Feminism is often co-opted by agenda-driven people who’ve taken the movement far away from what it was supposed to be: freedom for women.
For me, however, feminism is freedom. It is a relative term, varying from woman to woman. But it is freedom nonetheless, from the endless shackles that bound her, etched out her character through the centuries, gave her a set of dos and don’ts, and made sure she stuck to them, so that she never even knew that she too had the freedom to learn, to speak out, to choose.
Over three centuries ago, Mary Wollstonecraft had brought to life a corpse that had long been preparing to rise. Much has happened since. Yet, three centuries later, where do we stand?
Let me share with you a small personal experience.
I Was a Prime Example of the Suppressed Woman
I got married in 2016. By the time I married, I was nearly two years into a job, a secure position in the state government service. I took home a decent pay. My parents were happy, and frankly, so was I.
But while all seemed well at the time, I knew that things would soon change. I knew that the man I wanted to marry was working a job elsewhere in the country. And that I would be unhappy in a long distance arrangement. At some point of time, perhaps sooner than later, I would want to join my husband. Yes, I didn’t want to ask him to leave his, for this man had a very niche specialisation and opportunities in his field were far harder to come by than my own.
I, on the other hand, had a much more general area of work. So, even as the preparations for my wedding were in full swing, I knew that the decision was hanging over my head like a hangman’s rope. I was quite sure that I would upset my parents. I understood their anxiety, even as I tried to dispel it. What I did not reckon with was, the viewpoint of, well – everybody!
I was told by people who loved me, and who didn’t, that I was making the worst decision of my life. A girl of today’s generation should never give up a good, well-paying job for the sake of marriage. A man who drove a friend’s car, who had maybe seen me twice in his life, wondered whether I had lost my mind. My colleagues at my workplace, some genuinely well-meaning, were shocked. I managed to create a consternation among the clerical staff, one of whom told me that he would never ask his wife to give up her job for him, insinuating that my husband was doing the opposite, and that I was giving in to his demands. I had unwittingly disappointed them.
A little birdie told me that my father’s economic condition was under the scanner, that the secure knowledge of my father’s financial situation had led me to take a decision which others, apparently less fortunate than me, would never dream of. I could see that all around me, even my well-wishers, were pitying me.
I was a prime example of the suppressed woman.
All this, because I wanted to live with my wedded husband.
And while I ultimately cared a damn for anybody except my immediate family, my friends and well-wishers, it still hurt. I felt broken where I should have felt stronger. I felt scared, where I should have been happy and excited. I let them get inside my head, and that was my fault.
Yet, I never saw myself as a suppressed, pitiful woman. I had married because I wanted to. I had found myself a job purely by my own merit. I wanted to quit it to be with my husband, and I knew I would want to work again, and would too.
Somehow, the lack of confidence that others had in me gave me courage. I knew that I might indeed regret my decision one day. I still know that. But I also knew what I wanted.
I Will Still be a Feminist
This experience left me wondering. Had we unknowingly bound ourselves up with a fresh set of dos and don’ts?
Why else would a woman, who has made an informed decision about her life, be pitied, challenged and criticised at every step? Why are you smarter if you give priority to your career and not to your family? From when did feminism start taunting women for wanting to marry or be in love?
Feminism is difficult to understand because freedom itself is hard to fathom. It is easy to be insecure in someone else’s confidence.
I have started working again (touchwood), soon after I officially started my married life late last year. But I would be proud even if I hadn’t, because I exercised my freedom of choice and made my own decision about my life.
I continue to call myself a feminist and always.
Also, for as long as there is just one way, there is no feminism.
(Surangama Guha Roy is a film enthusiast. She also writes on social trends, loves to read, and takes an interest in teaching as a profession.)