I was not born a feminist, neither was I raised as one…. I was forced to become one!
My sister and I were raised with a lot of love and gender equality wasn’t something that had to be taught to us, it was a given in our house. My mother is a woman of quiet strength but definitely not one to march on the roads for women’s rights. This was the time when wishing for a son was the norm but my father had always wanted daughters. We had a regular childhood and thanks to the fact that we lived in the city, while growing up, having friends who were boys was not something to be frowned upon.
But my idyllic existence gave way to reality when as a teenager I had to commute for my classes and had to take the public transport. The first brush (literally) was a shock to my senses, when in a crowded bus someone groped me. Or was it an accident? But then it happened again leaving no scope for doubt. I could feel the hair at the back of my neck rise and every single nerve ending of mine fired up. As I went red in the face, first in rage and then in humiliation, when the paan chewing perpetrator, winked at me and smiled lecherously before disembarking. I was frozen in my place, not sure what I should have done.
I felt dirty, unclean and wondered if it was my fault. I buried this incident as a one-off experience thinking what better should I be expecting from a paan chewing illiterate man. But it happened again and then again and there was no common denominator for these eve teasers, a term I learnt when I discussed with my friends and mother. I remember carrying safety pins when I would travel in public buses…… and boy it worked! I stamped on their feet and places where it hurt, I raised my voice sometimes, did whatever I could think of to keep those dirty hands away. Often when I would yell, the onlookers would pacify me which baffled me but at least the shock value did the magic.
But in the process, it hardened me. My innocence was gone and I was forever suspicious and edgy in public places and has taken an intense and conscious effort to overcome. Then came medical school which I thought would be a relief because I’ll be rubbing shoulders with my intellectual equals. No, sorry… said it too soon. I bore five years of toxic masculinity and misogyny and when I reacted (and some others like me), I was booed with the chants of ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivani’ (a paraphrasing of Shiv Sena’s slogan, ‘Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji’. I have seen every shade patronizing, mansplaining, gaslighting and whatever there was to see. To say it left a bitter taste in my mouth would be an understatement. And if you think this is the dark ages (I am not THAT old) and a small town, I’m talking about…. no, it’s the late 1990s and a tier 2 city. I’ll just give an example, on the day Holi was celebrated, the doors of our girls’ hostel were locked from outside till late afternoon. Why? Because the boys from the boys’ hostel would come and make merry around our hostel. And what if they lost control, who would be responsible for our safety!
Every year, I would question why the boys’ hostel wasn’t locked from the outside if they were a threat to us? My questions made men uncomfortable and it seriously injured their ‘masculine pride’. I realised that these men/ boys were not brought up with the concept of gender equality. With changing times, empowering girls alone isn’t going to help. Boys need to be sensitised as well. The idea of associating feminism with female is passé. A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men. If we dream of a gender equal society, both genders have to pitch in equally to achieve utopia.
Dear men, we need you to deal with your insecurities today so tomorrow you can make way for stronger women. And parents put forth an example of gender equality in front of your children, boys or girls. Your sons will learn that girls are equal and the daughters will learn to be themselves without being apologetic about it. Get one fact straight that a woman’s strength is NOT inversely proportional to a man’s. Allow nature to take its course and embrace that strength as yours.
I’m writing bravely for the Write Tribe Festival Of Words-March 2019 hosted by Write Tribe.
I have chosen the quote prompt- ‘A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.’
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