And that there is my first writer crush! Long before Sapna Bhavnani appeared in Big Boss or in movies, she used to write a kickass column in Bombay Times. Way back in 2002 when I was a 16-17 year old girl trying to figure out the ways of the world. Internet was patchy then and articles which came in newspapers had to be saved – cut and paste manual way- if you wanted to re-read them. And thats what I did. For 2 years, every Monday I would look for the BT and read her wonderful words. What a delight to read those emancipated ideas of freedom and doing whatever the heck you want to. Sapna Bhavnani did not disappoint me. When I finally saw her talk in person at a Feminist Conference last Monday, I felt a flutter of joy. Things which I believed all those years back are still true.
And yes, you read that right. I was at a Feminist conference organised by SheThePeopleTV. 20 people from different areas of life talking about feminism. What it means to the world and to each one of us at large. I was enthralled. So many things that we see around us were put into words. Everyday, everywhere we see patriarchy in different forms telling women what they can and cannot do. You telling yourself that certain things are a woman’s domain and that to keep your family intact you have to do those things, or not do so many of them. As a society there are certain rules to live by, but the minute those rules change for men and women, there is misogyny. I am myself guilty of many Feminism Lite things as Chimimand Ngochi Adiche says in her article, I was accepting equal rights for women with conditions. But I can’t raise my son with that thought. He has to know that women and men are equal and he should be respecting them and their choices completely.
There were some eye openers for me in the conference. How we women act as gatekeepers limiting the stuff we or our husbands, partners can do. I have forever remembered my mom telling my dad that he does not do the housework as it should be done. And what is the definition of how it should be done? Its the way in which she does it. It resulted in him helping her very little with the chores at home, that led to a feeling of resentment in my mom that she had to do everything. She also used to give me and my brother rigid instructions on how to do a particular thing. Micro-managing. But what was really happening is that she was preventing anyone from helping her, by setting the standards so high. The same thing happens when my friend refuses to leave her baby with her husband saying ‘he won’t feed her well’, or ‘he won’t clean her bum neatly’. And well and neatly are entirely decided by her. So if women want more freedom, more opportunities they have to stop being their own hurdles. Stop being their own gatekeepers. My dad can clean the house as much as mom can, it’s his house too. My husband can and does take care of our child as well as I can. He is an equal parent. When I realised all these things, it made my life so much easier. And isn’t that the truth? Stereotyping that women can cook and men can understand technology better, woman needs to take care of the house, man needs to earn a living for the house etc. etc. only limits the opportunities we have.
But increasingly, as I read more, as I see and understand more, the angrier I get at how women and their rights have been marginalised for so many centuries. My husband, hopefully in jest, asked me if I am turning into an angry feminist. I told him that I already am a feminist. My mom is a feminist, my mother-in-law is one and even he himself is a feminist. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here doing what I am doing. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to get education, to work or even to get an evening off for myself if I did not have the choice to do the things that I want to, that I wish to do. He is my biggest supporter. We work together in our family business, he is the CEO and I am the CFO in our company. When any banking or financial decisions have to be made he never second-guesses my action. Point blank tells the people looking at him and talking to him to talk to me as I will be making that decision. He urges me to find time to write, or to do another baking course in Le Cordon Blue in Pairs and that he will take care of our child. My parents in law, are equally encouraging of both their daughters-in-law as much as their sons. And they take pride in our achievements. So yes, all of these wonderful people around me are feminists too. They believe in equal opportunities. They believe that their daughter, wife or daughter-in-law is no less than any male counterpart and I hugely respect them for that. Its time that they start taking credit for it and pushing other people to do so by example.
But its always going to be a mixed bag. How do we ensure our girls and women are safe on the streets? Do we tell them to not go out alone at night, to wear appropriate clothes etc or do we tell them to do what they want to do and that we will take care of it if something goes wrong? My 12 year old mentee, Gauri – how do I explain her that she is as precious as her male cousin when all she sees around herself is that the girls are considered worthless? How do I tell my son to react if someone makes fun of him when he is baking a cake? Or if a girl hits him, who do I tell him to do? All of these are complicated questions with no simple answer. But as Chimimanda Adichie says, I have to consider the premise. And believe and make other women believe that they matter. Equally. Not ‘if only’ or as long as’ but that they matter. Full stop.
Of course all of this is for a us, urban, educated, independent women. So many women around us are still trapped in their own homes, suffer and continue to live with abusive philandering husbands, in dead-end relationships, abort girl foetuses, get their daughters married off at twelve, fifteen and never know any life outside of that. But there is hope. When my grandma started working 65 years back in a government organisation or my husband’s grandma got a graduation degree 60 years back, there has been hope. And things will continue to improve, one bit a time.