As I write this, I cannot help but revisit the past ten years, and think of a few comments I grew up listening to in high school and college: ‘Girls are a waste of sperm’ ‘Girls are fit for nothing but making babies’ ‘Girls are dumb’ ‘Girls are fit for nothing’ ‘Don’t be a girl about it’ – Strangely, at the time, this didn’t sound remotely misogynistic to me. In fact, it didn’t even sound strange. You see, I thought it was all true. There always seemed to be more boys in my high school debate team, more boys in the chess club, more boys who won class prizes and more boys who had the freedom to roam around campus. For the most part, all the girls I knew stayed quiet; silent about their successes, their failures and their insecurities. The few who were bold enough to stand up for themselves were often tagged as being ‘one of the boys’.
Perhaps, it’s this reason, I find that most girls my age, who they called the ‘MTV generation’ back in the 90s, grew up with vague ideas of womanhood. We grew up wanting all those things the boys had. We wanted that same sense of freedom, that sense of identity and worldliness that our brothers and boyfriends enjoyed. Subconsciously, we gave them room inside our minds, we let them influence all our thoughts, and all our actions. The idea of that powerful manhood, maybe, is the reason why I , like so many other girls, grew up with the idea that freedom simply meant ‘to be a like a man’. This man was who we wanted to be like, this man was who we would try to live up to and this man laid down the rules. Every decision we made for ourselves, we decided from a man’s perspective - Is it okay if I dressed this way? Is it alright to have sex without being judged? Is it alright not feel ashamed of my body? Could I question without being laughed at?
In a sense, I feel this is the hardest part for the women of today. Time and time again, I see articles on sexual abuse, acid attacks and rape across India run parallel to stories of successful women entrepreneurs, progress in girl’s education and women in the workforce. There seem to be two worlds that women are constantly trying to push themselves to be a part of; the mother at home, and the man at work . Yet, at the very core of this new idea of womanhood, the prognosis looms large. Women in the corporate world are thought to be bad mothers with ‘no time to devote to their families’, women in the media are thought of as ‘loose’ and women who have devoted all their time to a family life are looked down upon as ‘idle’. Each of these women, who I have talked to as friends, sisters, cousins and colleagues have a similar worry – Perhaps, they tell me, all what they are doing isn’t good enough? I nod, I listen. Yet, my story seems no different.
A few days ago, I talked to one of my teachers from high school. He congratulated me on the award that I won recently and told me, ‘You really surprised me. When I taught you I never quite thought that you would do anything much, but today you seem to have outshone everybody. But, women who are high achievers, they don’t often don’t have a family life’. It was a comment that caught me off guard. ‘No,’ I laughed it off ,’I will do my best in whatever I set out to no matter what’. Yet, I found myself immediately worrying about the future.
But why? Why did I feel burdened by my achievements instead of being proud of it?
You see, it’s time to let this go; this old idea of freedom. It’s time to let go of the deep desire to feel empowered by the idea of manhood, or to feel liberated by it. We need to get to be able to embrace our sexualities, our bodies, our dreams and desires without judging ourselves by that man inside our heads. In such a world, we could co-create and co-exist, hopefully, without the biases we grow up holding against men. And kill the idea that feeds this stereotype from within us first. No, not all men are out there to rape, abuse and subjugate just as not all women are out there to be take the back seat, set limits and stay silent. Only then we will not only be free, butfeel free. In the years that have passed, I know that I’ve been listening to him less – that old guy inside. And, today, unlike other days, I find that he has nothing to say.
Happy Women’s Day everyone.