Usha
Sujatha asked me to answer this in a tag she passed to me. I have earlier spoken on what feminism means to me and expressed strong views on issues such as female foeticide, virginity, gender bias, rape as a means of subjugation,
genital mutilation, women's sexuality etc.
But this time around the question made me introspect more and honestly define the kind of feminism I practice.
Am I a feminist?
Would I fight for Equality – political, social, economic? yes.
Do I believe in equal opportunities for men and women everywhere? yes.
Do I fight discrimination in every way between genders? – yes
So can I define myself as a feminist and feel good about being on the politically correct side of an issue and go back to playing hangman?
Something was holding me back – a little niggling at the back of my mind. Like an itch in the throat that you can’t reach and scratch.

So I decided to face it headlong. Was I being totally honest?

At fifty, I am at a stage in life where I am fairly independent - economically and emotionally – where I am not often presented with situations where I have to make a feminist choice. Very rarely do I have to interact with people from outside the educated, upper middle-class where people hardly see me as a woman but mostly as a person. In professional dealings too I am fairly high on the food chain to be open to any kind of gender-based discrimination.
So from my comfortable sofa it is easy for me to look at feminism as an issue that is out there, or say what I think is the right position to have if one faces gender-based discrimination.

My early years were spent in a milieu where a girl was considered a responsibility and a boy an investment or asset. Girls were given the same treatment materially but there was a clear difference in attitude. There was definitely less freedom of speech and movement to girls than boys. One did not know there were other ways to live and so the discrimination did not hurt so much. Obviously I was not born with a natural sense of justice because I did put up with this kind of discrimination without even noticing it.

In my twenties and thirties too, as I look back, I think I have taken a lot of crap in relationships. I have been a doormat in some imagining it to be patience and love or sacrifice needed for a greater purpose. I have endured a lot and seen it as bad karma.. Allowing myself to be maneuvered, exploited by people, perhaps reinforcing their belief on why women deserved to be doormats.
I could blame it again on my upbringing but where was my independent thought – I was educated too, wasn’t I? I can only say that I chose to allow them to treat me badly. I did not stand up for my rights or my dignity as a person. I was not confident enough, I needed acceptance at all costs. I wonder if I symbolised reasons why women are considered the weaker sex. So in that sense I probably was not a feminist – but I was the reason why such movements were needed. :)

I believe I became the person that I am only when I turned 35. By this time, I had developed enough confidence and ideas and begun to see me as a person rather than defining myself in terms of others. I am outraged when I see discriminations of any kind – particularly on the basis of gender and let out steam here.I try to talk to younger people and make them see the flaws in their reasoning or areas of weakness in their relationships with men. I try to give them the confidence that they do not need men as emotional crutches but as equal partners in their marriage. And in this space I try to register protest against discrimination when I see it hoping to reach out to a handful of younger minds with my thoughts and hoping to provoke some discussion on sensitive issues affecting women or at least prod them gently to think about these issues.
But by the time I was 35, my life and station had moved to a place where there was less room for exploitation on the basis of gender. Have you noticed that Indian men begin to treat other women in a sexless way when they turn 35 or 40? They do not mind having bosses of a certain age, somehow they do not seem a threat. They do not make passes at them. Not as a norm in any case. They are not objects any more but respectable behenjis and auntys. And I am not complaining. The point is that by the time I was 35 or 40 there was no need to fight for any feminist reasons because there was no cause – no one was looking at me that way. I mean , at least most of the time.

So the answer to the question ‘are you a feminist?' would be a “yes’ without a trace of doubtsince it is in the present tense. But the point is that I was not one when it could have made a difference to my life. And even today I am not constantly treat one another fairly and without bias.
And would I be a feminist if I had to risk life and limb for it? Would my safety and life be more important to me than my individuality and rights? Would I be a feminist, for example, if I were living in Afganistan today? I am not sure. Would I even notice the discriminations if I were born in Saudi Arabia and lived there all my life? I don’t know. I would be a different kind of person then. And since I know from my experience that a sense of justice is acquired rather than genetic, I cannot answer for the kind of person I would be under different conditions.
So I guess the answer to this question in its entirety would have to be “I DON”T KNOW.”
Labels: , , | edit post
Reactions: 
27 Responses
  1. Mani Says:

    That is a honest analysis.Wisdom accumalated over the years I suppose :)

    I believe the moment you label any movement, it forces the poeple involved to conform to all the rules of the movement to satisfy the label, rather than help the cause in thier own small way.

