I don’t have a lot of memories from the past 18 years of my life, because I don’t have a strong memory, but I do have a few– all of them distinct, for no apparent reason. The one I am going to talk about is from when I was 16 years old. I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend, and the two of us were talking about a lot of things ranging from farts to politics. One of the things we spoke about was feminism. Now, before I get into it, let me just get this straight—I was an aspiring intellect i.e., I was still dumb. I was a nerd in school, and got the marks, but college really changed things for me, because I met some ridiculously smart girls, and that’s turned out quite well for me. Alright, now that you know I was really stupid when the conversation happened, I can proceed. I told my friend that I hate feminism, and he nodded his approval. I further explained by saying that it is “too female-centric” and “what about men, dude? They suffer too, and you’d know that. You can’t wear pretty skirts, or makeup if you want, or cry in public.” I may have also thrown in the “Besides, feminists, like, hate men, don’t they?”. Oh shoot, I am forgetting “Men are expected to be chivalrous, and I don’t get it. Why can’t women open the doors for men? Why are only men supposed to do it?”
If you could see my face right now, it’s that of a parent trying to acknowledge her/his infant’s efforts to talk.
“Aww, it’s so adorable that you thought you are smart, Mugdha.”
I mean, it’s impressive that I knew gender roles were suppressing men, and had begun to realize that gender stereotypes are destructive and only limit an individual, but typically I’d classify the 16-year-old version of me as a menimist.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with buying men more dinners, you feminist hoe.”
I’d have to say, 95% of my decision to think like a menimist was because of peer pressure. I always used to think that peer pressure never affected me, but it did. I realized that being ‘too assertive’, ‘too opinionated’, and ‘too smart’ weren’t going to get me a lot of male attention, and pretending to be ‘dumb’ and ‘silly’ would. So that’s exactly what I became. Comparing myself to other girls wasn’t a new thing for me, but for some reason it escalated between the age of 16 to 18. That, and of course, putting other girls down to feel good about myself. I put other girls down a lot, and have absolutely no qualms about admitting it because every single girl has been taught to put other girls down.
“She’s got no butt.”.
“She’s got a huge butt.”
“She is so fat.”
“She is so skinny.”
“She is flat.”
“Her boobs are so huge, it’s gross.”
“Her skin is so bad.”
“Her hair is weird.”
“Her teeth are weird.”
What seemed like casual opinions turned out to be seeds of poison. Sounds over dramatic, I know, but it isn’t. Whenever I met a girl, my first instinct was to point out her flaws in my head. “Alright, here we go again, on today’s episode of ‘What’s Wrong With This Girl?’ we have a beautiful girl, who seems to have acne, so, let’s hate on her for that, because she evidently gets more male attention than I ever will.”
Sounds pathetic, and rightly so. It’s easier to bear the stupidity when you realize that you weren’t stupid on purpose, and that you didn’t choose to be a part of this stupidity.
Cue- meeting some ridiculously smart girls.
Meeting smart people is the best and the worst thing that can happen to you. You realize how stupid you used to be, and all of a sudden, for about half a second, you feel proud of yourself for having been enlightened, before you realize that the world isn’t perfect because a lot of things need to change, that there is so much oppression, and that you know nothing. This was how I felt when I met some ridiculously smart girls, and it was our interaction that made all of us realize that everyone needs feminism, and this was when I started understanding what feminism actually is. I understood that, just like any other movement, feminism had different sub-movements, each having different ideals, with the common goal of social, political, and economical equality of both the sexes. Over the course of years, feminism has branched out into various categories based on different ideologies, for instance, while some variants focus on political reformation to strengthen the woman, such as Liberal Feminism, others offer a critique on social restrictions a woman is bound by, and further study the oppression of women at different levels – class, gender identity, sexual identity, racial identity, national identity, and economic power, and branches such as Separatist Feminism, which is, in the words of the American philosopher and feminist Marilyn Frye, “separation of various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and activities that are male-defined, male-dominated, and operating for the benefit of males and the maintenance of male privilege – this separation being initiated or maintained, at will, by women.”
Feminism is a lot more complicated than it seems, and even if it were just a movement which hated men, it wouldn’t be as over simplified as Twitter trolls make it out to be. A lot of my peers say that they want equality, but don’t associate themselves with feminism because of the man-hatred, which makes sense. I didn’t want to associate myself with a movement which hates men, either. So every time a person starts telling me how they support equality, but not feminism, I get a minor throwback to my stupid days, and how feminism has been life-changing for me.
It was because of feminism that I realized the societal pressures a woman faces, primarily the need to beautify herself, on social and professional fronts. This is true, and it applies to me to a large degree. By this time I had completely understood what gender roles were, and it pissed me off so much that I decided to act less like a girl. This was when I was 18. I hated everything remotely associated to a girl—right from makeup to Mean Girls, even though I secretly watched it so much that I could OD on the movie. I wore sports clothes, and dressed like a hobo. I began to act less like a girl, because gender roles. It was hard, because I like makeup, and I like sparkly things, but I made myself hate it, otherwise I would only be adhering to gender roles, right? This madness went on for a few months, and needless to say, I had a horrible time. You know what’s worse than not having any knowledge? Having half the knowledge. What I’d have liked for 18-year-old me to know is that it’s okay if I like makeup, sparkles, and Mean Girls (phew!), as long as I don’t enforce it on other girls.
“Oh, so what you’re saying is it’s cool to like makeup, but uncool to make other girls wear it, even if they don’t want to?”
“Oh my god! I am smart now!”
I cannot say that The Pressure doesn’t get to me anymore, because it does. But feminism made me realize that it shouldn’t exist in the first place, and that I have a right to fight it. It made me realize that gender is a social construct which does no good, and only holds a person back from being true to herself.
Now, let’s buy men those extra dinners, shall we?
by Mugdha Potdar
Art – Savni Ranade