When my 10 year old son read the book “rebel girls”, he could not understand the reason for women being applauded for accomplishing anything the first time or why are they being called a rebel. He doesn’t understand discrimination and I was confused whether to tell him or not. Do I tell him about a fact which exists? Do I let him believe that there’s nothing special about being a boy or a girl, you are a person, an individual and that’s it.
Why do I feel perplexed when talking about gender discrimination? Let me try to elucidate further.
Scenes from Households
Mom to a lazy daughter – You don’t know how to cook, you don’t help me in house chores, what will you do when you get married? How will you handle everything at in laws place?
My mom to me – You will eat shitty food in hostel and then miss my cooking. When you start working, what will you cook to survive alone?
On reaching late home
Majority households – Where were you? Why are you so late? Who were your friends you went out with? You are not allowed to step out anymore
Dad to me – You are very late, its past curfew time, please get out of my house. Go and spend the night at any of your friends place.
At the age of 16 in 11th grade
Dad to my elder brother – what do you want to do in your life? What is your goal? What do you want to become? Do you have any idea what are you doing?
Dad to me at 16 – history repeats itself with the same barrage of questions.
When I had friends who were transitioning from frocks to salwar suits , I found myself in shorts for the simple reason that my mom had bought shorts for my brother which did not fit him. Since those could not be returned my mom simply passed it on to the next person who could fit into them.
When in 80s and 90s the families would largely think of getting their daughter married as a priority, all my parents could think of was how to prepare their daughter for admission in a premier institute for higher education. I have always suspected my parents were more ambitious for me than I was for myself. When I had not even thought of studying outside of the small city I grew up in, my dad sent me to another city merely for tuitions. At that point of time it seemed so normal about what my folks were doing since I met so many other girls at the places I was studying and assumed their parents were the same.
All my growing up years I was never told to wear /not wear certain kind of clothes, to sit/sleep in a particular way, to talk/to conduct myself like a lady, to not have certain gender/kind of friends. The result of the parenting I received could be perfectly depicted in the following episode
I had a college friend, a gal, who belonged to a conservative educated family. She received all the freedom to pursue her academic goals. We were a big group of college friends consisting of both genders and used to visit each other’s homes together. I was usually the one roaming around with guy friends at all times of the day and night and visited her house frequently with them. I talked, teased and cussed (not in front of elders obviously) freely. I never realized what a dilemma I presented to her parents being the way I was. It dawned on me when her parents had to go out of station leaving her alone .They instructed her clearly to call over her two girl friends for night stay for safety reasons. She was specifically told not to invite “yours truly”. The invited girls were the ones who were always dressed in salwar suits, didn’t hangout alone with boys and knew how to cook. I was everything they didn’t want their docile daughter to be. One night of my influence without their supervision could have destroyed their daughter forever ;). My friend who did brilliant academically, had the most evolved sense of humor and had us in splits continuously. She is now married to an academician. She remains a docile daughter in law, wife and mother and has her wry sense of humor still intact.
Another friend for whom domestic violence at home was a much witnessed and accepted tradition, grew up, rebelled and got married to the guy of her choice. When things got rocky in her marriage, her reason to stick it out were as follows – my husband lets me work, earn, live my life the way I want and there’s no physical abuse at home.
I have been a witness of the journey of a family friend who since her teenage years was prohibited to go anywhere alone. She didn’t go to the market on her own, didn’t ever visit her friends’ house, and never wore jeans. She studied in only girls institutions, never spoke/befriended a guy, said yes to an arranged marriage and moved abroad. Staying out of the country was her ticket to freedom; she evolved, spread her wings, started working and led the life of her dreams. That was my perception until I met her recently with her grown up daughter. This well travelled mature woman in her late 40s is still afraid of travelling alone in an auto and doesn’t let her daughter hail a cab on her own. She feels conscious when people look at her and is afraid to move out of a long unhappy marriage despite being financially independent.
The word feminism came very late in my life, probably in late 30s. I never paid attention to what it meant, what people demand when they use it, how does it change the world. The word never came to my mind when I was doing everything that falls in the category of feminism. The only reason I could think of was that I have been born and brought up in true equal opportunities, equal treatment household. When you are never discriminated against, when you are truly measured equal, you carry the same perception outside. This perception blinded me from understanding the decisions women took around me. For instance why women could not make plans for their travel, work or eating out with friends without seeking permission from their husbands, in laws, parents etc.
I used to blame women for being incapable of taking their own decisions or fighting for their own rights .It took me too long to understand that their inability to take decisions comes from their inexperience. They are inexperienced because they have never been given the chance to exercise their will, use their brain and have been constantly threatened of the consequences.
There are very few of us born to be leaders, confidant and independent. Most of us have to be trained for it. For most men they either imbibe it from their father or the family environment or are forced to when thrown in the world. Whereas we women have completely lost it from our DNA, given the age-old conditioning.
My parents did not burden me with the consciousness of my body or the shackles of mind related to our gender in general. An unburdened life led me to be fearless, confident and joyous irrespective of what life threw at me.
My parents never asked me to choose between pink or blue. They just said “You choose” and that was the most important gift to shape a life.