    The war mongering by feminists I think has impacted the cause negatively and has set a benchmark for what feminism means and to a great extent is still defined by it.

    This is very similar to what the so called hindutva movement (whatever that means) is today. One fears to identify oneself as a hindu so as not to give the impression that one stands for all the perceptions of hindutva-ism.


  2. passerby Says:

    Hi Usha,

    how are you?

    Strange, my experiences are nothing different than yours. I was provided with the best, but when voiced for justice,it was taken for ---- not a way a girl should behave!

    This post is real to me. Is it true to many others here. Then what Feminism are we talking about. And who are those lucky ones who got a glimpse of it!

    I do read you, It lightens my mind and spirit at many levels.

    I have to learn so much from you. Please always keep writing. It's a treasure and a pleasure .

    regards,
    passerby


  3. Mama - Mia Says:

    as honest as it gets. like always Usha.

    I once read a quote by Indira Gandhi and i found something similar on google and it makes most sense to me.

    "In the West, women's so-called freedom is often equated with imitation of man. Frankly, I feel that is merely an exchange of one kind of bondage for another. To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality. We need women to be more interested, more alive and more active not because they are women but because they do comprise half the human race."

    i dont believe in feminism that says i should get drunk and smoke because if a man can, so can i!!

    it loses its whole point then, doesn't it?!

    and like you said, its such a learnt thing. feminism for me today is about being comfortable in my skin, being with the man i WANT to be with and leading our life together the way we understand it.

    and fight for the weak when opportunity arises orrespective of the gender! :)

    i doubt i have made a lot of sense! i guess, i am a feminist, but not the male bashing and bra burning variety! :)

    cheers!

    abha


  4. WhatsInAName Says:

    To tell you the truth, even I dont know if I am a feminist. I do believe in the equality of men and women when it comes to opportunities. I do cry reading about the atrocities inflicted upon the women of Afghanistan. I do find myself very upset when my boss implies that women cant cope up with men in the corporate world.

    But at the same time, I feel sad for the baby who is left behind with her/his grandmom when both mom and dad shoot off in different directions for their onsite projects. I do sometimes feel that maybe life was better in olden days when women did not have additional burden thrown upon them in the form of fighting for survival in their place of work. I do feel bad when my daughter wants me to be at home to serve her hot food when she comes back from school the way my mom used to do for me!

    I really wonder if I am a modern age woman or a misfit in this 21st century ! And maybe I am not a feminist after all!


  5. Oorja Says:

    I really liked your honesty....

    Women might have fought for years & got many-a-rights from the government and I am really happy for those who gained something from it. But in India there are still women who don’t even know what feminism or equal rights mean.

    Women in general have been trained to be submissive to all men. And this is brought on & maintained by senior women in the family. This is the saddest part of it that inequality is encouraged by women itself. This is not just the case of illiterate women of the lower class, which is imaginable as they are not economically stable themselves but well educated working women who play the role models to their young girls. Economic stability (equality in pay) has no role in equality in society.

    The problem is women might go fight for other women’s rights but when it comes to their own self they become meek. I can’t understand that. If you can’t change something in your own family how do you expect to change the world…?


  6. maami Says:

    The nature of feminism has changed with geography, period and politics. Academically I'm told that there are so many branches on the subject currently-neo feminism, ultra and more I don't know of.
    Like many isms it keeps changing to suit the social conditions of a given place.
    But it's underlying premise of respecting the female, giving space and honour and dignity as much as the male remains unchanged.
    It is refreshing to read a reflection of balanced thoughts and ideals. Well put Usha. Thanks.


