Slice of Life
Am I a Feminist?
ARE you a Feminist?" came a rather pointed query from this genteel lady sitting next to me at a friend's place.
"Hmmm…let me see…"
"What? You are having to think? You cannot be one, then."
"Maybe, maybe not," I said shrugging.
"No, you need to know. You can either be one, or not be one."
"Yes, I understand that. But I am really not sure what you want to know."
"Okay," she announced with a firm sigh of finality, "let me help you discover it for yourself."
I nodded. After all, there was nothing much else happening at the get together, anyway.
"Tell me, have you read 'The Second Sex', you know, this book by a top fem…?"
"I have read all of Beauvoir," I stated.
"Then you are a feminist! What are you saying you don't know!"
"I am not so sure. I have moved beyond Beauvoir and Steinem."
Something surely didn't fit in into a neat jigsaw result, so she prodded, "Let me ask you a few specific questions. What did you say your name was? Ah yes! So, did you take on your husband's surname, or is it your maiden name?"
"My maiden surname also happens to be my husband's 'maiden' surname, if ever there was such a thing."
"Oooh, lucky you!"
"But it is not so straight. Maybe, ten years ago, with my limited understanding, I may have not liked taking on my husband's family name, had it been different. But now, as I said, I have moved beyond these irrelevant issues."
"Irrelevant?" She exploded. "You see no problem with such patriarchal hegemony?"
"You are using big words! It is like this- I see where the problem is, and it is certainly NOT in taking up your husband's surname."
"Hah! Such regressive thinking? In today's world? From an educated woman like you?" "Tell me, what did you do?" I asked her.
"Why, I retained my maiden name?"
"Which happens to be your…?"
"Father's, of course?"
"That doesn't disturb you? You see no patriarchal hegemony there?!"
She sat there silent for a while, trying to piece it together.
"It isn't all that simple. One cannot fight patriarchy by wasting ones effort on trivial issues like names, surnames. At least a uniform name for the family gives it a sense of identity. Children feel more secure. But if you feel so strongly about it, you always have the option of not marrying, of not having a family at all, isn't it?"
"I'll go home and ponder over it, but that's not what the theories say. Anyway, what are your views on the veil?"
"If I decide whether I wear it or not, then I don't see anything subjugating there. But if I am made to do it by others, for others, and because of others, then yes, I will raise my voice against it."
"You have such a limited understanding of things," she retorted, "how can you say the veil is all right under certain circumstances? It is the universal symbol of oppression against women."
"Maybe, but that is what I feel. The power to decide should always be with me."
Just then, this lady's husband walked in with a wine glass in his hand and handed it to her. She shook her head, and said, "Honey, not today, I don't feel like."
I saw him bend by her side and whisper, "What are you saying? What will the others say if they see you without a drink? Just hold the glass and take a few sips…"
She looked at me, smiled feebly, and sipped on some wine. "What about you? You don't drink?"
"I used to. But have stopped now."
"Why would that be? Is it because your husband doesn't like it?"
"I told you. The power to choose."
"No, no, these days it is not so good for your image if you don't drink. People think you are not from a progressive-thinking background. And besides, I am a liberated woman. I can smoke and drink. You think about it."
I nodded and smiled; this was getting tedious for me.
Respite came when for the next few minutes she was engaged in an animated conversation with another lady sitting to her right. The loud decibels ensured that fragments of the conversation floated up to me. Our lady mentioned how she had to throw out her young maid because she had spied certain elements of 'bad character' in the girl. It is not right to tempt the man of the house, is it? "These young maids these days, uff…they are such a nuisance…"
I moved up from where I was sitting, and circulated among the other guests, when after some time, I heard a familiar voice calling me softly from the back, and tottering up to me.
"Hi there. So we meet again! Tell me, do you dream?"
"No, I don't."
"And you aspire for?"
"Are you happy?" I wondered if her wine was making her turn philosophical.
"I make others happy."
"Everyone?" Someone had read her Deepak Chopra well!
"No, the few who matter to me." I was tiring of her now.
"So does it mean you keep others happy, but find no happiness for yourself?"
"The two are not mutually exclusive. And I don't 'keep' others happy; my ways make them 'feel' happy, and keep me happy. There's a fine difference. Never mind."
"So, are you a conformist then?"
"Maybe, but maybe not."
"There you go again. Why are you so confused in life?"
"I am not. I am the sum total of what I want to be, and what society wants me to be. I have learnt to balance both, with some degree of success."
"You are not a rebel then?" There we go again!
"Since you prefer straight answers, no, I am not."
"That's it! I knew it from the beginning. Do you see now? How there's no way you can be a feminist. You could NOT have been a feminist! I knew it, I knew it." What supreme joy in her eyes!
"Why? Are all feminists rebels?"
"Don't you get it? They will have to be, na? How else will they get heard? They have to fight for the rights of women. But it is okay, only we feminists will understand that," she stated triumphantly, taking out her cosmetic mirror and blood red lipstick from her handbag, and reinforcing the colour.
I smiled, nodded, and excused myself from there.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005