March 10, 2008

Open House: History/Her story

MY FIRST BRUSH with feminist theory was at the ripe old age of 23, when, as a volunteer to a visually disabled PhD student, I read aloud portions of Black Feminist Thought and unabashedly displayed my ignorance. But way before that time of unknowing, began a journey of imbibing a belief system, questioning existing patriarchal norms and learning to negotiate for space in the world.

If I had to think back and wonder where my brand of personal feminism springs from, I’d say it is a direct outcome of growing up around strong female role models. My mother. My paternal grandmother. Both educators, income-generators, women with voices loud and determined who, despite the battles they faced, made it seem so easy. Some others I know actively sought feminism because it empowered them to be unlike their female role models. Yet others took an academic interest in the subject. But this is not a post about what kinds of feminist roots work best.

What I ask today is: what spurred you to feminism? Was it a process of becoming, of gradual realization, or was it something you had known all along, before you could even give it a name? Was it people, events or the ideology that made you identify yourself as a feminist? What is your feminism story? Your own personal history?

Even for the folks out there who don’t particularly identify yourselves as such, what meaning does feminism hold for you? Do you give it a place in your life at all, or is it something that’s best read about on this blog and forgotten when the browser clicks shut? It’s open house, people. Write in. I’d love to hear from you, so do share.

9 comments to Open House: History/Her story

  • For me, personally, I don’t think there was any real turning point as such. I was one of those “born a feminist” types — and am now at a stage where I challenge myself on the label and what it means, what it could mean, etc. Five years ago I embraced the term so much I had tee-shirts with the word on them. Now, I am more cautious, a little disillusioned. Now, I’m in a process of renegotiating what feminism means for me and also, in a smaller but be-the-change-you-want-to-see-in-the-world-way, how I can make a real difference.

  • I was born into a family where women are no less than men and where almost every woman (daughter or daughter-in-law) earns a living and is a part of any decision-making process. So it was easy for me to BE a feminist, if being a feminist means believing that we’re all human beings and gender is incidental.

    In college I was introduced to more radical forms of feminist thought and while I read about them, I never seriously took them up. My brand of feminism is my own. I still wear bras and I do wax my legs and I like wearing make-up. But I make my own decisions about my life and career and I think that is the most empowering thing of all.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Sharanya: I think the tailoring-it-to-suit-our-lives process does happen to most people if they are to continue supporting any ideology/ism. That, in my view, doesn’t make us any less feminist, only firmer individuals who know exactly what we stand for.

    @Pooja: Which is why I’m interested in individual histories and how they contribute to our worldview. 🙂 I could’ve written those paragraphs up there– our feminist origins being so similar.

  • Amrit

    I believe you hit the nail on the head when you said, “it empowered them to be unlike their female role models.” Well, although I’m a guy, I completely identify with that statement.

    My mother always felt (and still does) that her role in a marriage was (is) to be the subservient wife to her “pathi parmeshvar.” Along the same lines, while in India, my father probably assumed his role as the “bread-winner” or male chauvinist that expected certain things from his wife. (He doesn’t anymore!)

    As a child, I was bothered by the fact that my mom wanted to have chai ready for my dad the minute he walked in the door, or abandon all plans of shopping, visiting friends, or joining a “kitty” because my dad would be home on the weekends. I would always ask myself why she wouldn’t just live her life for her, and not my dad.

    This further frustrated me once she started imposing similar rules of an obedient wife to my younger sister. Keep in my mind, my sister is a “born-feminist,” therefore my mom and her would often disagree. I secretly relished the arguments, vying for my sister to win, and, hopefully, help my mom understand that there was much more to life than just being a good wife. Yes, I had embraced feminism.

    Although my mom never really changed, she did try to understand my sister a little bit better. Whether it was those long discussions I had with her or the various arguments my sister won, regardless, she opened up to our perspective, as we did to hers.

    Currently, we’re trying to push the envelope by encouraging her to join a volunteer organization, join the job market, or teach cooking classes (oh my god, her butter chicken is to die for!…haha). Whatever she chooses to do (even it’s none of the above), I’ll still love and respect her for her decisions (but secretly sway her towards feminism….do we have a masala powder for that? 😉 )

    I apologize for rambling, as I tend to do quite often.

    Finally, I just want to take a second to thank you for all the wonderful articles on this website.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Amrit: Thank you for sharing your story. It is interesting to hear where another person comes from. At the risk of sounding preachy, I’d like to say this: as much as life teaches us what we want from it, it also teaches us what we absolutely don’t need. 🙂 I hope your mother finds some joy in living for herself as well.

  • I had come across this earlier but the question seemed too difficult to answer. Let me try to answer it now.

    Maybe it helped that I didn’t have brothers, only a sister, and so I didn’t face gender discrimination at home. Maybe it helped that my parents were relatively broad-minded. Maybe it helped that I read and learnt to question things at an early age.

    I don’t remember when I first thought of myself as a feminist. I’m sure it was while I was still in school. I definitely hadn’t written any feminist texts then. Even now, my exposure has bee mostly through the blogosphere, though I have read “A Room of One’s Own” and am currently on “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”.

    I am sure what had an impact on my views was the sexual abuse and harrasment I went through. I am still not sure why I seemed to have got more than my fair share of it: it might be partly because I “developed” early, but then I was first abuse when I was a child, maybe six years old.

  • *extremely sorry: of course, I meant to say “read any feminist texts” in the third paragraph.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Unmana: I’m sorry to hear about your abuse. I really am. What’s also terribly sad is how many women run the “because I developed early” tape in their head to somehow explain the actions of the pedophiles they encountered. Even now, as a feminist, as one who understands she didn’t deserve anything she got, you still question whether it was your own body that betrayed you. I would never preach to you about how you should feel, Unmana, but I sincerely hope you will stop blaming yourself in even these subtle ways someday.

  • No, I didn’t mean to blame myself at all. I don’t. It’s the abusers who take all the blame. What I meant to say was, I don’t know why was apparently targeted more than other girls I knew. Maybe they were, and I didn’t know enough, or else there was the reason I gave. But of course that doesn’t hold for when I was six.

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