The other day, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder what defined my feminism. I looked shabby. An old pair of jeans, an over-sized t-shirt, messy short hair, no ornaments…in the mirror, I saw a woman who could be easily called a tomboy. But I’m not a tomboy. It is true that I have quite a lot of male friends (and I’m ‘bhaizoned’ by all of them). But I’m not the kind of woman who would enjoy watching action movies or watching cricket matches (or even football for that matter). I enjoy romantic and melodious songs. I prefer Bollywood over Hollywood any day (though it has everything to do with Linguistic priorities more than anything else). I drink. I get drunk. But I don’t drink with my male friends (or even female friends for that matter). I don’t smoke, but I don’t give long lectures to smokers about the kind of car they can afford if they save the money they spend on cigarettes. I like Indian food, though I don’t really hate pizza. When I think about it, I could easily be a ‘behenji’ to the world if only I can start wearing salwar kameez and jewelry. And I wonder, if some day, I suddenly have the desire to look ‘pretty’ and I start ‘decking up’, will that affect my identity as a feminist in any way? Probably it will. But what matters is whether I will let the world’s opinions define me. I don’t know. It is very easy to say “I don’t care what the world says”, “I don’t give a damn” and “I know what I am”, but practically, one needs to cope with a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ before genuinely coming to such conclusions.
There was a time (when I had been newly introduced to feminism) when I was ashamed of certain things about myself, which, I then thought, weren’t very ‘feminist’. I remember, proudly reading Dostoevsky, Kafka and Neruda in front of others and secretly reading Mills and Boons at night, in my room and carefully hiding them under the mattress in the morning. Recently, I started trying out nail colours (outrageous colours like blue, green, orange and purple) and felt guilty about admitting that I actually like it. You see, it’s such a ‘girly’ thing. I have never really told anyone that though I don’t like gold and other heavy jewelry, I am crazy about nosepins and anklets and own at least a dozen of each. I am self-conscious when I go out ‘dressed up’ (though I love all the attention I get, secretly). Hell! Am I losing everything that defines my ‘femininity’ in order to show the world that I’m a feminist? Perhaps I am and that is a serious problem. What makes most people think that a woman in a glittery salwar kameez, wearing heavy jewelry and make-up is not a feminist? Just the fact that she fits into a stereotype? Isn’t that as good as calling a woman a bitch just because she is outspoken and is comfortable in short skirts? If judging someone for not fitting into a stereotype is wrong, judging someone for fitting into a stereotype is an equally unforgivable sin. But how can I forget the fact that a woman is expected to ‘dress up’ and ‘deck up’ in order to please men? How can I forget that being soft-spoken and shy is associated with chastity? But does that mean a decked up, soft-spoken woman cannot be a feminist? She can be. It all depends on why and for whom she dresses up. Every woman has the right to feel good about herself, and for that she has all the freedom to ‘dress up’. If dressing up like one of those women in an Ekta Kapoor serial is going to make me feel good about myself, well, I’m ready to wear a sari and cover myself with kilos of gold. But, I’ll never do that to please a man or anyone. I won’t do for the so-called ‘society’. Never.
The next thing that puts a feminist in a dilemma: relationship and marriage. Now, I have a boyfriend and both of us are (let’s say) open-minded. Both of us are more than happy together. But, the problem arises when we start thinking about the dreaded ‘future’. If I ask him “When are you going to marry me?” or “Are you going to marry me?” I’ll be portraying myself as a weak woman who needs a man in her life and a kind of woman who is concerned about social tags. A woman who can feel secure only when she has the tag of being someone’s ‘wife’. In order to keep up my image of being the ‘modern independent woman’, I won’t ever bring up the issue. But in doing so, I’m putting my identity in grave danger. By not asking for a ‘legal’ role in his life, I’m indirectly agreeing to take up the role of a ‘mistress’ and in doing so, I’m giving him a chance to objectify me. Not a very ‘feminist’ thing to do! Being a feminist doesn’t make me any less human. I have emotional needs and I need a companion. When I think about marriage, I do not think of finding a man who will provide a roof over my head and three meals a day. I can earn that myself. To me (and any feminist) marriage is all about companionship, not responsibilities. Do I want to get married? Yes, of course. Some day when I’m ready for it. Will I do it because my parents and (the society) think I’m ‘old enough’? No! Will I do it because it will give me a respectable position in the society? No! Will I do it because some day, if I want to have kids, they need to have a father? Hell, NO! Will I do it because then, I’ll have a shoulder to cry on? YES, YES, YES!!!
It’s high time we stop defining feminism based on somebody’s appearance and needs. If you like wearing short skirts and getting drunk at pubs, go ahead. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are a ‘bad woman’. If you want to wear jewels and feminine clothes, do it. Don’t let anyone make you believe that you are a ‘behenji’ and thus, not a feminist. If you don’t want to save your virginity for ‘that special someone’, don’t. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are letting men use you. If you don’t want to have sex till you get married, don’t. And don’t let anyone tell you that you are conservative. If somebody tells you that your choices make you ‘less’ (or more) feminist than the others, don’t hesitate to tell them that there is no such thing as less or more feminism. After all feminism is all about equality and learning how not to judge someone because they are different.