I have always wondered about, what is it for me to be a Woman?
I have as a youngster felt ashamed for being a girl… boys seemed to have a different kind of freedom, which I couldn’t. My family was not prudish but that was the way of the society. No girls would be seen on streets after dusk, and if they were, there would be judgement around that. As a girl I have always felt judged, what kind of clothes was I wearing? How was I laughing? How did I looking? How did I talk? Was I walking proper? Was I aggressive? As if I was constantly appraised. Growing up was tough as I started to become more aware of my being a Woman. Everything seemed hushed up, girls would talk about their experiences only in private and very trusting company, so friends became essential. If you didn’t have friends it was emotionally traumatic, as there was no sharing of growing up experiences. I could thankfully make a few good friends and hang around them for motivation.
Ours was a government colony, supposed to be safe, yet there was not a single time that you went out and eve teasing wouldn’t happen. It was so much a norm that it became a way of society’s approval of you being a girl. It was almost like if you weren’t eve teased you had to find the reason for it; it usually meant working on your looks. The society’s thought process seemed warped when it came to women. Women had to be a certain way to fit into the Society, they being in large numbers did not matter, They just had to fit in to a certain standard to be good women. Most of these standards were set by women themselves. So She couldn’t be seen with a boy, without being scrutinized, She couldn’t laugh loudly, She couldn’t be too intelligent and challenging, She had to be this sweet doll who was just appropriately intelligent. Then once she had achieved this she had to seek approval from everyone in the family, society and school, consistently. There couldn’t be one wrong move.
I saw this everywhere I went, and this went on to become a cause of my metamorphosis into an aggressive, slyly rebellious teenager. I was just wanting to compete with boys, and be like them. I would fist fight with them, rebuke them and undermine them at whatever opportunity that I got. There was no point, no objective other than trying to put down men in general. I grew up with simmering loathing towards men, this kept on being fueled by the news reports of rape, dowry and other abuse that women were being subjected to.
At a certain point in time I started to hate my country where this duality of Rape and Sita went hand in hand. People who worshipped Durga ill-treated their girls, this was beyond my understanding. What penance were they talking about when they walked miles to a Goddess temple to fulfill their wishes of a son. Common sense was something that seemed completely missing in the system. Praying, doing rituals, fasting, wearing traditional clothes and jewellery that hurt was important if you were a married woman. All superstitions had to do with your son or husband’s death. Everything about God was about fear, and a woman had to exist for the wellbeing of the men in her life.
In many families men had to be served food first and women in the family would eat later. They had god men who would not allow women to come near their vision. During sat-sang women would get last seats away from the stage, where the so-called pious god men would take their positions.
We still have temples where women are barred from coming, there a mosques where women can’t enter, we have churches where women can’t be a priest.
My sensitivities around the subject increased upon my daughter’s birth and I started to voice my opinions, she became a strong reason for me to change status quo around me. The mediocrity, “its ok” and the duality once again came crashing at me and I stood at a point of choice every time I spoke or I did not. Because my girl was watching me closely, I was becoming a role model for my daughter. I wanted my daughter to live, live a more wholesome life filled with exploration, magic and love. I couldn’t make that available to her if she saw me chained by my own dichotomy.
In my daughter’s birth, I was born again. I was born now to challenge patriarchy and question every statement that challenged my ‘Being Woman’. It was strange but my transformation started changing the world around me, suddenly I had a constellation of friends who had similar thought processes. I started working closely with Women’s Leadership and their relationship to self. I was able to forgive much more, understand much more in my new birth. I could let go of friendships and relationships that sapped my energy. I could free myself and be more of who I really was. I could see how my own patriarchy and warpedness was affecting me. I began to see my daughter as biggest challenge to my soul’s journey and its growth, she became the Divine voice of a Woman. Her questions created new awareness and new confusion, her questions shook the core of my being and they still do.
My second birthing happened when my Son was born, Sometimes I saw myself being torn between my two children. Both being apple of my eyes how could I give them a balanced parenting, where they learn to respect each other as equals? This was not an easy question to answer and I continue to struggle with it. There are days when I find my centre and days when I am completely caught in the typhoon of their arguments. I have realized, that the only way I can ‘be’ with my children is by constantly expanding my awareness. I can see the school, society and family affecting my children’s relationship with each other as well as the opposite sex in general.
To get more informed I started reading about countries which have worked on this equality and have been able to do something about it. The most impressive came out to be the Scandinavian countries. I started harboring a desire to live in such a country, where equality of sexes was a norm. The Delhi rape case and the other rape news reports had started getting me scared for my Children’s safety in the country. I was becoming aware of the simmering sexual suppression that was harboring in the Society. At this point I wrote my article – ‘Double X and rape’, which talked about the two Indias that exist. I wandered in my internal world endlessly with questions that remained un-answered.
How do I create a system that supports growth of children without emotional suppression? How do they see both girls and boys as equals? I was constantly in my typhoon.
During my course of work with Initiatives of Change, I met a Woman Change Agent from Norway, Gudrun Brovig Silde. She and her family were staying at Panchgani for past one year. Interestingly she had three daughters who had done most of their schooling in Norway but were now studying at a Local school near the Asia Plateau. My curiosity about instilling sexes equality in culture brought me into a discussion with her. Her daughter Joannah who studies in the eighth grade also joined us in the discussion. It was interesting to get her perspective on difference in both the cultures as she experiences it. She told about how in India she feels watched all the time and would like to dress in clothes that cover her. In Norway she would dress anyway she felt like and would feel comfortable. Also in school in India a girl and boy can’t be friends, it is taken as a taboo and hence creates an uncomfortable environment. In Norway the Society and the Government takes utmost care not to differentiate between Girls and boys from a very young age. They encourage friendship amongst girls and boys, which creates a healthy and respectful environment. The thirty minutes or so spent with Gudrun and Joannah talking about how they feel as women in India, added to my insights. I am not sure what needs to be done, or what needs to happen. I don’t know if the change will be radical or gradual. All I know is we all need to feel safe in our own country and be friends with our brothers and sisters.
Seeing a woman without full clothes on road should not make it a valid reason for her to be raped or even gaped at. A laughing woman cannot be labeled loose. A woman walking with a man doesn’t make them a couple having sex. The judgements that we make of ourselves as women and others have arisen from a plagued patriarchy. This will have to go if we have to sow seeds of ancient wisdom, which existed before time, where there was only one sense prevalent, the common sense.