...and then

Monday, 26 April 2010

I am a feminist

A school mate of mine, who I think I'd like to be friends with now, told me on phone recently that she has been a stay-at-home mum for about four years now, since her daughter was born. This girl, as I remember her from school, was bright, sociable, dedicated, focused, had an excellent work-ethic and hovered somewhere at the top of our class. I think she had ambitions to do something in the sciences, or perhaps it was engineering, I can't be sure now.

I recently spoke to her again and was very pleasantly surprised that she chose a more evolved stream and did her BA in English Literature. Moreover, after having worked in a bank here in Oman for a bit, she married, settled down and is now a very happy mother to a four-year old. The thing that struck me in the conversation was her saying, "You know,  I am not a very career-minded person at all."

For me, that was surprising, because I know very few women of my generation who are not career minded. We were all raised on the ethic that we needed to conquer the world, we needed to stand on our own feet so that we could be who we wanted, so that we could make our parents proud, so that we could go live the life our mothers dreamed of. We were also raised on stories of women facing every kind of degradation in history.

Very often, without our realising, our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and indeed, the very idea of our Self was deeply tied together with having a career. And in second-generation working women, like me, it wasn't enough if you were in one of the "easier" fields: beauty, teaching, clothes, if you hadn't the smarts to become a doctor or an engineer. Somewhere along, we got the message that we had to go do the "tougher" things. I put easier and tougher in quotes because the jobs listed next to them, aren't my definitions of those words. I don't see what is tough about sitting in an air-conditioned office and doing a 350-word story on summer trends for glasses. You're still a journalist but not doing a tough job. Similarly, I don't see what is easy about being on your feet all day making other women beautiful; bending over to thread women's eyebrows or waxing their armpits or massaging their pedicured feet. Beauty, you will agree, is not easy.

But coming back to my point, for most my generation of women it is very clear that the option of staying home was almost not there, unless you absolutely couldn't help it. But this girl, who grew up in a single-income household, is very happy with her status. And while there's only a hint of apology when she talks to someone like me who has a career (somewhat), she's quite comfortable with the fact that her daughter, her family come first.

For a few days, I have been thinking about feminism. For some years now, I have been hearing women say, quickly and defensively, when they tend to speak up for women and their rights, that they are not feminists. And I've wondered why.

I've seen men say it derisively of a woman, that she is a feminist. I, on the other hand, proudly say I am a feminist. I speak up for myself, I speak up for my sisters, I speak up. I love being a woman, I really like men and I love my career as well as my kids. I strive hard to make my parents proud (whether they see it or think otherwise), I love finding out new things about me and just because I play other roles like daughter, wife, sister, mum, friend, and everything else, I am NO less myself. In fact, all these roles just add to my personality. So what exactly am I missing when people run away from the F word?

Thanks to the feminist movements, Men, your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters can vote, can inherit property and are considered citizens of a country. Thanks to feminism, there are laws where rape, molestation, sexual harassment at work are all punishable. Thanks to feminism, girls have a right to education just as much as boys do.

And women, exactly what makes you say, "Hey, I am no feminist but I really think women should..."? Even if you aren't a feminist in the strict sense of the word, why do you have a problem with being labelled as one? Is it because you, like me, love pretty lingerie and are not willing to give it up? Is it because you think 'feminist' automatically means you need to call men words that a sailor would blush at? Maybe these questions are simplistic, but I am just trying to understand why you don't like being called a feminist.

Because you know, us feminists, don't burn bras anymore. We even get married (to men) and have children. Why, we go as far as telling people that we love being a woman and for us many times feminism means that I get to stay at home and there's no pressure on me to earn for the family, most of the time.

Honestly, that is what feminism means to me today. One of my favourite writers (as she is with many women I know) Alice Walker has a beautiful word for it Womanism. For me, being a woman, being a feminist means now that I have most my rights in place -- voting, education, property, the right to choose my last name, the right to be safe (?) apart from others -- I have the right to choose. I have the right to choose whether I want to go to work and make a career, or I want to stay at home and revel in domesticity. Feminism, for me, means the freedom to choose the latter and not feel like I've betrayed my education and my talent by choosing  to stay at home and considering a family more important.

Feminism to me means having the choice to go to work even though I have children and coming back feeling good that I spent a productive day work while looking forward to time with the kids. It means not feeling guilty that I spent time away from them. Feminism means to be able to my buy my own car or designer handbag. It also means to have the grace to say 'thank you' if a man offered to buy either, once in a while.