  7. Anonymous Says:

    Very well expressed. Most indian women seem to stand up for themselves in their 30's. Until then, our social conditioning makes us feel guilty for everything and we try hard tp please people. And then we realise that no matter how hard we try, we just cannot please everybody. So, it makes sense to stand up for our beliefs... you retain your self respect... and that's really most important.

    - NN


  8. rambodoc Says:

    You know what, once you give sanctity to individual rights, then feminism becomes redundant.
    I really liked your searingly honest rendition of your questioning soul, and I hope I can give some food for your thoughts!
    Imagine a world where individual rights and responsibilities are clearly defined: how would it matter if the employee harassed sexually is a man or woman? Each is entitled to protection in that instance. What about job reservations? Is that not feminism? I hate the concept of reservations, as if women are some kind of social handicap and more entitled to a job than men.
    You agree?


  9. The answer to your question is - Yes, you are a feminist from what you've written :)
    It may have taken you time to get there.But you are there now and that's what is important.

    I try to talk to younger people and make them see the flaws in their reasoning or areas of weakness in their relationships with men
    Which is why those people do not have to go through what you went through in your 20s before standing up for themselves. Feminism starts earlier for them than it did for you. That's a positive thing no?


  10. kusublakki Says:

    I have been an ardent fan of your blog as I love the way you express yourself.

    With respect to feminism, like any other ism its ok if as long as people dont misuse it.

    While we hear cases of discrimination between sexes in all spheres of life, I do feel that women have to fight for their rights, when needed, but more often than not people misuse their 'rights'.

    We hear of many cases of in-laws being abused for asking for dowry, which later on turns out to be a lie. India as a country is more favorable to the female population in its laws, and its sad to see people misusing this. I dont know if this is due to education per say or just bad human mentality..


  11. A-kay Says:

    That was such an honest introspection. I totally get your point. With the so many different definitions for being a feminist today, I am not even sure what to answer when someone poses that question to me :)


  12. Sujatha Says:

    I loved reading your take on this, Usha.

    I think the word we might be scrambling for at this point is 'post-feminist', meaning that while we may not have been in a position to notice or do anything directly about feminism as a movement, we have progressed to a point where we are defined less by our gender than by our individual personalities. My friend and co-blogger Ruchira sent me this link describing Michelle Obama as a sort of 'post-feminist', which struck me as an apt term.


  13. What caught my attention in this post was this

    "Have you noticed that Indian men begin to treat other women in a sexless way when they turn 35 or 40? They do not mind having bosses of a certain age, somehow they do not seem a threat."

    I think it is crazy that women cease to be seen as women after they hit 35. It is not as if we stop seeing Men in a sexless way after they hit 35..Shah rukh, Amitabh.... Isn't that Discriminatory too. The problem lies I feel in the streotype that women below 30 are sex kittens and the ones above are matronly. That is the image I would like to fight. Being discrimnated as Matronly when I am 35 or Sexy when I am 25 is a bigger stereotype I would like to fight.


  14. Anonymous Says:

    hii usha,

    I am a regular reader but, delurking for the first time. Can I write to you. I really do need some advice from you. I feel you with your experience and wisdom can guide me in the right way.

    Thanks a ton...


  15. Suki Says:

    Wow. Now that's some honest analysis. Thank you. Gotta have a good think on this.


  16. Krishnan Says:

    That was a straight from the heart post. Any -ism is like a gilded cage.


  17. Praveen Says:

    Awarded :)


  18. Praveen Says:

    BTW have to catch up with some of ur posts!


  19. Sujatha Says:

    "I believe that I became the person I am only when I turned 35."

    At 35 I felt that way. But the funny thing is I felt equally confident when I was 18 and I thought I knew everything there was to know, when I was 25, when I was 30. Which makes me think I have another corner to turn when I turn 40. Don't know if this is good or bad.


