‘You can’t be serious’ yelled my mom, ‘which man in his right senses would stop his wife from wearing vermilion (sindoor) and bangles which are quintessential signs for a married woman?’ And, what on earth is a feminist man?’ I, having just landed in Kolkata, jet-lagged and extremely jaded, tried to explain it to her (and my dad) that it was indeed my preference, which of course my wife preferred too, and not the other way round. All these were triggered by the fact that my mom got really fed up of not seeing her daughter-in-law wear those ‘must-wear’ items at home or away.
Having been raised by extremely loving but characteristically patriarchal parents and worked most of my life in industries that are predominantly male-dominated, I have been constantly ridiculed, at all levels, for being a feminist. I have been called ‘a pussycat’, ‘not a man enough’, ‘spineless’, ‘submissive’ et al, when people clearly knew that I actually believed in equality between the two major sexes and it was not imposed by my wife.
‘Feminism is highly overrated’ said one of our friends as he thought it has been mostly raked up by activists and marketing groups for commercial and strategic reasons. I tried my best, as I always do in these kinds of conversations, to emphasise that centuries of discrimination, oppression and misogyny have ensured that stereotypes are created and patriarchy is entrenched in most of us, which will probably take a few more centuries to change, but we must try.
‘Why ask for privileges when you talk about equality?’ ask some, questioning the basic fabric of feminism and women empowerment. The point they fail to see is that the very fact that women have been unequally treated for ages in the first place has led to the need for some privileges, just as do the economically or socially underprivileged ones for that matter, to create a level-playing field.
For a brief period of time, my wife and I worked in the same office and our relationship which reflected (still does and hopefully will always do) an equal space for both of us, a common comment I had to deal with was ‘well, we know who wears the pants at home’ since she had an equal say in decisions and suggestions.
‘Yes, I stay naked at home’, used to be my cheeky answer.
The fact that my wife and I both thought that our marriage shouldn’t impact any of our surnames was hugely frowned upon by one and all. While both of us fail to understand the logic of the fairer sex giving up their surname after marriage just because it has been an age-old patriarchal tradition, what made it even more unacceptable was when we gave our daughter a double-barrel surname combining both my wife’s surname and mine (some would argue this to be a bow to patriarchal norms too). The whole idea is that if the kid doesn’t want it that way, she can change it to whatever she likes.
Whilst we relentlessly tried to explain to one and all that as a feminist couple we truly believe in equal freedom and space for both in a relationship, some of them failed to understand the basic premise. Feminism is not about the woman keeping her surname after marriage, it’s about her getting to decide what name she wants to be called as; feminism is not about the woman not wearing traditional stereotypical symbols after marriage, it’s about her deciding to wear whatever she wants. Feminism is also not just about a woman getting her financial independence, it’s also about having the independence to choose if she wants to work or not, when she chooses to do so. And as a feminist man, I choose to support them in their decisions.
My 12 years in this western, first world country; quite contrary to my expectation; have showed me a rather patriarchal, misogynistic face of the UK– the 100 years since The Suffragettes Movement notwithstanding. A country where feminism, or for that matter, equality of the two sexes is still frowned upon, repressed even ridiculed by a big portion of the masses. It sadly makes me feel that changes such as these do take centuries to take come forth, but hopefully over time, things ‘will’ be different.
Here’s to a future world that would not need the word ‘feminism’. What do you reckon?
Till the next time,
thesarkarihusband – a feminist one.