You probably don’t remember this because it happened more than three years ago. You met me on a bus from Juhu to Bandra one evening. I was wearing a saree and trying to get some needlework done while I had the time. You were wearing a beautifully cut grey pant suit with a light pink shirt that looked amazing on you. You looked smart! You came, took the seat next to me and we smiled at each other. That is generally where my interaction with my fellow travelers ends but you eyed the pillow case I was working on for a few seconds before asking me if I was a home science student. I didn’t understand why you would ask that.. but I simply said no.
I will never forget the conversation that followed.
You told me that I looked like a well educated and smart girl and that I shouldn’t be tied down with these things that the world expects women to do. That I too could wear anything I liked or do stuff other than homely, womanly stuff. You spoke at length about what I should be doing instead of simple needlework.
In those few moments before you spoke, you judged me. You took in my attire and my needlework and assumed that I was wearing that saree and doing embroidery because someone had told me that this is what I am supposed to do. You thought I was still stuck in some pre-colonial form of womanhood just because I wasn’t wearing a beautiful pant suit and reading an official looking file.
That bus ride was too short to tell you just how wrong you were.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I completed college a few years ago and have been working in the TV industry ever since; when we met, I was already an independent writer. I habitually beat up eve teasers on a weekly basis. I wore whatever caught my fancy and said whatever came to mind. No filters.
I was, am and will be a feminist.
But the idea of feminism has gotten twisted somewhere in people’s minds. Yours too. Feminism isn’t about picking up all the women, sticking them in western attire and making them ‘more like men’. It isn’t about abusing all the men for having a penis and putting them down every step of the way.
Feminism is about finding out what you want to do and doing it. It is about letting no one dictate how your life should be. Feminism isn’t about being equal to or more than men… It is about being women.. The best women that women can be!
At one point in time, women weren’t allowed to vote or work at certain jobs by virtue of them being women. Women were subjected to all kinds of restrictions just for being the fairer sex. So our foremothers fought for those rights. They got them for us. They left us a message: don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do because you are a woman. Make your own choices. You are no lesser than the rest of them. You have the right to be what you want to be.
That includes wearing attires that you like to wear and having hobbies that you enjoy.
I love sarees. I think they are comfortable and elegant at the same time! And I love being creative and I keep finding new crafts to learn. Including needlework. That day on the bus, I was doing what I loved doing and wearing what I wanted to. By definition, I think I was emancipated, wouldn’t you say?
And I hope to heaven that you were wearing that suit and following your career because you loved it too. I hope it wasn’t because of some misguided idea that liberated women only wear modern clothes and go to work. Because if that was the case, I think between the two of us, I was the more liberated woman on that seat. I never let anyone tell me what to wear or do. Even in the name of women empowerment.
I let a man hold a door for me or pull a chair for me every now and then because I respect their gesture. It is a man’s way of showing affection and attention so I don’t take it as an insult, I take it as a compliment.
I took my husband’s name after marriage because I wanted to. You’d have thought I am weak and that I gave in to the patriarchy of society. I’m not. I think I’m strong because I chose a man who made it clear that he’d be fine with me keeping my maiden name. I changed my name because it is my way of telling him that I truly am in love with him. I made those choices. It was within MY power.
But I don’t judge women who don’t like chairs pulled for them or doors held for them or who prefer to keep their names after marriage. It is their choice! And the whole point of empowerment is to have the freedom to make your own choices!
What I want to say is simple. You judged me for my choices. That isn’t empowerment darling… It is the exact opposite!
Let me ask you this; if someone judged you for wearing those clothes and having a career, wouldn’t you think of them as un-evolved and backward? Now think of what you did to me… Isn’t it the same thing?
I respect your gesture however, of speaking to a woman about being empowered. There is an easier way to do it though. Don’t judge a woman based on her choices. Find out if she made them herself or did someone else make them for her. If she made her own choices, she is already empowered. You may not agree with her choices but that doesn’t make them wrong. But if you find a woman whose choices have been made for her by someone else and not really with her consent, go ahead and try to show her that she can make them for herself if she really wants to. Help her out as much as you can without imposing your own choices upon her.
The fight for women’s equality has come a long way but there is still a long way to go. Be an ally. Don’t add to those who we are fighting: those who tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing…
Lots of love,
An Empowered Woman