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Food for thought

Being a Girl

I don’t remember exactly when did I start seeing my identity as a girl being a constructed one, but I always had a cognizance of it being perpetuated and enforced socially. I would struggle to comprehend the restrictive gender roles, while simultaneously upholding them because ‘this is what girls do’.

It was all an individual turmoil, where I thought it was just me who had troubles accepting what were the established norms. And as the elder family members saw it, why was I questioning them? Was I being a troublemaker and rebel just for the sake of it? Weren’t the other girls behaving the way they were supposed to? Where did this urge to upturn the norms come from? Is this what they teach kids at school? All this and more, stifling me everyday, with me thinking what’s wrong with me?! Why can’t I accept it just as other girls in my family and neighborhood and school and the entire world(?) do it?

My family tells me how I should behave like a girl.
My teachers tell me how I should behave like a girl.
The textbooks tell me how I should behave like a girl.
TV serials tell me how I should behave like a girl.
Magazines & ads tell me how I should behave like a girl.

If all these experienced and mature people are telling me, a puny kid, how I should behave, why can’t I accept it? There must be something horribly wrong with me.

Years passed, and I kept suppressing the inner turmoil, trying my best (against my will) to behave like a girl.

And then one day, a thought struck me like a flash of lightning (it’s always like that, isn’t it?).

If it is how I’m ‘supposed’ to behave like a girl, why would the idea need an enforcement? If it’s a natural order, why would everybody go out of their way to make me believe so? Maybe, it is not how it’s supposed to be. Maybe, it is how they want it to be.

I might not remember when was it that this clarity came to me, but I clearly remember what led me to it. It was a text (we debated for an entire hour later in the class about whether its form was poetry or prose) by Jamaica Kincaid, titled ‘Girl’. It is not an extraordinary story. If anything, it is a story that I grew up hearing in my house, every waking hour of every day of my life. (Perhaps that’s what characterizes ‘great’ literature – resonance.) Reading the narrative brought home the realization: I AM BEING TOLD TO BEHAVE LIKE A GIRL! IT IS PART OF AN AGENDA! MY IDENTITY AS A GIRL IS A CONSTRUCT! And the biggest of all: IT’S NOT JUST ME, THERE ARE OTHER GIRLS WHO THINK LIKE THIS. OTHER GIRLS WHO FEEL OPPRESSED, STIFLED AND CAUGHT IN THE WEB!

It was an epiphany. I had found a goldmine. An answer to everything that I was struggling with. A clue to work with. A hypothesis to seek validation on. An explanation for my unrest. A balm to my agony. A question for my question.

I was unstoppable in my quest. I scoured libraries, seeking comfort in other women’s words. Another essay in another class gave me words for my realization. It was the opening sentence of the first chapter of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, that validated my hypothesis for me.

One is not born, but rather becomes, [a] woman.

While the professor went on to explain the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, and how the former was a biological construct and the latter a social, I retreated to my corner. I had found my bible. I was in another world, delirious beyond measure, to have found it all to be a mere ‘construct’.

That one sentence validated my existence, my questions, my discomfort. I wanted to go back to my younger self and shout – NO, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU, YOU FOOL! YOU WERE RIGHT. YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG. YOU WERE RIGHT TO QUESTION. AND YOU WERE RIGHT TO NOT ACCEPT IT AS THE NATURAL ORDER!

Since that day, I have been living my life a little more freely. Being acutely aware of my gender identity.

I may walk like a girl, talk like a girl, dress up (or down) like a girl — not because I have to, but because I choose to. My behavior and actions aren’t so because of my gender identity, they are so in spite of my gender identity.


This Women’s Day, I wish for nothing but for more women (and men) to see their identities for what they are, devoid of the gender constructs. Maybe we wouldn’t need a special day, if we were to break away from the constructs. Maybe.


(This post was originally posted on medium.com. You can see it here.)

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The Badge of Motherhood

Thank you, mom.

This post about the lady who sacrificed her sleep for you will make your eyes moist.

13 ways in which your mother is a superwoman.

To that woman in your life for whom you’ll always be ‘mera baccha’.

How many times have you seen articles titled like these, floating all over your social media feeds, shared by friends, posted by strangers and endorsed by celebrities? I, for one, have lost count. Call it my cynicism, but every time I see an article with a subject line glorifying the motherhood, it fills me with a sense of deep disgust. Disgust at the way we eulogize and celebrate the sacrifices a woman makes (or rather, has to make) as a mother. Disgust at the identity (or the lack of it) that a woman is conferred with post-delivering a child. Disgust at how easily women embrace this badge of honour. Disgust at the benchmarks of love, affection and sacrifices it sets for other women. Disgust at the convenience it allows the kids, to pay back their mother.

