The Breakthrough Voice 21st February, 2020

How I Came To Identify As A Feminist – A Personal Journey.

“When you educate a man – you educate a person; when you educate a woman – you educate a family.”
– Ruby Manikan

I remember when I was 13 and my class teacher had asked me to be the student representative for the parent-teacher meeting. It wasn’t much – I had to just ask the parents to sign in front of their ward’s name and guide them to the classroom in case they needed help. That’s when I saw a lady headed towards me. To me, she appeared no different than the other mothers who were there until she started to speak. She radiated confidence from every pore. I was dumbfounded. 

After fumbling for a few seconds I escorted her to the class teacher and then to the Principal’s office. I stood in the corner while she spoke to him. A confident walk and a firm handshake. She didn’t raise her voice once but her voice couldn’t sound more impactful. I often recall the memory of her being offered a job by the Principal by the end of the meeting, which she very respectfully declined. That’s when I had decided in my mind I wanted to be just like her. 

Fast forward to a few years later – she was my mentor and with whom my journey with debating began. She never believed in imposing views on me, which was very new to me. She encouraged dialogues, back and forth banter and discussions. She made me understand a key to a good argument is listening, not just hearing – but really listening. One should not talk about a subject until they are completely well versed with it and the secret to that was reading (which I dreaded).

If people are observing this culture of blatant misogyny, isn’t there anybody above my pay grade who is doing something about it?

During summers she used to conduct a few classes for students to improve our public speaking skills and every day she would give us a topic to speak on the next day. The topics would revolve around our views on women rights, female infanticide, child marriage and various patriarchal social structures. That’s how my journey with feminism began. 

Doing research to deliver my two-minute daily speech made me take a good look at both sides of the picture. It compelled me to introspect upon how patriarchy impacted and sometimes dictated my life. Initially, it enraged me as to how much things were worse for women. I went so far as to say that I wished I had been born as a man. I was ashamed of making such a statement when I reflected on what I had said. 

I remember the first day I was cold-called to talk in front of everybody. I stood still for a second, which felt like an eternity then, my tongue had become as dry as sandpaper. But I gathered up the courage and start addressing the issue of female infanticide. As I looked around, I realized everybody was paying attention and confidence ran up my body like electricity. I was glad that I finally got the hang of it. 

I presented how I had been oblivious to facts – that my own home state Gujarat had high rates of female infanticide. I felt so passionate that I presented a spontaneous anecdote about how our domestic help would talk about not having enough girls in the community and that they were ready to get their sons married to women from other communities. The scarcity was so high they didn’t even mind if the girl couldn’t speak the community language.

I refuse to believe women will settle for what they are given and fight for what’s rightfully always been theirs, to begin with.

With each passing day and each passing topic, I started to make connections. I gradually realized the reasons behind the things I had carelessly never even thought about. The more I read the more it gripped me and I kept questioning myself – it isn’t possible that I’m the only one who sees it, right? Then if people are observing this culture of blatant misogyny, isn’t there anybody above my pay grade who is doing something about it? I was terrified, I kept asking women around – in my family, friends and my mentor – aren’t we suppose to do something?

I sat with my mentor and discussed for hours about the women who fought for women’s suffrage and who refused to give up hope even in the darkest times. But I cried saying I understood where she came from but that didn’t make it any better when one couldn’t go out late in the evenings or had to put up with the condescending behaviour of my male classmates, be sexually harassed and even worse – when family and friends refuse to believe you about a harassment for which it took you years to gather strength just to talk about.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that there are dark days but one can’t just give up. It takes a lot of effort and time. I believe one has to fight for what they want otherwise they need to settle for what others give them. I refuse to believe women will settle for what they are given and fight for what’s rightfully always been theirs, to begin with.

I see a future when we don’t need to ask a person if they are a feminist or not, a future where the obvious and universal answer is yes. The utopian future I think of doesn’t need men to be soft on women or provide them with incentives because of their gender identity. Just that they stand on an equal footing, to begin with. For when we are challenged by injustice or problems thanks to the patriarchy, we tackle them head-on. We don’t need protection, we need rights – I have faith that women are sufficient enough to protect and care for themselves.

Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Financial Times

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