  20. Sujatha Says:

    BTW, hi from a long time ago on Bangalore Metroblogging. :)


  21. anamika Says:

    Honest and enlightening words! When I read your words, I could not agree more and a realization dawned upon me. How for making others happy and for fear for not being accepted, we fail to stand up for ourselves when we are young! True! I am about hit 35 and let me see if that makes a difference!


  22. Usha Says:

    Mani: I agree. And the point is also that my ability to subscribe to and practise feminist ideals at this stage of my life doesn't give me the right to call myself a feminist.

    Passerby: Lovely to have you back here. Good to hear you have been following the blog. Even if you are not too keen to comment on all posts, write to me sometime. My email is usha.vaidyanathan@gmail.com

    Mama-mia: I suppose we shouldn't have to do anything just to prove a point. And it is not about proving it to the world as it is about the ability to assert your rights as a person.

    WIAN: I have heard many young women say this.

    Oorja: Yes and the whole point is that each one of us has to fight our own battle and fight injustice when we face it and it is not about the movement or laws at all. They can at best create awareness and facilitate the environment.

    Maami: Thank you.

    NN: I wish I had the courage when I was younger. My life may have taken a different route. :)

    Rambo: Yes I agree too - I also believe in every individual's right rather than just a man's or a woman's. And agree entirely with your argument.

    JAM: If they actually use my advice, yes, I agree.

    Kusblakki:Thanks for the kind words. I am inclined to believe that laws protecting women are recent in this country - perhaps dating from independence. Many women of my generation were not even aware that they had certain legal rights.

    a-kay: Why don't you take up the tag. it might give you some clarity on your position.

    Sujatha: post-feminist indeed it is. Thanks for the link.

    Binaryfootprints: This doesn't apply to women in show biz either. Look at people still swooning over Rekha, and madhuri dixit. I meant that statement at the ordinary mortal level. Somehow the attitude changes - and this is from both sexes.

    Anon: Thanks. feel free to write to me @ usha.vaidyanathan@gmail.com

    Suki: and come back and tell me when you have thunk enough.

    Krishnan: Ya, you feel trapped by the -ism more than by societal norms.

    praveen: thank you young man. Accepted with a million thanks. I guess you've been far too busy.

    Sujatha: In a way it must be good to discover new things at every stage. Makes life a lot more interesting no? Yes, I do remember you. Hi and How have you been?

    Anamika: hehehe. did I make 35 sound like a magic number?


  23. A very nice post. I am unable to say anything beyond that. I am simply waiting for the day when every one is equal regardless of anything and we do not need any of these "ism"s.


  24. dipali Says:

    You know, Usha, I was terribly excited by the feminism of the seventies. It entailed a way of thought that seemed very radical in those days. Inspite of which I have actually led a rather traditional life as a wife and mother, following the breadwinner across the country, with only tiny snippets of jobs. No regrets, though. Life has remained tremendously interesting and full of challenges. Apart from feminism, I wish there was less ignorance, superstition and poverty all around.


  25. Mahadevan Says:

    This is certainly vintage Usha.

    Cogently and fearlessly presented, with extreme candour in a delectable style.

    Feminism should fight for providing equal opportunities to women, without exploitation. Thanks to enlightenment all around, women are given equal opportunities, but certainly not without exploitation. Casting couch in film industry, the pitiable condition of dancing and beer bar girls, dehumanisation in red light areas, subtle suggestions to blatant invitation in commercial organisations, these causes should be dear to a feminist.

    You refer to being politically correct. It is the political class, that denies resevation to women in legislatures and parliament and they deserve reservation in these areas because because they are denied opportunities both at the nomination and election level.

    If am allowed to be politically incorrect, I can list out atleast 100 areas, where injustive against women have to be eliminated. One is mortaging his conscience to be politiclly correct.


  26. Artnavy Says:

    One question u can answer in the affirmative without any doubt and be true anywhere in the world

    you are an honest and excellent writer


  27. Fida Says:

    I just came across your blog, and so I am a bit late with my answer. But still, I have to leave a message and ask you: Why do you know me so well? Furthermore, I wish I had the talent to express myself the way you do!