“Are you a feminist?” Strangely, no one has ever directly asked me that question before, but many have assumed I am one. My presumption is that going by my demeanour people slot me in the feminist box. I’m a female with a strong, assertive voice; basically, a woman with an opinion that screams “you don’t have to agree with me, but you will have to hear me out”. So today, I’m taking this opportunity to publicly say it aloud, “Yes, I am a Feminist and a proud one too.”
So what does feminism mean to me? To me, it is about having the freedom to make choices, about the right to refuse and be respected for it, about being included in political, social, and economic discussions because I’m part of that very same society. If all this boils down to having the same rights as the opposite sex because we’re both equal, then yes, feminism at its core is about gender equality. But it does not disregard the fact that men and women are wired differently.
I am a sincere advocate of ‘girl power’ and ‘women’s empowerment.’ We need to build each other up, after all, we belong to the same tribe, but I won’t stand for radical feminism where the sole goal is to prove that women can do everything men can do or do it far better than men ever will. When did feminism become about male-bashing? Of course, if the conversation involves sexual predators, violent abusers or misogynistic politicians then, by all means, shred them to pieces, but the truth is not every woman is victimised and hence we don’t need to look at all men with the same lens. Let’s not intimidate men and encourage them to be part of the conversation too.
Feminism is slowly bordering on extremism. It’s time we ditch the stereotyping, for clothing oneself in a pinstripe power- suit on a high-fashion magazine is in no way symbolic of modern-day feminism. Let’s not forget, feminism isn’t a slayer of femininity; instead, it is accepting of the differences men and women have as members of the opposite sex.
For discussion sake, let’s consider Jane Austen’s beloved protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet. To me, she is as much a feminist icon as a present-day Malala or Beyonce. Lizzy believed in happily-ever-afters, but she wasn’t merely looking for financial security. She wanted more and wasn’t afraid to let it show. In the nineteenth century when a woman’s well being was associated with marriage, she made some unconventional choices and refused to give into any familial pressure and marry the first man who proposed.
To the twenty-first-century reader, Pride and Prejudice is primarily a romance novel, however, one cannot ignore the sharp strokes of feminism Elizabeth’s character display. She was far from what a nineteenth-century ideal woman represented. Lizzy was flawed yet comfortable with her imperfection. She defied socially imposed gender norms of Regency England and refused to confine her thoughts to the walls of her brain.
As I re-read this classic before writing this piece, I couldn’t help but smirk at the fact that even two hundred years later many men still don’t understand the concept of a simple NO! A woman’s refusal is more often than not considered a form of encouragement and hence Mr. Collins took it upon himself to indulge in some mansplaining with his famous, “As I must, therefore, conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.” To which I find Liz’s befitting response, “ Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational human creature, speaking the truth from her heart,” most heartening. In that one sentence, she sums up the true meaning of feminism. She did not cave in and stood up for herself with grace and assertiveness.
As a novelist, I believe in creating characters who are strong, independent, intelligent yet far from perfect. No superwomen for me. They don’t exist. We don’t have any imaginary capes or extra hours to our day. Women are not perfect or superior to their male counterparts. We just tend to be harder on ourselves trying to have it all – family, thriving career, well-kept home and a perfect social life too! I still remember watching a video by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi where she shared, “Women can’t have it all.” It sounded brutal and regressive back then but slowly I began to realise that we don’t need to have it all. It’s okay to be content with just a little, and it is also perfectly fine to want to achieve a lot. Let not the world around you decide what is enough!
As a mother to a little girl, I would like for her to grow up knowing that her decisions are hers to make. It’s fine if she wants to be an astronaut, politician, stay-at-home mom or police officer, as long as she’s happy with her decision. I certainly don’t want her being bullied into believing she needs to be anybody other than herself to be taken seriously. To be a true feminist all she needs is a strong voice, the inner strength and wisdom to guide her, so that she never goes unheard! As we pass the baton of feminism to our daughters encouraging them to make that climb and reach the summit, may we never forget to remind them about embracing their femininity too. Women were created to be strong and beautiful, gentle and assertive, tough and forgiving, rational and creative, which is possibly why nature has bestowed on us the greatest gift of motherhood that allows the human race to continue.