It is strange, how a small incident can go on to shake the very beliefs that encompass your life and you stand there wondering whether the foundation of modernity and liberty you thought your life was built on was just a mirage in your amateur, naïve mind. At the blooming age of 17, I was standing in front of my parents, unable to understand the so-called problem that they were relating to me. All semblance of logic and common sense seemed to be crumbling down in my otherwise liberal household. And that very day I realised, The Personal Is Political, indeed.
It was the time of the year when school was coming to an end, and I had wanted to go out for a movie, with four of my friends. The turn of events was such that the only other girl (apart from me) in our group had to back out at the last moment. I had certainly not foreseen this as a problem since the other three guys were childhood friends who my parents knew well.
My family always prioritised education/career over marriage, individual choices over the norms, personal choice of right and wrong over social constructs, etc. Hence you can imagine my shock at my parents’ unwillingness to let me out when they were informed about the situation. On my asking them for a reason for this refusal, they replied that it wasn’t the guys I was going with that was a problem but that a darkened movie hall where other guys were present seemed dangerous to them. I stood there, my voice choking with indignant rage as I knew that this was just an excuse. Finally, finding my voice I put to them the fact that had their reason for not letting me go for the movie been the same as they were stating, they wouldn’t have allowed me to go out for movies with my girlfriends as it would have been a more vulnerable juncture then. After a whole evening of heated discussions and logical arguments, my parents relented. I was lucky to have pragmatic parents who were ready to hear me out.
In times like today, when patriarchy is criticised, I often find a lot of people commenting that women are not as oppressed as they used to be, and that is true, the society has come a long way in considering domestic violence, female infanticide, dowry, etc., a crime, but I wish to enquire whether the prevention of physical violence is enough to conclude that oppression has ceased, for, is emotional and mental control not a form of subjugation and suppression?
Now one might say that no mental/emotional oppression exists. The speaker if a man would say so because he has not experienced this himself and hence such problems are absent to his mind. If the speaker is a woman, she has clearly internalised such oppression and does not see them as wrong. If such people read this article, they might feel aggravated at having been assigned under such ‘preposterous’ categories. I want to draw their attention to an example so that one may understand my argument. During the colonisation, only an Indian would understand the oppression because, for the Britishers, it was a civilising mission. Thus if you see it in imperialist terms, women satisfied with just penalising physical violence would be equivalent to Indians being satisfied with dominion status under the British Raj.
I have often come across girls who are subjects of patriarchy. The forms in which it manifests itself, however, might be different. In some cases, brothers and sisters are treated differently; in others, a girl is judged by her relatives for maybe going out at night or for the clothes she wears. In some places, she is told that career and ambition are not a woman’s prerogative, but cooking and cleaning are. She is told that being adjusting and self-sacrificing are traits that a girl is born with and is interpellated to think about and prioritise ‘the husband and the child’ even before a suitable groom is ‘picked’ out for her. For one, I don’t know how to cook, and at one point in time in my life, I used to admit this fact with an apologetic air. On the other hand, a guy was never subjected to this question. Even if his answer was affirmative, it was met with an air of treating it as a bonus by the listener, not a necessity but the idea that he was doing the world a favour.
The most cliched and often occurring, yet one of the saddest and most humiliating predicaments that practically every girl faces is being molested by a cousin, an uncle, a distant relative or some random person she meets on the street. This happens multiple times, and the victim keeps silent for fear of being publicly shamed or scolded for not having been careful. And fellow readers, this is not a story of just the rural areas but a reality of urban sophisticated homes.
I would also like to point out to any incensed male reader, in case he feels that this article propounds male-bashing, that in the whole of the article, I have addressed people with inflexible mind-sets whether they are men, or women, knowing well that patriarchy cannot achieve such glory by being perpetrated by only one section of the society.
Lastly, my appeals go out to 3 types of people: the women out there who might not be the direct victims of patriarchy because of comparatively liberal households. I request them to consider that just because they are not the victims doesn’t mean that the problems don’t exist. Their duty is to recognise that they are the exception and not the rule and as such, staying cocooned in their own lives would not be enough because someday these very problems would come back to haunt them in some form or another. The second type of people is the men who are intelligent and humble enough to accept the reality and work towards making society an equal one. As for the third type, these are the most important people as these are the girls or women who are being victimised. If my reader is one of these girls, I request you to raise a voice and object, either through your actions or through your words because you are not alone and this doesn’t seem right. If you think that being a silent, submissive victim would be the best course of action, and then these difficulties would pass, then you’re wrong. It would not only ruin your lives but destroy the lives of the daughters of the upcoming generations as well.
Thus break free from those age-old fetters that bind your mind and try not to restrict your individuality. Do this because you are a significant part of the whole. Do this because the personal is political.
Oindrila Gupta is a student of Delhi University with a passion for Literature, and her hobbies include music and dance. Apart from this, she is also a voracious reader and hopes to establish a career as an editor someday. Meanwhile, she finds joy in little things and strives to impact her writings to touch whatever lives she can.