Trigger Warning : Why I hated being a woman: It was dark. Not because nature deemed it appropriate but because my mind couldn’t register what just happened. I had returned from my school, plummeted with happiness and exuberance. Just then, he called out my name and offered to play with me. He picked me up in his lap and began taking me around the house. And then he took me to a room where I don’t want to step in even today. I was too young to understand what he wanted from me and what he did to me. After he ejaculating over me, what he said scares me even today and keeps me awake on long nights, “Wipe your clothes and don’t tell your parents.”
This was not the first time that I faced sexual harassment in my life as a woman. It was recurring, so much that it became normal in my routine life. While many women fight the battle of safety outside their home, I had to fight against it in a room of my house, my haven, within the protected walls of my parents. I was not so much afraid of staying out than staying inside my house. I hated being a woman.
Why do I have to deal with all this disgust, mental and physical harassment? Why do my parents ask me to adjust, be quiet and compromise just because I am a woman? Why does society expect me to be alert and pull my top when I see a man walking past me? Why are women expected to mind their limits and conform to their duties and behaviour as a woman? Why is a woman’s life so full of restrictions and difficulties? My womanhood became a barrier until I understood feminism. Until feminism made me realise my importance as a woman with rights, dignity and dreams.
Feminism to me was initially a part of my graduation course but today it defines my identity. It was through feminism that I understood what sexual harassment was as I was never taught about good touch and bad touch. It was through feminism that I realised women’s rights to dress, speak and travel wherever they want.
Hated being a woman until Feminism opened up avenues that went much beyond my marriage and the patriarchal expectations from women.
It made me realise the idea of sexual pleasure, empowering marriages, singlehood and the importance of women’s education and financial independence. In short, feminism opened my eyes to the patriarchal stereotypes and restrictions that I grew up with and internalised as an unquestioned reality.
Today when I look back and imagine how my life would have been if I didn’t know feminism, I can see myself struggling to fit in a life that doesn’t value my self-respect and freedom. I don’t even have to look far to realise this because women in my family struggle to fit in in the patriarchal society even today. My mother had to give up her education and the probability to have a job because marriage was made more important in her life. When she entered into the married life with promises of financial security and happiness, she was subjected to domestic violence and mental harassment at the hands of the in-laws.
I wonder if my mother knew about feminism and how she needs to claim her rights, freedom and happiness, wouldn’t her life and subsequently mine be different? Wouldn’t I know about women power and empowerment much earlier in life? And wouldn’t my mother encourage me to take a stand when I faced harassment by giving a powerful example of her own life?
It is not normal in India to educate women with the ideas of feminism and women empowerment. They would rather teach their daughters to take care of her skin colour, the rotis she makes and how to be a good wife/bahu. Even though my parents were reluctant to raise an opinionated, outspoken and feminist daughter, I am proud that I became one on my own. I am proud to be the first feminist in my family and to be the rebellious woman who will question and not settle.
And this is what I will advise to every woman stuck in patriarchal expectations, family and society. Once you understand and internalise feminism, there will be no looking back. Because feminism empowers you and opens up your mind in a way that you are ready to face any opposition to assert your identity as a free woman; this is what you will believe is right and the energy and confidence to fight for the right is unmatchable.
Yes, I come across people who criticise feminism as a “useless activism of women”. But my answer to them is that I embody how feminism can change women. Do you think my existence is useless? Do you think I would have been better off if I lived a life as a woman who sulked in silence due to the wounds inflicted by patriarchy and cursed her womanhood rather than rising back like a phoenix to question and win? [Picture Credit: Laura Chouette, Unsplash]