I recently spoke to her again and was very pleasantly surprised that she chose a more evolved stream and did her BA in English Literature. Moreover, after having worked in a bank here in Oman for a bit, she married, settled down and is now a very happy mother to a four-year old. The thing that struck me in the conversation was her saying, “You know, I am not a very career-minded person at all.”
For me, that was surprising, because I know very few women of my generation who are not career minded. We were all raised on the ethic that we needed to conquer the world, we needed to stand on our own feet so that we could be who we wanted, so that we could make our parents proud, so that we could go live the life our mothers dreamed of. We were also raised on stories of women facing every kind of degradation in history.
Very often, without our realising, our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and indeed, the very idea of our Self was deeply tied together with having a career. And in second-generation working women, like me, it wasn’t enough if you were in one of the “easier” fields: beauty, teaching, clothes, if you hadn’t the smarts to become a doctor or an engineer. Somewhere along, we got the message that we had to go do the “tougher” things. I put easier and tougher in quotes because the jobs listed next to them, aren’t my definitions of those words. I don’t see what is tough about sitting in an air-conditioned office and doing a 350-word story on summer trends for glasses. You’re still a journalist but not doing a tough job. Similarly, I don’t see what is easy about being on your feet all day making other women beautiful; bending over to thread women’s eyebrows or waxing their armpits or massaging their pedicured feet. Beauty, you will agree, is not easy.
But coming back to my point, for most my generation of women it is very clear that the option of staying home was almost not there, unless you absolutely couldn’t help it. But this girl, who grew up in a single-income household, is very happy with her status. And while there’s only a hint of apology when she talks to someone like me who has a career (somewhat), she’s quite comfortable with the fact that her daughter, her family come first.
For a few days, I have been thinking about feminism. For some years now, I have been hearing women say, quickly and defensively, when they tend to speak up for women and their rights, that they are not feminists. And I’ve wondered why.
I’ve seen men say it derisively of a woman, that she is a feminist. I, on the other hand, proudly say I am a feminist. I speak up for myself, I speak up for my sisters, I speak up. I love being a woman, I really like men and I love my career as well as my kids. I strive hard to make my parents proud (whether they see it or think otherwise), I love finding out new things about me and just because I play other roles like daughter, wife, sister, mum, friend, and everything else, I am NO less myself. In fact, all these roles just add to my personality. So what exactly am I missing when people run away from the F word?
Thanks to the feminist movements, Men, your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters can vote, can inherit property and are considered citizens of a country. Thanks to feminism, there are laws where rape, molestation, sexual harassment at work are all punishable. Thanks to feminism, girls have a right to education just as much as boys do.
And women, exactly what makes you say, “Hey, I am no feminist but I really think women should…”? Even if you aren’t a feminist in the strict sense of the word, why do you have a problem with being labelled as one? Is it because you, like me, love pretty lingerie and are not willing to give it up? Is it because you think ‘feminist’ automatically means you need to call men words that a sailor would blush at? Maybe these questions are simplistic, but I am just trying to understand why you don’t like being called a feminist.
Because you know, us feminists, don’t burn bras anymore. We even get married (to men) and have children. Why, we go as far as telling people that we love being a woman and for us many times feminism means that I get to stay at home and there’s no pressure on me to earn for the family, most of the time.
Honestly, that is what feminism means to me today. One of my favourite writers (as she is with many women I know) Alice Walker has a beautiful word for it Womanism. For me, being a woman, being a feminist means now that I have most my rights in place — voting, education, property, the right to choose my last name, the right to be safe (?) apart from others — I have the right to choose. I have the right to choose whether I want to go to work and make a career, or I want to stay at home and revel in domesticity. Feminism, for me, means the freedom to choose the latter and not feel like I’ve betrayed my education and my talent by choosing to stay at home and considering a family more important.
Feminism to me means having the choice to go to work even though I have children and coming back feeling good that I spent a productive day work while looking forward to time with the kids. It means not feeling guilty that I spent time away from them. Feminism means to be able to my buy my own car or designer handbag. It also means to have the grace to say ‘thank you’ if a man offered to buy either, once in a while.
Feminism means feeling comfortable to say that I asked my husband out; that I like to cook (I don’t; just an example) or crochet (which I like) or sew or bake without feeling like if I say it, people will think of me as domesticated, as a “typical” girl. It means feeling comfortable to say I love cars, gadgets and women without being thought of as a tomboy, or worse, a wannabe tomboy. Feminism means not thinking it’s a great thing if you own best bud is a man — it doesn’t make you any different from a woman who’s best friend is a girl. In my opinion you should have one of both.
What does feminism mean to you?