Feminism means feeling comfortable to say that I asked my husband out; that I like to cook (I don't; just an example) or crochet (which I like) or sew or bake without feeling like if I say it, people will think of me as domesticated, as a "typical" girl. It means feeling comfortable to say I love cars, gadgets and women without being thought of as a tomboy, or worse, a wannabe tomboy. Feminism means not thinking it's a great thing if you own best bud is a man -- it doesn't make you any different from a woman who's best friend is a girl. In my opinion you should have one of both.

What does feminism mean to you?

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Blogger Judy Balan said...

You know how much I've bleated on the subject right? I honestly don't know what the strict definition of the word is, but it's the connotations that make me want to run.

So yeah, now that everything is in place (voting, property, last name etc.) do we still need to hide behind a movement? Don't know. With that said, I like men, love lingerie and nodded to most other stuff minus the sewing :))

And oh. The two best friends (one man one woman) thing works just great!

4:49 pm  
Blogger Suburban said...

You took the words out of my mouth. Fantastic post.

I would like to think that I don't need to either Justify, or declare that I am a feminist, because I think it should show in my actions, and my choices. I sort of dislike that there is even a label for it.

Like, I am a lucky, married, employed, ballsy, gorgeous, porn watching, weird, assertive, loud-mouthed, dinner cooking, child bearing, bluejeans wearing, ass-kicking, insecure, house cleaning, car fixing, occasionally shallow, rocket in the sack, race car driving, blow-job giving, totally demanding, occasionally irrational, often cocky, sometimes sexualized, sometimes not, intellectually empowered woman, who sometimes lingerie that should be illegal, Bras, ballgowns, makeup and high heels, because it's fun, and not because anyone makes me, or because I am folowing a certain political agenda. We don't need to create a label to describe what that is, or what we are.

I think part of the issue is that there will always be people out there who want to brand you as "not feminist enough" or she's a total feminist", or she's a total mommy and wife, like doing that is a failure. Feminisim is about having the freedom to do what makes you happy, even if that's raising kids, and looking after a wonderful husband, who treats you with respect and values you for ALL your skills.

It's not unlike being a Muslim, you are either not a "real" Muslim, or not following the religion enough to be a "good" Muslim, or you are a wacky Long beard "fundo" Muslim etc... it would be so much better is we could gradually eliminate these labels and the judgement that come with them. I'm human, you are Human, we're all empowered to be whomever it is we feel we ought to be.

End of rant. Like I said, Excellent post.

5:01 pm  
Anonymous Manju said...

I loved this post. I love most of that you have written here. i have term for my form of feminism; i call myself an Individualist. because primarily we all need to make sure no one impinges on our space and our freedom. it also means i fight for what is rightfully mine. i wonder if that borders on selfish??? mayb it does. cos i strongly believe charity begins at home!
which brings me to the sit at home mother that i am! i am desperate to get back to work not cos i want to further my career or because i am career oriented, but because i am bored and i need to have a life of my own. something for myself where i create a niche for myself however small.

5:12 pm  
Anonymous Manju said...

P.S. I love what Suburban has written.

5:15 pm  
Blogger The Coffee Cup said...

I am feeling a little better, I should say. Feminism is a word often misunderstood or misinterpreted. Even in this age for most people define it as 'bra burning', 'male haters' etc. Worse, there are a bunch of women who term themselves "feminist" and who believe that feminism means dressing your worst. My first job as journalist was with a regional TV channel in Kochi. I had a colleague, who I was told was different and a self-proclaimed feminist. She was a news presenter with the channel and during one of the conversations she said: "Why the hell should women wear bras. Why should men rejoice by seeing our curves?" Her solution: She would wrap a piece of cloth tightly over her breast and flatten it as much as possible (I doubt she had to try too hard coz it never appeared full or appealing). This, according to her, was feminism.
I love my lingerie (lacy ones, colourful one), my cosmetics, my spaghettis...my womanhood. I love the phrase womanism, at least it doesn't have the fake/diluted feeling of feminism.
After years of working, late nights at office, attractive pay cheques, I am now home, playing mommy to a little son. Yes I admit I do feel wasted at times...and I do strive to do maintain a balance my doing a few articles here and there. But that is out of my own choice and not b'coz I fear someone would term me the 'typical woman' or 'domesticated' or the 'obedient wife'. I am ME and I love it this way.

