I’m a woman and I get to choose
“Wars are fought over a woman’s body.” That’s something our culture study professor explained to us sometime back. She was talking about gender issues, riots and war. The first casualty of man’s triumph in any combat is a woman’s body, she explained.
Last few months have brought to fore some disgusting realities of existence as a woman in my country. Protests, slogans, heated debates, lousy comments; all about what a woman can do and what she should not do. How it’s her fault that she gets groped, raped, molested. That a lot of these comments come from men, does not mean that some women are not agreeing with them.
Among the various casualties of these events, is the one that concerns the understanding of the ideology of feminism. The most common notion being that women who hate men are feminists, and men can never be feminists. Also that feminists are lesbians.
I’m a feminist. and I like to call myself an evolving feminist. I have a list of men I adore (father, brother, nephews, friends, and an extremely large list of celebrities). I confess, that I went through a phase where I hated men. I still do at times, but the only the ones who ill-treat or disrespect a woman. I’m still discovering feminism and it upsets me when men and women want to make it very clear that they are not ‘ feminists’ because of the misconceptions about this ideology.
My first lecture on feminism in undergrad is something I still remember very well. Our lecturer had informed us in advance about the classes on feminism. Excitement is an understatement for what I felt that week. I had been calling myself a feminist for quite some time. At that point it just meant disliking men.
But things were about to change and they did. My professor started the lecture by saying, “ Feminism is not about hating men.” Then she went on to explain the concept of gender and sex, society and biology, and finally patriarchy and stereotypes. This was followed by the waves and the different schools of feminism.
Over the years I’ve seen different kinds of people throw different brands of feminism at me. I’ve agreed, disagreed and dwelled over them. With all of these, everytime I try to check my evolution with this philosophy I find that there is a strong constant.
Feminism to me stands for the right to have a choice. That empowerment comes from the fact that I have choice. The word choice here is so vast.
For centuries society has set certain norms for a woman. Dressing, behaviour, culture, future, expectations. Everything has a boundary. In my country being covered head-to-toe is the way a woman should dress. She should be submissive, meek, polite, tender and not opinionated. Her culture is that of bearing pain, suffering and silently. Her future is attached to marrying a man and providing at least one male heir. She is expected to listen and obey, put her family, her children and her husband before herself.
What feminism says is that a woman has a right to choose. Decisions are not made for you, but you get to make them.
So when I bring in my feminist demands here, I say a woman can dress in anyway she wants to. Bare her shoulder, her back, reveal or not reveal anything. It’s her body and it’s her comfort. She has the choice of doing what she wants with it. She wants to be covered head-to-toe, great! She doesn’t want to be covered at all. It’s her decision.
Behaviour and culture are the biggest stereotypes. I’ve personally had a lot of trouble with these two. I’ve been told on several occasions that I behave un-woman-like. Some have said it out of jest, some out of concern.
Keeping your hair short, or dressing in pants or jumping fences does not make you un-woman like. It’s your personality and you live it. Someday you’ll let your hair grow and decide you want to wear a dress instead of pants. And you could still jump fences.
The bit about suffering in silence is worrying as a lot of woman consider this to be a matter of pride. It all starts when you are a 13, experiencing excruciating cramps, bleeding for three days and you are not to ‘tell anyone’.
So we lie to our brothers and friends who are boys and our fathers (who know, but they act like they don’t). Let’s just say it, because that’s the only natural difference between men and women. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, it’s actually kind of cool. So take pride in it. If you have menstrual cramps say it and the fact that you are continuing with regular life inspite of all that pain makes you a hero.
With this we teach ourselves not to suffer in silence. A man or woman strikes you, say it out aloud. They have no business of violating your space. You have the choice to say no to him or her. You can’t be claimed as mute property, because you have a choice.
Future. It’s such an important decision. Most women are told that it’s marriage and then children. Again she has a choice. She can study as much as she wants to. Fall in love and fall out of love as many times as her heart permits. She can work, earn and have an independent existence. She can marry whenever she wishes to, whoever she wishes to. Have children, stay at home our pursue a career. She has a choice.
There are no limits to her expectations. She does not have to confine herself to what’s considered right. She can go beyond all those boundaries and define her life or choose to stay within them.
This is what defines feminism and I see no shame in calling myself a feminist. Having the right to choose is a basic. That right should be respected. I’m not a victory claim, or a mute object serving the purpose of reproduction. I’m a human being with a choice and I refuse to let other humans fight wars over my body.