Preaching and practising feminism in a patriarchal family and society is not an easy task. You have to fight every minute to speak, get heard and be valued. “Sab bakwas hai [It’s all facade]” my elders often say when I try to argue against the patriarchal thoughts and mindsets in my family. They invalidate my opinions and knowledge by saying that I know only about one side of the coin. But no one explained to me why is it wrong to speak about a “side” that has forever been silenced.
I learned about feminism when I was left distraught by the patriarchy around me. I was inflicted with wounds that were difficult to heal. I had been sexually harassed multiple times by my people inside and outside the house; I had witnessed domestic violence at home since I was very young. I broke the news of my father’s infidelity to my mother. The mistrust towards men is deeply etched within my being because of my past experiences.
Putting my traumatic experiences aside, I thought of using my knowledge and feminism for the betterment of other women in my family; I wanted to support my sister to become an independent woman. I aspired to change the oppressive customs and traditions of my family and I wanted my parents to be supportive of each other and their children.
Alas! my wants were treated as illicit demands and my wish for a change was labelled rebellion. I was dubbed an ignorant bookworm existing in her world of fantasy. Questions and opinions I held about feminism were laughed at and I was lectured on how I need to be practical, not theoretical.
A relative was almost convinced that women cannot just perennially keep adjusting but he countered, “Have you changed any person’s life? It’s easier said than done. You don’t have the courage to bring your theories into practice.” While the countering did hurt me; the fact was that I had attempted to change my life and my parents’.
But things did not look good for me because my mother negated the fact that I have brought some changes to my family. Within a fraction of a second, my mother invalidated my efforts of speaking against sexual harassment, efforts in making them understand their fault in being unsupportive of me and convincing them that marriage was a choice. I had never felt so alone among my close ones as I did then.
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The constant shaming and invalidating had serious repercussions for me; I suffer from mental health issues including depression and PTSD. My family held feminism responsible for my deteriorating mental health. They restricted me from watching news of violence against women, and movies based on crimes against women. I was even told off by a therapist I sought help from initially that I was “too feminist”.
Consequentially, all of it triggered a wave of self-doubt and I began questioning myself. Was I really wrong? Were my family members right in saying that feminism had corrupted my mind: metaphorically and literally? Was I actually breaking my family?
It’s been more than a year since mental health issues found a home in my life. I still cannot count on people in my life to believe that feminism is real and that my aspirations of working for the betterment of women will pay off. Amidst the clamouring suicidal thoughts cluttering my head, my last straw of hope keeps me going. The hope that maybe someday, my feminism will be accepted; I will use my perception of feminism to change my family and by extension the society.
The views expressed are the author’s own.