5:20 pm  
Blogger The Coffee Cup said...

About the friend...it's definitely best of Mars and Venus for me. Have angels from both who've brightened my life, kicked me hard when needed and made my life happier and fuller. Love you guys and girls.

5:26 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Judy: You've ranted about this? Okay, I missed it then. But see, I don't mean we need to hide behind a movement, as you say. I am just saying I don't want to run away from it if I were called a feminist. I don't like to sew either :)

Suburban: Wow! Just take that comment and put it in your about me section. Except for the race-car driving, you're my soul sister! Everything down to the porn-watching, sometimes sexual, sometimes not, dress-wearing weirdness :) Big hug! Please do a guest post one of these days for me. And for those of you who haven't read her latest, go there and die laughing.

Manju: Individualist is a good word. And you're succeeding at that brand of yourself :) And there's absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish either, by the way. I think you have to be selfish if you've got to be happy, make others happy, attain world peace etc. My issue is when people become self-centred. Selfish is good, as Hindu philiosophy (and maybe other religions) will teach you. I agree, I too love what Suburban has written.

Sree: See? That's what I mean. Why are we still stuck in the second wave of feminism? Why should you want to desexualise yourself? Why should you put yourself in pain to deprive? Isn't it just easier to strive towards a world where you are safe enough to be confident and comfortable no matter what you are wearing? For me feminism is a part of my daily life. It shouldn't even be an issue. Loving oneself is one thing, running away from being a feminist another, don't you think?

6:07 pm  
Blogger Abhipraya said...

This is surreal. Sav and I were discussing the exact same thing! And girl you've taken the words right out of my mouth!

9:15 pm  
Blogger Curry Pan said...

I've had this dharmsankat since forever!
(dharmsankat - chaotic despair)

whoever translated feminism to its extremist forms of expression?!

Personally, I love working in a dynamic environment. As an electrical engineer, in an all male environment, I sometimes fight intangible discrimination. But then my immediate colleagues celebrate my uniqueness as a person - as an individual - not as a woman.
Those men are all feminists.

In this age, when jobs are scare, companies are approaching certain brighter students on their own!! With offers of careers. Much as I am excited about these opportunities, I know how far I want to go and when I want to stop. At that point, I will sing full time and write fairy tales for children.
And yet, I am a feminist.
Writing fairy tales makes one no less at fixing a car engine.
Taking care of a family makes one no less a unique personality.
And in the end, it's not about men or women. It's about individuality and the pursuit of satisfaction, isn't it?

10:04 pm  
Blogger Passionate Goof said...

Where did my comment go?? :((

5:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*sits in the middle of TRQ's blog and bawls* I wrote a comment, a really long one and when I submitted it, I got an error message. Bad bad blogspot :(

10:05 am  
Blogger Pointblank said...

Thats a brilliant post. Totally echoed my thoughts. Loved it :)

10:12 am  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Abhipraya: I am happy to know we still all totally connect even though we don't in real life :P

Curry pan: How utterly and completely eloquent. Sing full time? Wow :) Send us a file, I promise to feature it here.

PG: Oh no, not again. Greedy blogger. Try again?

RJDV: Oh no no, no crying on my blog and ruining your mascara. Stop it. Take a cue from your neighbours the British. Send comment again please!

Pointblank: I LOVED your blog colours. Made me want to rush back to India and live with mangoes :( And thank you for blogrolling me! I had no idea :)

1:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you have said here. Loved this post.

Women are afraid of being labeled man-haters.

Also they are taunted as bra burners - this thing about women burning their bras, which I read somewhere - was more of a symbolic gesture, that no bras were burned, but the media then made it sound like they were. (I am not saying there's anything wrong with them actually burning bras, just that it never happened).
I am new here, love this blog!!

5:37 pm  
Blogger Raj said...

Well, you have left no room for discussions on your views.

How would you describe feminism in a transitional state of mind. Its possible that your friend has decided that this is the best way to raise a child in early days and could end up being the best mother in the process?

9:27 pm  
Anonymous snippetsnscribbles said...

Have been following your blog for a while and now I just had to come out (!!) and comment :)

Absolutely brilliant post about Feminism and how its misconstrued. And thats where I have trouble explaining to people that ask me about Feminism! Now, I just tell them to go Google!

have blogrolled you :)

11:30 pm  
Anonymous feminist said...

