Let's Talk: This is What a Feminist Looks Like
Let's Talk about gender, identity, feminism and privilege.
It’s good to be reacquainted with you. I was here a while back - I went to University here. It’s been three years since I graduated, and in those years, I’ve done a lot of growing up. I’ve found my own identity, forged my own independence, and made my mark on the world.
It’s been a while, and I haven’t been faithful to you - I’ve fallen in love with other cities, explored other continents, and found a place for myself everywhere I went.
But Dilli, I’m back. And I wish you would be nicer to me.
I’m a 26 year old, working in media. I am a lawyer, accomplished with multiple degrees to my name. I am financially stable, privileged in my social standing. I am not married, and I am unburdened with worries about family and responsibilities. I am my own person.
And yet, Dilli, you don’t seem to want me. You see, I am all that, but I’m also a woman.
We all know the dangers of being a woman in the nation’s capital - that narrative is true, it’s terrifying, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.
This, instead, is my story - not of the fear I feel while walking the streets after dark. This is my story of daily stigma - the daily obstacles I face, the doors that are shut to me every day, because of my gender.
As soon as I moved to this city, the first thing I had to do was find an apartment for myself. At the stage of life I am in right now, I was sure I did not want to live in a PG, and I was sure I could afford a place of my own. I started looking online for 2BHK apartments - and this is where I faced my first road block. A large majority of the brokers I called only seemed to cater to a certain type of bachelors - male. If you were female and looking for an apartment in Delhi, you were assumed to have a family with you. And if you didn’t? It was the same refrain, over and over again - “Sorry madam, families only”.
Let’s rewind for a minute. 2008, Bangalore. Ten days after my father’s death. My mother and I picked up and moved to Bangalore from Kerala, hoping for a fresh start. Looking for a home in the city, my mother faced the exact same issue - despite having her family with her. The catch - she was a widow. She had her people with her - but we were a tribe of women, without the backing and legitimacy of a man.
I am a feminist. No, this isn’t why I’m single, thank you very much. This doesn’t mean I hate men. Quite the opposite - I adore men. I love the aesthetic of their forms, I love the subtle differences in the perspective they offer me, I love spending time with them just like I love spending time with women. I appreciate and respect men so much, that I constantly aspire to be just like them. Okay, okay, I’ll admit a little sarcasm creeped in there. But irony aside, my stance as a feminist is simple - I recognise my privilege, and I know that the freedoms I now take for granted are the result of centuries of battle, of asserting and fighting for our rights, of moments of life and death by women throughout history. I believe in equality. I believe women’s rights are human rights. And most of all - I know that my ability to accept or reject feminism is a matter of choice afforded to me.
Finding a place to stay has been a challenge - I had to resort to have someone cosign my lease. But this is just one of so many frontiers on which the access granted to women is limited. The profession I was educated in and the profession I have chosen, both have a disproportionately low representation of women. Education is still barricaded to many young girls throughout the world. But I see signs of hope.
This morning, after having to give in and get a cosigner on my home lease, I came into work, and sat down at my work station. I opened my laptop and just as I started to Google the world’s news, the Google Doodle caught my attention - it was a painting I hadn’t seen before, and so I clicked on it. And I was introduced to yet another woman I owed much of my life to - Elena Cornaro Piscopia.
Piscopia was a philosopher born in 1646 in Venice, and gained fame when she was hailed as one of the first women in the world to receive an academic degree from a university. This Venetian noblewoman was so accomplished, that by 1678, she became the first woman in the world to receive a PhD degree.
Stories like these have bolstered my access to almost every institution that has opened its doors to me. It takes the greater awareness of these stories for women like me to recognise the fact that all our privilege relies on hard won fights by feminists before us. It doesn’t take a lot for us to keep these stories in mind - but it does take a lot to forge our own paths in every day life. Visibility matters. Google did well with this doodle - and just like that, I felt so much better.
Maybe, just maybe, Dilli - maybe, we’ll be all right.