Feminism India

Part 1: Girls, I have your back!

Disclaimer: I am quite apologetic for reinforcing gender binaries by writing this two-part series. But a positive change in at least one person will be worth the inequity that I commit now.

Last month, the world was thrilled to watch Adele share her Grammy with Beyoncé. As she stood on the podium, broke her Grammy and acknowledged the work of a fellow female artist with love, respect, and adoration – she sent out a message to millions of women all over the world. That two women, working in the same profession are truly capable of appreciating each other’s work without bitterness.

The terms catfight, popular cliques, the movie Mean Girls, phrases like "women don’t like women", stereotypes like two female movie stars can never be friends among numerous other examples, have one glaring factor in common – that women can neither be friends with each other nor can we support or assist in each other’s growth.

This comes from an age-old dictum related to women and jealousy. Psychology claims that women might indeed be victims of emotional jealousy, much more than their male counterparts. If this claim is true (which is indeed contestable), it would be interesting to delve deeper into the roots of this emotion. What makes one jealous? Though identifying a single and direct answer to this question tends to be problematic, one of the major characteristics associated with jealousy tends to be insecurity. Insecurities themselves manifest in different ways. Social constructs play a crucial role in feeding these insecurities. We women are often told that there is never enough for all of us. Women are often pitted against each other on the grounds of our looks, physique, careers, and partners. This unhealthy competitiveness breeds further insecurities.

I do not believe that all women on this planet are jealous of each other and are plotting to pull each other down. But unfortunately, we belong to a system where we are constantly held in comparison to the next person. A few years back, at University, I happened to read a cultural studies paper solely dedicated to gossip. One of the main features of gossip, according to the paper, was the ability of gossip to form group or community opinions. A gossip is an activity that we are guilty of whatever our sex. While some forms of gossip are quite harmless, it often leads to a serious phase of ‘what I am is right, while what someone else is- is not’. Gossip and judgemental statements have a
major role in wedging gaps between individual females further. The working mother is portrayed as neglecting her children, the homemaker who does not have a day job is considered jobless, the girl who is a ‘slut’ versus the girl who has no life. These are common derogatory stereotypes that we women ourselves must stop propagating.

Is an alternative conceivable? I am sure that I will not be the only one to answer that in the affirmative. I went to an all-girls college for my bachelors. After 12 years of co-education where I grew up with both boys and girls. going to an all-girls college was a shocker but the harmony and strength that these women shared had a crucial role in shaping me, my personality and many of the principles that I stand by today. Many of my female friends have seen each other through professional, educational, emotional setbacks and are the first ones to proudly praise each other’s achievements.

Can squad goals and squad care exist beyond a social media hashtag?

During the infamous Pinochet regime in Chile, one of the major opposition groups Relatives of the Disappeared, was founded by women who came together to search for missing family members. With relatives missing and many women involved in protests, communal kitchens and nurseries run by women to assist each other played a crucial role in recuperating from the tyrannies inflicted by the regime. The co-operative roles that women take up in refugee camps is another example in which women come together to assist each other to face the harshest of conditions. In villages, groups of women caring for babies and young children while their mothers work in the fields is quite common. Thus, women supporting each other can go a long way in empowering themselves and others. Women of privilege whether it be based on their race, educational background and financial/social status have a major role in extending support to the less privileged.

The type of support extended can be relative. And it is up to each of us to identify and tap into the kind of support that we can offer. It can be something as simple as offering a positive comment like “you look lovely” (if you like to hear it, obviously, someone else will too), to advocating for the rights that have been denied to certain sections, to offering to mentor someone who share career interests in your same field. In Sheryl Sandberg’s wise words, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help out other women”.

It takes a lot of effort to isolate, bully or deride someone. It is a lot easier, positive and an added growth incentive to be nicer. Feminists, career oriented women, homemakers, the ones who have a big family, the ones who juggle family and work, the ones who like to party, the ones who likes to stay at home, your partner’s ex-girlfriend, your ex-partner’s current girlfriend, the women who have a different economic background, sexual orientation or race (the list is infinite) - each of us has our own stories that we live through, and battles to pick. Therefore, it is all the more important to acknowledge, embrace and support each other’s differences. Celebrate other women’s successes as your own and do not let it make yourself feel small and insecure. Though it sounds idealistic and emotional, the concept of women helping and having each other’s back itself is quite powerful (and one that I can vouch for). Moreover, there are far too many divisions in this world already so as women it would be a lot more convenient if we have each other’s backs.

To the women who have always had my back I want to say thank you, my mother, my aunts, my best friends, my mentors- for all the love, light and support. For growing with me, helping me grow and for never holding me back. I will always have your back too!

Happy International Women’s Day!

P.S You never have to wear pink on Wednesdays unless you absolutely want to. (Mean girl reference?)

Indian. Female. And currently an international citizen. Lives by two quotes: "To thine own self be true" & "anuugacchati pravaha/ go with the flow".