In my early 20s when I was stumbling through life, hitting professional and personal crests and troughs, it was a heady dose of curiosity about life and an annoying belief in self that saw to it that I made it to the other side. In my childhood, the best things came to me instead of my brother because of virtue of our family being middle class and I being the elder child. We were never allowed sleep-overs or late night parties for as long as we lived under our parents’ roof. The question of boy vs. girl never ever came up, not once in my cocooned life at my parent’s home.
I learned how to cook early in life because I was a fussy kid and my mother did not pander to my constant nitpicking about the fluidity of dal, the crispness of toast and the exact amount of sugar that must go into my milk. There was a simple rule in the house- if you did not like how things were done, you did them yourself. That is why I also polished my shoes or ironed my uniform even after it came from the laundry. So I learned to cook because I was too exact, not because I was a girl.
When I read, heard about, or looked at feminists I never understood what had they had taken up the cudgels for. I was all for women empowerment and the entire jing bang but that was for the ‘lower classes’- those who were not educated or independent enough. Surely, the well-off, financially independent women could speak their minds and not need to be ‘feminists/feminazis (as they are so endearingly called). It was a no-brainer. Needless to say, I was fucking retarded.
My naivety went unchecked till I faced certain situations where my idea of self was challenged, on a regular basis. Until one day, the person who I had become was no longer the person who I was. With my confidence limping to its grave, my self-view was bleak and shaky. I had hit my knees on rock –bottom of my life. It was my child’s illness that turned the tide.
Forced to face the onslaught of life’s blows alone, I had to (wo) man-up and fast. Amidst endless days of hospital visits, tests, doctors appointment, bad and worse news, I found my lost strength. I had two kids to look after and they had just me. In those days of seemingly endless, frenetic activity and nights of uninspiring, suffocating solitude I found the ‘me’ that I had lost- awashed, shiny, bright, hopeful, alive, and yes, feminist.
I took life by the horns. While earlier I was cowering and cutting bits of myself to fit into people’s expectations, now I raised myself to the heights that I was meant to reach. If I could not be treated with respect and dignity, if I had to take scraps because I did not have a certain kind of gene pool, if I had to strangle my every wish to conform, then I wanted no part in it. There was no way in hell I was going to set a bad example to my kids on how women must be treated. It was so simple, really. When I demanded better, better came.
We live in a world that practices the distressing habit of lip-syncing to whatever is the in-thing. ‘Women Emancipation- oh sure; everyone’s equal- of course! And then we go home and treat the women in our lives like shit. To the world, we want to project the image of liberal, cosmopolitan families while behind closed doors we do the opposite. It is these closed doors that do the damage.
My life changed when from a closet feminist I became an open proponent of the feminist theory. My life transformed because I refused to accept that what I was going through was normal. Not many realize, accept or find the guts to do so. Social justice is intangible. Legal equality is for all to see and practice but not social equality. To quote Mark Manson, “The current feminist movement is not a protest against unjust laws or sexist institutions as much as it is the protest against people’s unconscious biases as well as centuries-worth of cultural norms and heritage that disadvantage women. Women still get screwed over in myriad ways. It’s just that whereas before it was an open and accepted part of society, today much of it is non-obvious and even unconscious.” And behind those doors.
In trying to find some meaning in my experience, I spoke to many women later. Most had faced same or worse behind the façade of relationships and family values. Those who had the courage spoke out and moved out- who didn’t, are still stuck pandering to the unjust demands, hoping for either resolutions or some hardy moral fiber to spur them onto getting out of messy situations.
When the whole thing lay open before my 90-year-old grandmother, apart from the fact that she wanted to knockout the culprits, was furious with me. What she said will stay with me forever. “Never compromise on your dignity, no matter who it is. You can always walk away; you always have a choice. The choice is you and your self respect.”