This happened when I was in the 8th grade. Arvind, a boy in my class, spilled ink on my pencil box and ruined it. I got angry. He got angry. We both fought. Our teacher broke the fight and took me aside as Arvind smarted from the bloody nose I gave him. My teacher told me something that I would never forget: "Hitting is not the solution. Remember you are a girl."
I grew up in a world where I was always made aware of my gender and my limitations. I was sent to one of the best colleges in Chennai and the principal of the institution in my final semester told the graduating class that she herself would assist our parents in finding a suitable groom for all of us. The audience dissolved into giggles as I bristled up. During an interview for a job, I was asked point blank if I will leave the job if I got married. One of my relatives told me that at 27, it might be too late for me to find a groom. When I started running and started training for marathons, a woman in my apartment complex told me not to run in my shorts because it would "tempt the boys in the building." While out on a run a month ago, a man grabbed my breasts and when I complained about it later to friends, one of my male friends told me that as a woman I need to accept certain realities and not be so "bold" in life.
"As a feminist, I don't think men and women are the same but I do think they are equal as human beings and should be afforded the same chances and opportunities that equality offers."
My journey into feminism began when I realized that I wanted to be treated as a human being and not constantly be told to check myself because I happen to be a woman. I don't hate men. I have respect and love for the wonderful men in my life, including my father and my friends. But I do find that patriarchy has bound me and has placed roadblocks to my dreams because those dreams are not necessarily about finding the right guy or having the right child. I think men and women are different but I also believe that they are both equally human and should be allowed the freedom to make their own choices and live their own paths without being encumbered by what society expects from them. As a feminist, I don't think men and women are the same but I do think they are equal as human beings and should be afforded the same chances and opportunities that equality offers.
Perhaps that's why every word written by Amee Misra in her HuffPost blog - Why We Need To Stop Telling Women They're Equal To Men, irked me no end. Suggesting that we need to teach our daughters to have a check on their career ambitions because one day they might have children is highly sexist. She seemed to suggest that eventually every woman will have children and that every woman with a child will immediately lose focus on work because she will only care about her child (my mother took great pride in her work and she found as much meaning in her job as she did with raising my sister and myself).
Women who give up their careers to raise children are incredible as are women who drop their kids at day care so that they can climb the corporate ladder. There is nothing wrong with a woman leaning in or leaning out, as long as it's her choice to do so. We, as a society, need to create an environment that exists without judgment for the working mother, the stay-at-home mother and the woman who chooses not to have any child at all.
"We, as a society, need to create an environment that exists without judgment for the working mother, the stay-at-home mother and the woman who chooses not to have any child at all."
Instead of raising our daughters to tune their ambitions in accordance to their biological clocks, we should be raising both our sons and daughters to live in a world where they can express themselves freely and without prejudice. Instead of telling our daughters to not be as ambitious as a man (why can't she just be ambitious?), we can tell our sons that the weight of the world does not rest on their shoulders. After all, patriarchy has relentlessly bound and gagged men too. They are told that they "act like girls" when they show emotion or cry. They are told that the financial responsibility of their families rest solely on their shoulders. They are told that any trait in them that could be characterised as feminine is wrong.
In a world where both men and women are equally educated and capable of earning the same amount of money, we should be urging the idea of equality in parenting too. How insulting is it to even suggest that a father's bond with a child is any less than a mother's bond? As long as the foundation is rooted in unconditional love, body parts have nothing to do with determining the worth of a parent. Can you imagine a single father being told that a man simply doesn't connect with his child the way a mother can? What about households where there are two fathers or two mothers? Men and women are far more nuanced and complex than we give them credit for. Men aren't lazy or bad parents with an affinity for beer (that would be Homer Simpson, a cartoon character) and women aren't hormonal basket-cases who are unsure of every step they take. We are all human beings trying to lead our best lives on this planet called earth. Isn't the most logical thing to raise our kids to follow their dreams and ambitions to their fullest? Why can't we live in a world where we are free from gender roles and embrace a life without prejudice?
I want to travel back in time and go back to my 8th grade class where my teacher stopped both me and Arvind from fighting. Except this time, he pulls both us aside and tells us: "Hitting is not the solution. Remember, you are human beings."