Ruchika Sharma, on the socialisation of gender roles, the need for feminism and the marketing gimmicks that overshadow the struggles of the women’s movement.
Although I am proud, happy and content with being a feminist, I am still not used to the different reactions I get when I mention that I am one. I do realise that women have achieved a great deal in the last 100 or so years, but I am also aware that a lot more is yet to be achieved, for a whole lot of women, intersectionally. When I look at my grandmother, my mother and myself, I realise that successively, women in my family (and elsewhere) have studied more, have come out of their homes, have interacted more freely with society, have made independent choices and have a better control over their resources. However, I also know that I cannot generalise and speak for everyone. In urban areas too, marriages within caste and arranged by family are still the norm, or are at least, preferred. Choices are often available, but they are relegated to a certain sphere and come with certain boundaries. Which makes one think about this faux independence, especially when the whole idea of freedom is based on it being absolute, then how can the independence that comes with set conditions be deemed free?
Yet I am asked, why am I a feminist? This isn’t a question that only men ask me. A number of women, at times younger than I, benefitting hugely from education and rights as equal citizens have posited the same question. When I mention my political beliefs, I have often got that frown of, “arree! Why you?” But come 8th of March, and the whole womankind turns feminine..errr…I mean feminist. This is the day when women get treated in a special way—both as potential customers and spouses of potential customers. Everything from television, to radio, to flyers that are shoved in your face, are aimed at selling something to these potential customers. Anything which can be sold to women is repackaged with the women’s day touch to it.
So you are worth a Rs. 1,000 mascara, you should wear a diamond, not because you have worked to earn that money, but because someone else will measure your worth in that sparkling glitter. Hey, why don’t you get a spa treatment at a discounted rate, and how about that wine facial that will make you look ‘prettier and younger?” As a day, International Women’s Day, aims to bring together different sections of society to commemorate and reflect on the struggle of women to gain equality, but that seems to be utterly lost in all the marketing gibberish that is spewed consistently.
Second to that are the celebratory messages women/men share on Facebook and WhatsApp, which reduce women to their status vis-a-vis men. So thank you my dear mother/wife/sister for being a wonderful mother/wife/sister to me. These messages say nothing about being a woman, except that being a woman is only validated when it is next to a relationship with a man. And then obviously, there are the regular debates on why there is no Men’s day, not because they have social concerns about men and their issues, but because they want to question International Women’s Day. For all these people, here is a link. Some reading, usually helps.
This Women’s Day, there are some points I would like to share and I invite fellow women to add to them. Men too, as allies are welcome.
1. Let us read, about International Women’s day, its history, and objectives.
2. Discourage women to constantly refer to themselves in relation to their male counterparts. Let us not ask them about their relationship status or questions about their motherhood, or as to who does the household chores. Women identities are not defined or validated by the men in their life. Also, all women are not domesticated. If they are, okay, and if they aren’t, it’s okay too.
3. Prepare young girls to be young professionals. I recently read a moving article about a woman who strived to be the best at her studies and career, only to be told at a certain age that she should now be a mother, as this was the right age. She wrote about how she lost on her career, and felt guilty for doing so, and worse, for thinking that way too. Subsequently, she began to wonder why she was forcing her daughter to study, if she too had to have the same fate. Think about it. Motherhood is a choice, not an obligation. Think about treating your girl child as a person, not as your honour/respect/izzat of your family, khandaan and community.
4. Let us accept that women do a lot of work at home, which is termed as their ‘duty/responsibility’. Learn to share that. She does not get casual leave, sick leave, and there’s frankly no retirement or perks. If she is a home-maker, every time she needs money, she has to ask. If she isn’t, she still handles work and home. Let us start making household work a SHARED responsibility. And before you jump, I know a lot of families, where women earning is still seen as shameful, it means that the men can’t provide for her.
Women are to ask for permission before they leave home/hostels, and have worse curfew hours/less or no freedom. (Read about Pinjra Tod movement). Basically, the idea is to critique gender roles, and this blue-pink dichotomy, its socialisation.
I do have a long list, but in a nutshell feminism does not say women are right or better, it just says someone is not wrong just because she is a woman. There’s a difference, and maybe International Women’s day on 8th March is a good day to unlearn that.
Dr Ruchika Sharma is a Historian, Dancer, Assistant Professor and a Feminist.