I find the celebration of Women’s Day funny. It annoyed or angered me earlier when empty messages and wishes passed around on the 8th of March, like the world suddenly acknowledging women everywhere, quickly forgotten the rest of the 364 days.
But now, I find it amusing and sad too, as the true meaning and celebration of women goes beyond a day.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against those wishing women’s day or sending some messages, but my question is, what about the rest of the year? What about the things that we ignore that may truly empower women?
One of the themes for IWD 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. So I am writing this post to voice many women’s stories, including mine, as I choose to challenge the namesake celebration.
In my 33 years as a woman, I have been called ambitious, aggressive, even downright crazy for standing up for myself many times. I have been branded many other things for being assertive or speaking what’s on my mind – Too loud, demanding, emotional, sensitive – and whatnot.
I still deal with people every day who don’t take my goals, lifestyle, career, or my choices to be “real” or as “important.”
I have been ridiculed/questioned for choosing my career or lifestyle or anything else over the pre-defined expectations of all kinds – “You are selfish. Women should prioritize families first! What about your personal life? Who will take care of the house? How can you travel alone all the time? Why do you do that or this?”
I can write pages about these, but that’s not what I want to convey today. Ironically, I am choosing to write this on women’s day because it is the one day of a flurry of women’s activities before being forgotten for another year.
This note is to all mothers-in-law, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters – irrespective of your country of birth, colour, marital status, or age.
This is to all men too, who genuinely want to celebrate, respect, and cherish women in their lives – whether as a father, husband, brother, friend, or uncle.
Let us Stop internalizing misogyny
Take this crux of a true story here – A mother at home has different rules for a daughter and a daughter-in-law. While she brings her daughter to be independent, empowered, and free to live as she wishes, she expects her daughter-in-law to cook for her son, duly fulfill all the ‘responsibilities,’ and prioritize her patriarchial expectations the daughter-in-law’s over her choices life or happiness.
She teaches her daughter not to take any sh*t from her husband and “keep him in his place.”(I overheard a woman saying this while traveling on a bus, and don’t exactly know what the phrase means – I resisted the urge to ask her).
While parallelly, she expects(or tries to enforce) an obedient, even submissive daughter-in-law that should check all the tickboxes of the patriarchial wedding checklist for women.
This here is a classic example of women internalizing misogyny. I have met many mothers and mothers-in-law women, openly propagating these parallel views in the households.
If women shame other women for sporting short dresses, not liking to cook; If women admonish assertive women, body shame each other, or women putting down other women for being “different” than how women are “supposed to be or do,” what message are we sending to the men here?
If these highly skewed, dysfunctional notions continue by women, how will we ever be empowered?
How can men expect us to be anything different if we women are trapping each other in our own Victorian age beliefs even today?
Instead of celebrating our womanhood once a year, how about an unbiased upbringing, stopping internalizing sexism, and breaking stereotypes at the root?
Prevent being pushed around/made to feel guilty
A particular section in this society is not openly against women empowerment, but they show their dislike in passive-aggression, emotional abuse, and manipulation.
If you are a woman, you may know what I mean – remember the times when you are made to feel guilty every day? Because you chose to love yourself, take time out, you worked extra hours instead of spending time with your family, went out on trips, took retreats, or even a nap!
I know many families where the elders are “cool” about the women in their homes, but somehow their coolness wears off from time-to-time, replaced by subtle, passive-aggressive comments or remarks.
Daughters, sisters, daughters-in-law are constantly guilt-tripped for not sticking to the norms, conventions, or “house rules for girls.”
Young girls are brought up to conjure the image of being a good girl, a docile, sweet girl, and are groomed to fulfill their default roles.
The silent emotional abuse by men(husbands, brothers, fathers, boyfriends)cleverly masked as being protective or taking care of their women never comes to daylight because, well, women have to swallow it all.
Whether it is India or the US or the UK or Colombia, the stories are all the same, more or less, sadly.
How about stopping this guilt-tripping or abuse and replacing them with kindness and empathy?
Recommended: An Open Letter To Parents – Let Your Daughter Travel
Most women are helpless against this abuse; many women don’t know where to go or what to do about them. Many decide that it is better to bear all these silently than to disrupt the peace in families, homes, or even work-places.
Respect women for their choices
Whether it is direct objections or subtle hints of disapproval, how about respecting women for who they are?
Let us normalize women being single. Let us remove the stigma around divorce or any other marital status that is not “married”. If a woman wants to stay alone, it is a choice that needs to be respected by her loved ones.
If she wants to travel, move abroad, study further, live independently, pick a career over other things – respecting her choices, whatever they are, needs to start from homes.
How about mothers and aunts supporting younger girls in their houses for empowerment? How about fathers nurturing their daughters to be what makes them happy, as one of the first signs of respect?
Dismantle the gender roles, starting at home
A mother teaches her daughter the chores and cooking while she lets her son grow up without stepping into the kitchen or doing chores – Probably, there is no better case of gender bias and stereotyping than this one.
For how long do we stick to these irrelevant patriarchal stereotypes and gender bias? If the boys think that this is how things are meant to be, they grow up to be men who can never understand biasing.
And daughters continue to teach their families further the same things, setting this endless imbalanced society with no scope for empowerment.
How about mothers and grandmothers teaching both the boys and the girls essential life skills like cooking and cleaning?
How about eliminating the pink-is-for-girls and blue-is-for-boys, boys-don’t-cry in schools, instead of just reserving a day to celebrate women?
Understanding the true definition of feminism
Most of you shrug or frown upon to call yourself a feminist, whether you are a man or a woman. Many men and some women equate feminism as bashing men, putting them down, or exerting dominance over men to find a place for yourself.
Whether it is the media or the minds of the people that have twisted the definition of what being a feminist means, it is time to set things right, once and for all.
I call myself a feminist. By this, I mean I support endeavors that aim to break the professional world’s glass ceiling. I detest gender stereotyping and stand up against gender bias, whether it is at home or outside. I believe that men and women are equal and are not defined by the stereotypes that society has bestowed upon us.
Let us stop twisting the definitions and meaning of feminism to suit our needs as women. Let us learn the concepts of feminism, its evolution, and how we can adapt today in everyday lives. Let us not be afraid to educate our friends, family, mothers, sisters, and men.
Feminism, like many other things, including mental health, should be taught in schools because that’s when the change as a society can happen.
When we truly understand and educate ourselves, we will probably know how to apply empowerment in everyday lives without coming across as anti-men or exerting dominance.
Similarly, it is time for men to stop manipulating the meaning to chastise women proclaiming themselves as feminists. Before you “hate” feminists, maybe you should understand the true sense of things.
Let us stop demonizing women for what they wish to be, for who they are, at homes every day, if you genuinely mean to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Let us respect women and strive to make this world a better place for the future. Happy Women’s Day!