Share an article, acknowledge what she did, pay your gratitude, and that’s it! You’re now absolved of all the guilt that you may ever have felt, for all that your mother has done for you. But what exactly does it do? Oh well, you may tell me that a mother needs nothing, but only a little acknowledgement (sprinkled with gratitude) of all that she’s done for her kids. Your mother may get fooled by this argument, but not me. I just refuse to believe that a mother does it all willingly, happily and ever so cheerfully. I think a mother does what she does for her kid(s) because thinks it is her duty to do so. The seeds of patriarchy are so deeply rooted in our collective psyches, that it seems all so natural. But is this really so?

Does a woman just forget to live for herself the moment she gives birth to (or brings home – in cases of adoption) a child? What is it in the composition of the word mother that forces her to live up to the stereotypes? Is it the fear of non-conformity?

In my understanding, it is yet another case of Individual vs. Society. As individuals and in particular, mothers don’t give up their lives for the kids willingly. While as society and in general, mothers are the quintessential sacrificial beings, who will go all out – even at the cost of letting go of their own being – for the kids.

And hence, these formal announcements of gratitude disgust me. Because more than an acknowledgement of the sacrifices a mother makes, they reek of the subtle reinforcement of the ‘ideals’ and stereotype that a mother is supposed to live up to. In a twisted manner, they remind a woman of all that she’s supposed to be and do, as a mother. Notwithstanding her own identity, desires and ideas of raising a kid.

I don’t know what’s the solution to this. Or if this is even a problem in the first place. But what I would love to see some semblance in this world of acknowledgement and gratitude. Maybe we don’t need to put her on a pedestal, treating her like a mythical goddess. A mother is a real, living being – occupying the same cosmos as you, so maybe it’s about time that we started treating her as one. And we definitely don’t need to ascribe to her the sole identity of a mother – ignoring her existence as a woman, as an individual. But more than anything else, I’d love to see mothers acknowledging the unwillingness to make all those sacrifices in the name of motherhood. I would love to see them as humans, not superhumans that they are made out to be.

Love. And then some.

Lately, I’ve not been writing. And I’ve not been writing not because I don’t have things to write about, but because I think I don’t have time to write. But that’s bullshit. We all know that time is never a constraint when the task at hand is important enough. So that’s the thing, I’ve been ignoring writing in pursuit of seemingly more important stuff.

Something happened this morning, which made me go, “Oh, I should write that down!”. And then I realized, I have not written something in so long, so how to just pick up the pieces and start? But that’s exactly how, you just pick up the pieces, and start.

Do you believe in love? Not just the romantic-doe-eyed-abused-by-Hollywood-and-Bollywood-alike-oh-that’s-so-cheesy-who-talks-about-forevers-and-beyond-and-happily-ever-after-but-maybe-such-a-thing-does-exist-and-I-am-not-made-for-it-but-someday-it-will-come-to-me kind of love, but love as a universal feeling. Love as a unifying force, love as kindness, love as concern, love as regret, love as what makes your world a happier place – love as just that, love. Do you believe in it? I can’t say I don’t. And not after what happened this morning.

A man just threw a bagful of biscuits around the pack of dogs that I was feeding. And my heart just sank. In that split-second, I felt stupid and insecure. I felt scared that the puppies I thought I had befriended – the puppies I was trying to discipline, by having them wait for their turn till the others finish and letting them eat only when they were being fed, not like a bunch of rowdies that they will eventually turn into, I felt scared that these babies will now abandon me, given that better food awaits them, which they can hog on unabashed. In that split-second, I also told myself that it was silly, to expect loyalty and love from a bunch of stray dogs who don’t owe you anything. I told myself that it’s alright for them to abandon you and turn to that big pile of food. And then suddenly it struck me, while I was busy consoling myself for the impending love lost, the dogs were still sitting in line patiently, still eating out of my hands when it was their turn, sitting looking at me with their gleaming eyes – despite the big fat pile of food lying just next to them.

That was the time I believed in love. Pure, unadulterated love. Love that speaks through the eyes. Love that sees beyond the obvious. Love that understands without words. Love that makes the world – my world – a happier place. Love as just that, love.

So, do you believe in love?

Perspective

Was talking to a friend about relationships. There was nothing new that was said, but these things struck:

You might like someone who knows exactly who you are and what you think, but you might love someone who’s the polar opposite.

You don’t look for them or find them, they happen.

Hmmmm.

 

The Broken Dream

When a dream dies, mourn for its death. Mourn for what could have been, mourn for what is not, mourn for what can never be. Mourn so that you know what you’ve lost. Mourn so that its soul rests in peace. Mourn so that when you dream your next dream, it’s not dreamt on the foundation of the ashes of the old one, but on a clean slate.

Don’t be in a hurry to move on. Don’t be in a hurry to wash it from your memory. Don’t be in a hurry to find a substitute.

Give time for wounds to heal. Let them gnaw at your soul. Keep them uncovered, but not unattended. Be aware of the pain, but let it consume you.

Deal with the loss, don’t run away from it.

 

 

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