There I said it. After years of being in denial, being uncomfortable with the word and all of its myriad connotations and expectations, I’m coming out of the proverbial closet and embracing this part of me.
But this brash exclamation that seems so easy to type has been a long time coming. Every time the word has come up in conversation, most men and women get uncomfortable- they either no longer know how to behave around you or neatly pigeon-hole you in their heads- where they think they have you and how you are likely to behave all figured out (feminists are generally expected to be strident women who make issues out of non-issues, so I was once very condescendingly told). Even in college, when I signed up for an elective course on feminism, my best friend (a guy) laughingly told me, ‘Please tell me you’re not going to become one of those women who have issues with anything and everything and won’t be able to take jokes anymore). I laughed with him.
It’s only now- with the luxury of hindsight that I can ask myself -‘is that how the world views a woman who chooses to speak about issues that matter to her? Issues that have always bothered her, that stem from experiences where she didn’t know why she was being discriminated against just because of biology?’
I was, for the longest time, a ‘cool girl feminist’- I never came out there and took ownership of the word- in my head it was a tag, one I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wear and hence, promise to take onus of the kind of responsibilities I thought came with it. I was the kind of girl men felt comfortable being friends with- the kind who would laugh at their sometimes inappropriate, sexist jokes. The girl who wanted to not be ‘that girl’ the boys were constantly bemoaning about. I let the men in my life be.
And in that sense, I realise now, I let patriarchy and its shackles just be. Just because the chains weren’t choking me, didn’t mean they weren’t there. I was party to the subtle subjugation of my own sex and I didn’t even realise it. I wanted so badly to fit in and be accepted that I kept sweeping so much under the carpet.
I think I am fortunate enough to live in a world today where I’m reaping the benefits of the fights that countless other women have fought before me- the battle to cast your vote, to not have to stay at home and raise kids if I want to work, the fact that I get paid as much, if not more, that my male colleagues- all of the things that I take granted for today are things that have taken centuries to accomplish. And as a result, the issues I, as a woman face today are more nuanced and less external. My battles to assert my rights as a woman are battles with my inner self and how I choose to behave in a certain situation and how I deal with societal expectations.
The most subtle and dangerous aspect of patriarchy as it exists in this day and age is being told how you should or shouldn’t feel about certain things. When you’re made to feel guilty about having emotions that make other people uncomfortable or force other people to change how they are. When you’re told that how you’re feeling is ‘wrong’ or that you’re being over-emotional because ‘it is that time of the month’ or because you may be menopausal.
Being a fully self actualized woman in the 21st century is not easy. You’re constantly battling expectations- not just from the world at large but also from yourself- you’re forever trying to not feel guilty about leaving your kid at home when you go out to work, you’re forever battling guilt for choosing to continue working and not getting married ‘as a good girl would’ like your parents keep telling you, you’re forever justifying to yourself that drive to be ambitious, you’re always feeling guilty about wanting more and hating yourself for it. You hate yourself for not having the perfect body, the perfect relationship, for not having your life all figured out just because your peers seem to, for not wanting to have kids, for feeling like you don’t fit in. The list is unending and it is a battle you fight every single day.
I don’t want to be a cool girl feminist. I’m not an apologist and I didn’t want to live like one. Feminism today is a word that is bandied about in a stunningly casual manner. The fact that it has seeped into our everyday language is a huge accomplishment, but the challenge really is- redefining the word- not just for the world but most importantly, for yourself.