A very wise woman on Twitter asked just this to all of us the other day. I replied, I wanted a day to myself. It isn’t a big ask if you think of it, but it got me immediately drowning myself in maternal and good wife guilt. Was it that bad to just want a day off, from being mom, wife, daughter? To just be on my own and do what I pleased?
What did I really want from International Women’s Day, I realised, was something quite prosaic. I wanted time to myself. Time just to be alone. With nothing to do, nothing to be responsible for. With leisure to read, and leisure to watch, leisure to have the days melt into each other without counting the days on the calendar or watching the hands on the clock tick by. I wanted to not have the endless to-do list in my head and in my notebook, ticking it off manically. I wanted to not have to smile at people I didn’t feel like. I wanted to be able to eat all the chocolate in the world I wanted without it manifesting itself on my thighs and waist. I wanted…the list never seems to end.
If I went by the messages flooding my inbox, all we women want is 70 percent sales, discounts on restaurants, spas, and chocolates. The sales are harmful to my bank account, and the restaurants and chocolates are harmful to my waistline. Heaven knows when you’re hitting the wrong side of forty, the waistline has a mind of its own and decides it will rename itself the waste line, or rather, the space where we lay ourselves to waste. All that brand managers think women want on International Women’s Day is but smoke and mirrors to what we really want – which is to be loved, respected and treated with dignity. And it is 2020. High time brands realise that sales and discounts if anything, set us back in our messaging to women. Here, they’re saying with all their ads, go forth and shop, because this is what the suffragettes stood in picket lines for.
What did I really want from International Women’s Day, I realised, was something quite prosaic. I wanted time to myself. Time just to be alone. With nothing to do, nothing to be responsible for.
As I write this the patriarchy sneers in the background. Women are out there, standing up and talking out loud, calling out predators at the workplace, holding a mirror to sexism, lending a shoulder to other women who need the bulwark of the sisterhood behind them. We’ve had the #MeToo movement. Harvey Weinstein has been served what was coming to him. If there is a glimmer of hope, this is it. In India though, the #MeToo accused are slowly and surely being reinstated into public discourse. We’re seeing the patriarchy, with the old boy’s network playing a stellar supporting role, slowly bring the conversation round to include these odious chappies who are steadily climbing back into public visibility, one newspaper column, one speaker slot on panel discussions, one delegate position at a time. The patriarchy adds a smirk to the sneer.
The gender pay gap continues to loom like the Ghost of Christmas past over women’s salary statements. Women continue to be primary care givers for children and the elderly, and this along with domestic work, of which women continue to do more than their fair share continues to be unpaid, unacknowledged labour, labour without which the economy couldn’t function, because these are tasks that need to be done. Bring up the child. Care for the elderly. Run the home. Then there is the emotional labour that women do, and more often than not are the ones solely responsible for within the family. Maintaining social contact. Organising family get-togethers. Staying in touch with extended family. Unpaid emotional labour takes its toll.
Then there is the troubling issue of the violence women face, sexual violence and abuse, domestic violence, foeticide from within the womb itself, infanticide barely a girl child has emerged from it, rape, dowry deaths, acid attacks, the list goes on.
What do women want on International Women’s Day? Perhaps just this, that we can live our lives as men have been, confident in our ability to walk down a street and not be harassed, to return home at whatever time and not be raped, to be in a marriage and not have to pay dowry or be harassed for it, to give birth to a girl and not panic about the baby being thrown into a well or put out in the cold to die, to be in a marriage and have the agency to say no when you didn’t want to have sex with your spouse because the law recognises that bodily agency and consent is not absolute and permanent with a marital contract. To have reproductive agency and choose when she wants to get pregnant, and how many children she wants to have. That she will not encounter street sexual harassment, that acid sales will be regulated to prevent obsessed rejected men use it against women who are not interested in them, that a rape survivor will never have to hear “You asked for it.” “What were you wearing?” “What did you do to encourage it?” That in our time, rape changes from what it is now still perceived as, namely the shame of the woman and becomes the shame of the perpetrator.
What do I want for International Women’s Day? I want a lot of things for us women, and those I know will be a long time coming. But right now all I can hope for is kindness and empathy. For other women, young and old. A sisterhood that becomes a wall against the patriarchy. Hands that reach out to support. No judgement. No competition. Just having each other’s backs. In the personal space. In the workspace. All we need is women to stand up for other women. Every single time. That will be half the battle won.
And yes, I want to sleep. This constant battling with the patriarchy is bloody exhausting.
Author Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.