in a class debate once, I had argued that women should know how to cook even if they are one of the earning members of the family. People would now wonder what is wrong with this statement.
The foundation of its incorrectness is that the same is not said about men. Ask any person, irrespective their gender, how hard it was for them to get food during the lockdown. Restaurants have recently opened up and food apps are delivering meals, yet, people are scared of getting Covid while ordering food from the outside. So wouldn’t it be nice if the person knows how to cook for themselves? Men are expected to dedicate so less time in learning and developing the life-saving skill of cooking.
Anyway, that was not just one memory that gave me the chills. I was going through a few old books and found one fairy tale book. I don’t remember how I know the Cinderella story, but I found an Indian version of the same in this book.
There is a pure-hearted princess who is being wronged by her stepmother. Now, this is pure evil. No, not the stepmother, but the making of a narrative that stepmothers are always cruel and never treat the princess justly. A big thanks to all the feminist retellings of these fairy tales. So, basically the princess in this book is sad and a fairy appears to help her. Magically, a prince comes to her rescue because even a fairy has limited magic skills that can simply give her a chance to find and impress her prince charming.
So, whatever this story was, I could now remember a lot of similarly patterned stories. There is one where the girl had to be obedient to an old grumpy woman for a month or so, and in the end, she is rewarded by the grandma with fairness, new clothes, jewellery and also a prince charming to marry. So now you know there are so many problematic narrations we must have come across.
These stories, for a certain period of my life, corrupted my opinions. I had a very strong belief that if a girl is being mistreated by her family and endures it without retaliating, she would be rewarded with a handsome, strong prince in the end. And that would be the end of her sorrow because he would love her a lot and shower her with nice clothes and jewellery. Television serials added to these fantasies. Such beliefs made me accept myself as a silent victim of the patriarchal society and prevented me from raising my voice against injustice.
And not just that, I have an embarrassing memory of enacting such stories with my friends and moreover, of discriminating and bullying my girlfriends on the basis of their skin colour and body weight. So I would become the fragile girl waiting for her future husband to rescue and marry her and put an end to the saga of injustice and sorrow. But what I didn’t know was that it never ends. You are instead taught to submit to patriarchy and forget that you have your own likes, dislikes and opinions. You are conditioned to believe that marriage is a reward, clothes and jewellery are happiness, and someone will eventually save you from the cruel treatment.
But what if nobody turns up? What if you are unhappy even after marriage? What if clothes and jewellery don’t cheer you up? And fundamentally, why do you want to give charge of your happiness to some person or object or incident, which you don’t even know will actually make you happy? Why can’t you take charge of your life and do things that make you proud, happy and satisfied with yourself?