Wow well written girl... Actually even I to think in the same way as what you have written. I really loved reading it. Actually feminism is not something which is against the race of men, but it is about the concern for woman rights. Its not even hurting men in anyway. Just be concerned and careful about our rights thats it. Keep writing :)

9:23 am  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

IHM: It's an honour coming from you. Thank! :) Oh the bra-burning never happened? That should be good news to men who worry their women are going to go feminist and are not perky enough ;P

Raj: Hey, what do you mean I've left no room? Maybe I misunderstood your comment but I hope you realised I was applauding what my classmate had done and was disparaging of my own surprise at her choice. I love the fact that she feels free and comfortable enough to say that being at home, and being a fulltime mum is what she wants. I wish I could get there without feeling like I am betraying a lot of things.

snippetsandscribbles: Hey! Welcome to the blog. It's nice to know I have lurkers too :D Good job on telling them to go google things. :) Wiki has a good succinct entry on it no? Thanks for the blogroll, honoured :) Just peeked at your blog. Full day. Be assured I'll attack it later today :)

feminist: See? You know exactly what we are all talking about. I just wish the others understood that while you don't have to go around screaming you're a feminist, you don't have to run from it either.

11:30 am  
Blogger Raj said...

Oops. I was trying to indicate that this was indeed a well-rounded dissection of feminism :)

And the other one was about how individual choices and how content you are in the role played, drives the different stages in feminism

4:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TRQ - What a brilliant post...Wow...i am a feminist for sure!

I think men are annoying at times...but i lvoe their company and can spend hours discussing cricket.

I dont like makeup...but i love pretty shoes, love getting pedicures and love dainty womanly tops.

I love the fact that i can think of having a career when i do have kids or i can choose to stay at home

I love the fact that i dont have to be a hard nosed bitch at work...but can be pleasant and still decently ok..

Yay..>TRQ i am a feminist and i am Loving it (Mac Donalds style)

3:56 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Raj: At least I got one thing right, that I completely misunderstood your earlier comment :) Thanks :)

:dropzofjupiter: I love what you've said here. I love how we've all said what it means to us. And yet, we still feel the need to act in a certain way to prove we are one or another, other neither one at all. :) Thanks!

5:53 pm  
Anonymous Spirited Seeker said...

I guess a caricature of the feminist of the 70s was that she was devoid of all soft feelings, compassion, that she shunned beauty, loathed marriage... Part of all that was true - in those days.

Any one who believes in the dignity of women and the importance of fair choices in their lives is a feminist, whether they call themselves that or not.

7:50 am  
Blogger deepa ravi said...

consider this my standing ovation for this post! I found myself nodding to most of what you've said. (except the crochet!) And l love the word 'womanism'. It sounds so soft, nice and warm like a mother's hug :)

I believe my definition of feminism almost matches yours - having the freedom to choose. That's been our victory over the years. And lets raise a toast to that :)

9:49 am  
Blogger Tamanna said...

You took the words right out of my mouth. I am almost sick women still thinking that they need to be loud/ unmarried/ fiercely independent to the extent of being detached/ not-a-great-cook/ commitment phobic/ to be heard/ not want a man in their lives to be the women/ feminist they aspire to be.

Why can't I love being exactly what I am, want to be loved and care for, choose whether or not I want to have a career, and still be a feminist who knows what she wants and get it? Why is feminism almost equated to being cold? I don't get it!

4:55 pm  
Blogger Tamanna said...

And yes, I am married, working, waiting to have kids, awesome in the kitchen (;)) AND a feminist. At least I like to believe that. You've got me thinking, I will have to blog about it now.

And I don't burn my bras. They come quite expensive these days. LOL!

4:57 pm  
Blogger Goofy said...

Of course, as long as a man going about his life is called a Mal(e)ist

8:52 pm  
Anonymous Vishal Pipraiya said...

Very interesting post and quite like the way you put forth your views on feminism. Must say I agree with most of what you said. Just curious though on what you think of reservation? A lot of men (even educated thinking ones) think of feminism today as women's fight for reservation in bus, at work, in the parliament. Ideally it should be a state where there is no need for reservation. Thoughts?

7:19 pm  
Blogger Meghpeon said...

Wonderfully put. Loved it.

For me the big F means all about being myself while respecting other's choices.

