Friday, April 13, 2007

Feminism and I: A Love Story

***Thanks for roping me in to write this.

I was not even 8 when someone gave me my first International Day of the Woman button, in 1975. It was red, I remember. I loved stickers and buttons and wore this one proudly on my schoolbag. I had no idea what it meant. I thought it looked cool, whatever cool meant then. I also thought scented, pink and green erasers were cool. And red ribbons (yech) in my hair.

I was 14 when I wrote an essay in school entitled, Why I Am not a Feminist.

When I think back, these two disparate, random pieces of my life stand out. In the essay (which I discovered inside some old book a few years ago) I wrote about how I didn't need a label to be strong, to be a woman, to take what I needed to take for myself, to assert myself. I thought I was being very smart and oh, so sophisticated. I was beyond feminism. And in the process, asserted my nascent feminist self even more so. Ironic, huh?

To not call myself a feminist now, for me, is a denial. A denial of women who came before me and had to fight for everything they deserved. A denial of women who continue to struggle against oppression and degredation even now. In Indian villages, inside the claustrophobic harems of the hardcore Arab world; killed for honor in Pakistan, murdered for dowry in India, not getting equal pay for equal work elsewhere...the list goes on and on.

It is only us, who have the luxury of talking about it and not really experiencing much of what feminism had released us from, who are misguided. By denying feminism we deny the efforts of those who gave us the luxury of this talk.

It is a cop out. For someone like me, to take full advantage of the changes brought about by feminism (the right to vote, to equal rights in marriage, the right to my body, the right not to be killed at birth, to be equal to a man in the eyes of the law, etc.etc.) and then to turn around and deny the very movement that gave me these rights seems downright ungrateful.

But really, the right to not call yourself a feminist is also ironically a right bestowed by feminist thought: the right not to be labeled.

Calling myself a feminist does not, however, limit me to just being a feminist. I am not just a woman and a feminist. I am a woman, feminist, Muslim, barely Muslim, heathen-leaning...and yes, a humanist. Someone sensitive to the condition of women *and* men. Someone with an awareness that we are all in it it together. Men cannot be truly happy with repressed, unhappy women in their lives. And, yes, women cannot be truly happy with unhappy, silenced men in theirs.

I am aware that in the US, at least, at times feminist has seemed to be hijacked by selfish forces, where sometimes they have gone overboard. Where equality has been taken over by an ultra-sensitivity.

Feminism made me a strong woman not a damn shrinking violet. I can bear the occasional naughty joke. Heck, I even tell them myself. I've found the workplace strictures to be rather idiotic and onerous to women and men though I am glad that workplaces are friendlier to women than they used to be.

But that's another post. For me feminism is being me. Rather, it is one part of being me.

I am not afraid of labels. I can only be afraid of labels if I let them define me totally. Feminism does not define me. It does not constrain me or paint me in a corner. It sets me free to think and feel and respond to the world as a proud, free, and independent woman...a person. It is one part, albeit one very important part of me. And I am proud to walk in the shadow of those brave women (and men) who made it possible for me to walk tall and strong.

And to proclaim aloud: I am a feminist.


Amrita said...

Excellent post Jawahara - feminism is indeed about self-respect and dignity as a human being. People often forget that it received its greatest push (in the US at least) during the Civil Rights movement.

Btw, blogger apparently doesn't show pingbacks but the link is up at my blog. Thanks once again for joining in!

Indian Home Maker said...

"Men cannot be truly happy with repressed, unhappy women in their lives." That's what I always wonder at!Don't such men see this?