Who are we teaching our little girls to become?
I’ve always thought that I’m a Feminist.
I’m a woman. It would be stupid not to be on my own side. I have always believed that a woman deserves the right to respect and choice from cradle to grave. This is why I get the women who think they are feminists but aren’t: I’ve been one of them.
It’s so easy to disguise inequality under the guise of sacrifice and love, that nobody actually spots the difference till it’s too late.
I was once arguing with a male friend over the things about me that my former partner had made me change, prompting a reflex reply, “nobody ever makes you change anything. You change it out of your love for them.” I don’t think he understood what my smile meant right then, but it was a result of a simple thought “this is the problem.”
The specific Indian culture that we grow up in has been so quick to teach women to “adjust” and “sacrifice” right since we were little girls because that’s a part of our “motherly and soft” nature, that the idea that we can take up space too, feels foreign.
We don’t feel entitled to having ourselves heard. It’s a privilige. It’s a big deal if the President or Prime Minister is a woman. It’s a big deal if a husband helps in cleaning the house. It’s a big deal if someone is specifically considerate of a female’s needs. Its a big deal. It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal.
And if it’s a big deal, it’s not feminism. It’s feminism when it’s not even noticable anymore- because it’s become an everyday thing.
People are so quick to use the “choice” argument in EVERYTHING.
“If a woman wants to keep Karva Chauth fast, let her. If a woman wants to worship her husband like he’s a God, let her.”
Here’s the deal, okay? These choices don’t come out of nowhere. Years of conditioning by society have TAUGHT women that this is how to behave. Women fast for their husbands without it being reciprocated because they have subconsciously learnt it.
What do such rituals have to do with feminism?
Essentially, everything. They show a culture which promotes a man being respected and worshipped as an authority by a woman. It’s not done out of “love”. It’s done out of learning how a woman is ideally “supposed” to express her love. If you make a woman grow up in a neutral, feminist environment, and then introduce her to this ritual. If it’s done in private, and she is not exposed to it in media, movies, or her own parents’ lives when she’s young, if it’s not over glamourised in her mind from a young age, if you educate her on Feminism, and what this ritual essentially symbolises, and THEN she makes a “choice” to not eat for an entire day, i will respect that choice. THAT is Feminism.
We learn by watching our mothers call our fathers “aap”- the more respectful version of “tum” (you)- that he’s the figure who is worthy of the most respect. In the small, and big, sacrifices that she makes for him, we learnt that that’s what we must do. A girl who is adamant on proving her point is “stubborn” while a boy is just “passionate”. A girl needs to be more malleable, more dynamic- because she will need to “adjust” with completely new people. (Question 1: Is my groom going to be a surprise on the wedding night?)
Also read: What is it to be a Muslim in India?
This is how it probably started. Through the “old housewives’ wisdom to a happy household” passed down to me from centuries. “Make him feel like a man”- what were we doing that was making him feel like a woman, in the first place? Doesn’t this roughly translate to make him feel incharge of everything, important, and dominant? Make him feel like an authoratative guardian figure. Is being made to feel smart and respected a male need, only? And how is a relationship between partners supposed to work with and unequal balance? (Question 2: Why will I WANT to marry a man who doesn’t like me thinking I’m equal to him, in the first place?)
“Forgive things said in anger”- why. (Question 3: Does being angry give a guy the warrant to call you every single thing under the sun, to hurl the lowest of low cusses at your character, and get away with it because you want to maintain harmony?)
I can give more examples, but my point is simple: why are these supposed to guide us to a “happy household”? These are essentially directions to stay mum about the sadness present in the household. Who is a sad, unequal relationship or marriage even helping?
Why do people call divorce and breakups “sad”? I think that’s the bravest, most wonderful thing to have been ever discovered. The ability to fight for your own happiness. To not settle for less. To not be lost in the delusion of love hurting. To not be so scared of the society that you don’t mind not wanting to wake up next to the person you didn’t even want to go to bed with.
But a few months ago, none of these thoughts were going through my head. It was taking an emotional toll on me, but I couldn’t care less. I was overlooking things, smiling through accusations, and letting go of things which should have made me let go of my partner, because that’s what I’d always been taught by my parents…women have to make sacrifices at times, and have to stay silent at times, if they want the peace and harmony of the relationship to be maintained.
I thought I was a feminist because if I had a daughter, I would definitely want her to study and choose what she wanted to wear, and all of those special situations that we see in government sponsored pro feminist advertisements. But in reality, I was not a feminist, because I was delusioned enough to think, that if my partner isn’t comfortable with my clothes, my responsibility towards him should prompt a change in the length of my skirt- rather than my responsibility towards myself, prompting a change in my partner.
The biggest thing opposing Feminism is us being pitted against each other, and hating our bodies. I was a chubby kid, which was cute. Until I was a teenager, and it wasn’t.
I’m smart enough to know better now,but for a thirteen year old whose exposure is limited to the image of women potrayed in media, and the discussions at family meals which include casual sexism, the idea that ‘Slim is beautiful’ was a universal truth. Nobody fell in love with chubby girls in movies. Nobody gave them jobs in advertisements. Nobody married them in sitcoms. Somewhere, somehow, I felt like I had cracked the code to happiness
In the end, what helped, was NOT accepting myself. It was falling in love with myself. I’ve cheated on myself so many times. I have let go of my own needs for the needs of those around me. I have tried to fit frames. I have tried to cut corners. I have tried to change myself. It’s all bullshit.
I’ve said it earlier, and I’ll say it again. The longest relationship you have, is with yourself. Unless you sort that one out, all else will fail. The idea of being “selfless” in love doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I believe that only when you love yourself enough that that love completely fills your heart, can it overflow into another person’s. Because you can’t pick the right love if you don’t respect yourself. Unless you are happy with who you are, you search for that happiness in you partner. That’s not love. That’s a need. And life becomes gorgeous when you don’t need that anymore. There is nothing better than walking pass a window, looking at your reflection, and thinking, “I love you.”
Look at your stretch marks. Each of them tells a story about you. Some you learnt from, some you conquered. Look at the burn marks on your arm you hate- it’s from back when your curious four year old self touched the iron. It shows that you were strong enough to survive something that hurt you. Look at those “crazy curls” or “boring straight hair” you hate. Do you really think that their can be a better frame for your face? If you do, congratulations, because you can get it. That is the point. It’s your body.
Every curve, every freckle, every part of your body makes you who you are. You wouldn’t be you without it. Your body is not a problem to constantly attempt to solve. Have we really taught our women that you’re not beautiful unless a man agrees that you are? Have we really taught our little girls, that something as phenomenal as love, is a cause of something as fleeting as outward beauty? Have we really taught our teenagers, that getting the attention of a man is a competition? Is that what a man is,at the end of a day? A trophy?
In the few years that I have managed to look at the people around me- Why is it, that I have almost never seen a female friendship survive after both the woman have been in love with the same person? And why is it, that almost every male relationship that I notice manages to make it through?
Women are taught to compete against each other. To be prettier, to be smarter, to be more talented. We live in a world where the only method to “win” is to ensure that our sisters lose. If a man tells another man that the t-shirt he’s wearing isn’t very flattering on him, the guy will go and change it, and all will be right in bro world again. But God forbid I tell my girl friends the same thing. I will be the most conceited, ill mannered person. Is it because men are trusted to actually have concrete opinions, and women only have ulterior motives? Or is it something that runs much deeper than that?
Who are we teaching our little girls to become?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Second Angle.