I’ve been a feminist for as long as I know. Even when it was not cool to be one and through many years when I didn’t know I was one! But even though I believed passionately in the concept of an equal world, and knew society to be hopelessly patriarchal; even though I could see strains on misogyny in people around me and would be irritated as hell with chocolate-faced boys in college who were innocent enough to believe that molestation did not happen in public transport- I had no idea that I was living my life as a victim of the patriarchal construct.
Don’t get me wrong. The men in my life have mostly been these wonderful people, probably more wedded to the idea of gender equality than most women I know. My father always championed the woman’s cause, advising patients to deal with gender-related problems with courage rather than ignoring the social and familial aspects of his patients’ lives, which would have been easy to do. In our marriage, Rahul has always treated our roles as a consequence of choice or circumstance than as dictated by gender. I genuinely think he would be happy to stay home and be a full time dad if I would choose to go out and earn the money needed to support the lifestyle we aspire to. These aren’t black and white issues, there are no easy choices.
But after spending some years of my life whining about having to work from home, being upset about restrictions on my mobility and stressing about bringing up my children, I came to the conclusion that only person standing between me and my aspirations is ME! I chose to believe what the world was telling me about the need for a woman to be a devoted mum to the point of squashing her own personality. I chose to see myself through the imagined perspective of my mother in law, stricturing myself for going out with a friend instead of putting my child to bed, or for going to the gym early morning and not being there when my children woke up; or feeling guilty about meeting a guy friend as a married woman even though my husband had no issues with this. In truth, I was happy in the roles I played as wife, mother, daughter in law, bhabhi, and I still am. But I did make an effort to fit into what I thought was the stereotype of all these roles in middle class Indian society. I was not saying- this is me, I am a good person, talented and sincere, caring and intelligent and you all should just accept me for who I am. Instead I was thinking- this is me, but that is what they want to see me as, so I ended up being someone in between, for many years.
When I began writing my blog daily in the beginning on 2012, I was aware of the need for change but was still this other person. By writing everyday, I forced myself to think about me, my convictions, the way I came across to others and what consequences my actions had. A new thought pattern emerged. One that put me in the center of my own universe, after a long long time. Long discussions with Rahul, arguments about the hurtfulness of being selfish, discussions about the complexity of marriage and the role of communication in it helped me wrap my head around the idea that one could be self-centered without being selfish. Possibly, it was possible! As a woman and a mother, I had to change the warped idea that I was at the center of the universe for my children, or my husband. Maybe I was, and maybe I was not. It did not matter! All that mattered was my happiness, my sense of satisfaction in what I did, my self-confidence in who I am- by being fulfilled I would automatically enrich the lives of those around me, simple enough! When I used this construct to think through my decisions and perceptions, everything else started falling in place.
In one year, I have been able to take more decisions towards my career, been able to start practicing the arts I love, spend time with my children without over-analyzing things, been able to read more, travel more, observe more, write more- in general, I have become a far more productive and happier person.
The trick is not to be trapped in the stereotypes built around you. To analyze them objectively and identify what makes you happy. The idea is to be a fulfilled, excited, energetic person who contributes to the world around.
Today, I am a more informed feminist. I am confident about my strengths but also careful to try and not fall prey to the patriarchal construct I have imbibed through my life. I have the power to educate, the power to influence and change myself and those around me even as I practice consciously the tenets of empathy and tolerance, justice and equality.