Confessions of a feminist

 Published in: The Daily Star on March 8, 2017
Confessions of a feminist

It is strange penning a column on a day that celebrates women. Considering that there’s one day, November 19, which is known as “International Men’s Day” and the fact that no one pays any attention to it, I suggest we women go all out and celebrate that particular day and voice out our worries and concerns about how weak, underpaid, unsung men just happen to be. After all, it is the era of “fake news”. So, if women were to start a website of “fake news”, the first news would presumably be of men’s demand for equality. Let’s be serious. If women are being celebrated this one day only because the “others feel” they are not the rest of the year, and if we women feel the pain and sense of deprivation, then it’s probably right to mark the 8th of the third month every year. And just in case we don’t, in case we don’t feel that it’s worth to be called in for interviews, talk shows and being written about, then let’s just stop. Let’s just stop accepting that it’s okay to run special supplements on us this day, that it’s okay having the spotlight only for 24 hours out of 8,760 hours in a year, that it’s ok not to inspire the young women with motivational punch lines. Let’s just stop.

Amidst all the ironies in the world, the most celebrated and talked about issue is one about inequality. It’s about how the world is divided because of unfavourable wealth distribution, unequal pay for women, unequal opportunities for the underprivileged, etc. All these “un”s spring up throughout the year with special focus on women in March. This year, much to my surprise, I started being a part of this discourse at the end of February.

In the third week of February, an international conference on women focused on how to mentor the young. In one of the table discussions, I decided to share what I couldn’t have shared on the podium. I told a few young scholars how difficult it is to walk the rope being a woman, lest we fall. I told them that being a woman is being like a critical accessory to a circus called the world, where a woman is not to falter, where she is expected to walk the line, balancing home and work, and never questioning the role. That’s right. Women play their part in a well rehearsed speech and go through life without any intermissions or commercial breaks. This is something I shared on the table, but could not when I went to the podium. There are things you don’t share when you are in “public.” After all, from our childhood, we women have been taught to acknowledge the difference between the “public” and the “private”. So, in that public space, I had drawn a sub-public and sub-private space and had shared differently. In that public space, most women often talked about the elusive picture-perfect scenario, where the audience was expected to be inspired by the idea of a successful parenthood, successful marriage and successful career. All’s well at the end. Well, that’s not how all cases appear in reality. From the first moment of saying “kobul” (I do) while exchanging marriage vows, to the moment of delivering a child, down to the last moment of being bade goodbye, the society looks upon a woman with a certain degree of reverence till the time a woman asks for an equal place in the economy. The scent of a woman ends with a woman asking for equal pay. And the story began long ago. Let’s face it. If decades ago, Alfred Marshall, the famous economist could threaten saying that men wouldn’t marry women if they competed against them, if the World Economic Forum recently could predict that gender gap can’t be overcome till the year 2186, if a Polish Member of Parliament, even a few days back could actually call women: weak and less intelligent even in 2017 and slap claims of equality down, do women really have hope?

Yes, we do. And the only hope lies within us. It’s time to start a #SheForShe movement. Unless women just stop expecting men to help them realign their statuses, then victory for women will always remain elusive. The only way is to help each other out, increase mentorship programmes and impact each other’s lives. This is a common message that is being voiced out everywhere. A young journalist came into our office the other day and had a bunch of questions to ask. Most of them related to the general angle: Did you have problems becoming a female entrepreneur? What do you think is the way ahead? I was loyal to her questions and answered quite dutifully. However, as we ended our formal interview, she felt easy enough to share how she feels violated every time she doesn’t carry a “dupatta” or scarf with her when she is wearing a shirt and jeans and is also carrying a backpack. She said that it was difficult to carry extra yards with her while she was carrying the extra recording accessories. I got her point. When I asked her more about her reservations, she further vented: she said that most of her male colleagues thought that she was a pretty face and just wearing a lipstick and reading the news would do her job. I asked her about her usual reaction and realised that she had fire in her. She said that most of the times, she talks back and asks them to try a shade of lipstick out themselves and check if viewers liked him or her better. Maybe it’s time for males to look prettier than us. She had made her point.

Young women like her inspire me. Instead of a few being showcased, instead of a few being under the spotlight, it’s time to pay attention to the young who truly define and lead us all. I have no hesitation in admitting that my daughters and their likes have more courage, gumption and conviction than I ever had. They teach me more than I had ever taught them. They converse in an audacious language of freedom that I have never associated with. They disallow the concept of unfair compromises which many of us have self-embraced.

This is officially the 106th year of International Women’s Day celebrations, though it all started with 15,000 women marching the streets of New York and only officially came into existence in 1910 with one woman in Germany tabling the idea of IWD. But personally, I revolt internally every time there is a formal discourse of freedom and rights of women, just because we have ourselves not been bold enough to change anything. Most of us gave in rather than argue our cases; many of us protested and earned wrath instead; a few even managed and manipulated their existence and called for truce. In all honesty, the feminist narrative of ours needs to undergo change. If there’s any change that’s expected to happen, women need to initiate that themselves for women; expecting a male counterpart’s empathy to win a war isn’t being smart. It’s just being lazy.

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