New Internationalist

Define Feminism: a poem

My daughter and I, and my husband and sons, have had frequent conversations about feminism.

I realize I am a bundle of contradictions as I tell my annual batch of British development students to be ultra careful in India. To cover up for their own safety. I hate doing it because saying ‘wear long loose clothes’ goes against everything; it’s a step away from saying ‘wear a burqa or hijab’.

And I argue with a Muslim man that to say that women tempt men is ludicrous. If a man covets a five-year-old girl, is he the sinner or she? I ask him. So where’s the logic behind covering a girl child in black burqa from head to toe? He smiles, but his beautiful wife and daughter have recently moved into hijab, though their grandmothers in Kerala walked free and unencumbered. Am I a hypocrite?

What about culturally appropriate attire, ask my activist friends who don’t like scantily clad women walking around villages. There’s scope for a full-length article here. But for now I thought I’d share my daughter’s thoughts. She who insists she cannot write.

This then is from Tahira, born in 1983 with a different perspective from that of her mother who lived with sexually inappropriate remarks through the 1970s and 1980s, when few people talked about sexual harassment. And most women had to grin and bear it.

Us (Non)Feminist (Wo)Men

I’m not sure I’d call myself a feminist
Said my best friend (with a little moue of distaste), and my sister in law agreed.
They’re both
Intelligent, accomplished, and independent women.

Of course I’m a feminist
Said my beautiful, commonsensical mother
But please
Change into a kurta and out of those jeans before you leave.

It’s an elitist preoccupation
Said my activist scholar brother as he
Cleared the table
And started washing the dishes (while I propped up my feet)

Well, I guess I am a feminist!
Said my startled, future husband, and
Epiphany over,
He paid the bill and held the door for me.
            ……
Please don’t be chivalrous – it’s sexist!
Said the woman to my father,
Looking pointedly at
The door he held open, at a fancy Oxford conference.

My mostly loquacious father,
Who holds doors for absolutely everyone, (regardless of their genitalia,)
Said nothing, shrugged,
And preceded her in hurt bewildered silence.

Please don’t be so ethnocentric
I want to tell the woman from Oxford,
Don’t you realize
Chivalry’s a western cultural construct? (backpedal, quickly now, you don’t want to be racist).

Don’t sacrifice politeness for political correctness,
And start to second guess each thoughtful gesture.
That’s what I want to tell my father
He is clearly a feminist (according to me)
       ………
She’s exhausted, so she tells them, she’s impure and menstruating.
And is banished to the anteroom and the solitude she craves.
With an impish little smile,
She lies down on the matting, no one can touch her now for three whole days (Mission Accomplished!)

The audience chants Vagina! as I slip into the corridor,
To check His father’s eaten the dinner I cooked that morning.
Mindspace uncluttered,
I enjoy the rest of Eve Ensler’s brilliant, hilarious, feminist play

She swore she’d never be a passive victim (the girl I’d love if I were lesbian).
I want to shout applause and vehemently agree,
But I’ve shamed myself to silence,
As (earlier that day) we sat frozen as she confronted her molester alone (we were like strangers on a bus)
……
I want to tell my friend
That she can call herself a feminist, define it on her own terms
And continue
To wear a bra and want a boyfriend

I fundamentally believe
In equity and equality, so I’m definitely a feminist
But that isn’t
All that I am (the whole is greater than the parts)

I tell my morning mirror that I’m equanimously feminist,
Without boxing myself into black and white pigeon holes
That demarcate boundaries,
Imposed by other people’s misconceptions and insecurities.

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