7:46 pm  
Blogger Aathira Nair said...


I guess having no qualms of saying what a woman likes, dislikes, loves, hates and not being bothered by what society will think is feminism to me. And I feel that if I can achieve that, it will be a great feeling!

10:21 am  
Blogger Er. said...

A well put post if I say. Though, my views on the topic are quite blunt. And may (Read - Are going to!) offend many here! ;) But, I must say... this was thought provoking. And smart!

PS: Congratulations for the selection of this entry as the BlogAdda’s Tangy Tuesday Picks – May. 04, ‘10. One of my post is selected, too.

1:41 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Spirited Seeker: Amen

Deepa Ravi: You're so kind, Deepa. And, yes, definitely let's raise a toast :)

Tamanna Mishra: Hey welcome to the blog. :D Well said. Oh yeah those bras come expensive these days and pretty ones too! And two thumbs up for all that you are, especially rocking in the kitchen :D Seriously, though, I think we just belong to a generation that's come full circle. A lot of the other things become completely irrelevant in our context. I don't like labels, but I don't like the anti-label either!

Goofy: Giggle :D Should I just take my post down and put up your one-liner? You have a talent for this :)

Vishal: I have abstained from posting on the reservation bill for the simple reason that I believe exactly what you said. Women are NOT a minority or second class citizens that need reservation anywhere to get ahead in life. Lord knows a whole lot of us here have done it without any help up our talent, hardwork and character. But I also think it is a little premature to entirely write away the reservation bill. I think it will throw up opportunities, in a few years, for women who don't come from the urban setting who have opportunities and only glass ceilings to conquer.
There are a host of other issues that this opens up but at this point it is conjecture. And I have to say this ideally, I repeat, ideally, the reservation bill shouldn't be there at all. Intellectuals and progressives will argue that women don't need to be given preferential treatment. ANd they will be right; I agree with them. BUT but, it's okay for us educated, loaded-with-opportunity, brought up-on-progressive values kind of people. I think it's within deeper India that this will find a positive resonance. Maybe I am just optimistic. Thanks for your comment!

Meghpeon: And that's all there is to it :) Welcome to the blog.

Aathira: I have lurkers? Yay!Yes even as I write this reply I have my own issues right in my garden that I need to take care of. For example, if I were to give up work and be a stay at home mum, would I be worried about where the world is going and I am not?

The Virgin Author: Welcome to the blog and I love your nick! All the best on the authoring. Oh so that's where the sudden traffic was coming from :) Thank you blog adda, again :D You don't think my views are blunt? :) When you can get away without offending, why not eh? :)

4:59 pm  
Blogger Journomuse said...

Nice Post, Restless Quill...So true...I want to proudly say I'm a Feminist...But like you say, people would turn around and pontificate..Ahhh it's easier for you, you have no kids, no 'responsibilities', you can do as you please...And that's when I narrow my already tiny eyes and say "&*(@ %&$"

2:18 pm  
Blogger Curry Pan said...

hello hello! where are you hiding (no question mark key, sorry)

2:52 pm  
Blogger Sandhya Menon said...

Journomuse: Thanks, you! Yeah you know, that's matter for another post altogether. How single people are thought of as giddy and responsibility free. Just because you have a different set doesn't mean you're living it up till the small hours and doing precious little.

Curry Pan: I know I know. It's been a while. Stuck. But thank you for the knock. I needed it. New post coming right up!

3:15 pm  
Blogger starry eyed said...

Awesome post! Feminism is equated to man-hating...I think feminism is necessary to break down all the old stereotypes, the old order of 'this-is-how-it-is', to give everybody an equal chance while respecting everybody's differences and choices, be they male or female.

Like I've said in my recent post, feminism should never swing to the extreme of man hating and boy bashing.

11:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things:
1. When growing up, pretty much everything i was told to do was in order to make me able enough to stand on my own feet. From learning to ride a cycle to doing well at school to being well read.
2. Feminist was a word i cringed at till rather recently. Probably because the first time I came across the term was when an acquaintance of my parents called me a feminist because I didn't like how much my father smoked. I was then 11. Whenever someone called me a feminist, it was with some bit of mockery, a smirk. I grew up thinking a feminist must hate men, wear lousy clothes, and always talk intellectual. Why would I want to be associated with such a word? Now of course, I think different. :)
Loved the post.

3:27 pm  

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