I read this article about how to raise a feminist daughter and I started thinking about how my mum raised me. Growing up, I was told to respect elders, do my homework and eat my meals, just as any regular child. I don’t ever remember being made aware of my gender (except when I was forced to wear lipstick for parties in my late teens) – Not when I followed my dad around the house tending to every electrical repair, not when I played with my kitchen set, not when I learnt to ride a bike, not when I joined engineering over architecture, not when I came home late in the night, not when I gave myself and my sister haircuts and not when I joined a factory after my engineering.
Having always been allowed to be the way I like, I think I find it harder to comprehend or empathise with women who are constantly reminded of their gender. I don’t think this pressure is limited to women as sometimes, even men are subject to “masculism”, that is not very widely acknowledged. For instance, men are supposed to be brave and aren’t supposed to cry. But isn’t that unfair given that they’re as human as women are? So, I think these gender battles are personal and it’s for everyone to fight on their own.
When subject to gender stereotyping outside of home, a lot of times I don’t even realise it because I was never raised having to acknowledge any differences. I am reminded of a recent event that re-affirms my gender neutral upbringing.
It was 6:30pm and I was still contemplating attending an Alumni panel at 7pm, for which I’d received an invite from my business school. Any other time of my life, accepting the invite would have been a no brainer as I was nursing my 34 days old baby. I asked Karthik (my husband) if the event was worth all the trouble we’d have to go through with the baby and he very practically responded with a “No”. I thought the same, but I suppose I was hoping to he’d say otherwise.
Basically, I was already in two minds struggling to make a decision about whether to attend the event or not and hence, I was looking for external support to go, but I didn’t get that from Karthik. I burst into tears and went off on a crazy feminism rant about how the world is so unequal and unfair for women. Taking pity, Karthik offered to drive me to the event along with my mum who would take care of the baby while I was attending my event but that was not enough. I had already set out on a mission to restore fairness in the world with my tears and arguments with Karthik.
My mum came into the room just then and asked me why I was so morose and I explained what happened. I cannot remember her words verbose but she very matter of factly said “If you ever want to do something, do what it takes to make it happen. You will always find people to support you if you really want it because opportunities don’t come along all the time. So, if you want to go, let’s just get going because we have no time to waste. Karthik and I will take care of the baby while you are away.”
I don’t know if it was an attempt by to be feminist or plain pragmatic, amma’s words were beyond encouraging. The Alumni panel in itself was not so important and me not being there wouldn’t have made a difference to anyone but being there made a world of difference to me and how I felt about myself as a new mother. My mother’s nonchalance about me attending this event as a “hasi baNanti (new mother in postpartum) and her not resorting to a lecture about gender roles in a society, destroyed any doubts I had in mind about how I would raise my daughter going forward.