The Vagenda

‘Reppin it for the Asian Feminists, yo.

A protestor at the Delhi Slut Walk. Photo: Mustafa Quraishi
I can never escape the scowling disapproval I receive from others when announcing my love  of Feminism. It’s swiftly followed by: “So you’re a man hater then?” at which point in the conversation I get huffy, lose all will to articulate the English Language and take on the persona of Neil from The Young Ones, “Well, y’know, I like, y’know believe we should all be equal, y’know, we’re all human beings. Boom Shanka.” 
Being 17, my main concerns should be whether I can get some Fake I.D for student night, whether the ticking time bomb that is my virginity will ever metaphorically explode, or if Topshop are having a sale. 
But there’s another factor which tends to eclipse these first world white girl problems: I’m Indian.
Feminism and Indian culture are a tricky duo. Feminism in India, by and large, in its infant stages. My acute view, accumulated from my two week family visit there and well … being Indian, is that India is a very patriarchal society in which equality laws do little to break staid traditional values and religious cultures, especially in the more rural areas. It’s more of a complex mix of contradiction than it is in the western world. There’s an expectation that marriage validates a woman, but thirty or forty years or so down the line it will become her twisted matriarchy. Her husband long since passed away, she’s left with a farm and a slew of grandchildren whom she hopes to see married off, yet all of them will more than likely emigrate to Canada in the next 2-3 years.
My Grandma brought this culture to Blighty, got her kids married off and was bestowed with very westernised grandkids. Poor thing.
For me, it’s a strange balance to strike. I’m acutely aware that my Mother and Grandma have mapped me out a life plan: Go to University. Become Lawyer/Accountant/Doctor. Get married to a Sikh Boy of the same Caste. Live with Mother in law. Have Babies. Get them married off. Die. A part of me feels bad in knowing most of that will never go down, or perhaps that part of me is just befuddled in self pity because it’s not what I really want; that the passive aggressive parenting I’ve received whilst  in my teens has put me off the idea of abiding by the large majority of the unwritten rules laid down by my previous generations. Don’t get me wrong, being Indian has a few positives; big families, several religious holidays entailing money and nice food, but it’s a curry pot of confusion that even ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ can’t appease within me.
Between the hazy ages of 11 and 15 I really thought that the Caucasian girls at my school had it so easy. ‘I hate being grounded’, they’d moan, while I’d think: ‘Bitch, I don’t even get the chance to do anything that would get me grounded.’ 
They’d go, ‘my Mum only gave me £10 to get new foundation, how the hell will that get me [insert generic cheap ass makeup brand here]‘ and I’d be thinking, ‘I don’t even that much money a week for lunch, you’re fucking 13. Make up?’ One time I touched my mother’s eyelash curler and I was verbally burnt for the next 10 minutes. 
Then, my Mother annoyingly realised that I was growing tits and pubes while attending a school where I had a certain knack for not befriending my Indian female peers, so she decided to make me privy to all the family gossip to which I had previously been restricted, all of which carried a certain moral message.
*SHOCK* The horror stories of disowned (female I hasten to add, always almost female) cousins marrying people from the wrong Indian caste, *GASP* sexually active female cousins before the shackles of marriage AND LO AND BEHOLD totally above board and legal drinking of alcohol at university. The corrupt, debauched, disgraceful little cretins, how do their parents live in the shame that their female offspring have dumped on them? How dare they adopt the culture that has ruined their family name, that goes against the whole notion of being an Indian Female?
Of course, to me such tales had an air of attraction. Oh. to be free and wild on a Saturday night past 10pm! That was the stuff of fantasies. Later down the line (after some considerably good GCSEs, I may add, and some even HUGER lies) my fantasies were becoming reality. I got drunk! I got high! I got boys! I got the bitter realisation that I was in a whole new world of pain. I got pube removal, I got cankle worries and I got those wobbly bits on the top of my inner thighs. I got white girl problems with a healthy dollop of Indian girl problems and extra poppadoms. “That’s what you get for hanging around with those white friends of yours” my mother prophesied. But this was freedom! I broke through the Asian girl glass ceiling! I’m no longer bound by misogynistic cultural norms! HUZZAH! 
Except… no. Instead, it opened up a whole new precarious balancing act. Which bits do I abide by if I didn’t want to be oppressed? I can abandon the norm of arranged marriages, yet open a new can of worms in finding a husband through the beautification of my lady parts and the perfecting of my womanly wiles.
I reached a grim epiphany. Growing up in the mould of a western 21st century female had not been the holy land for equal rights I thought it was, but a minefield of social grievances which amount to barely a glint in the non-lacquered eyes of third world feminists. Is this the next struggle that women in India face? And isn’t it screwy that not one person I knew got slightly alarmed at the fact that the film Bride & Prejudice based on, yes you guessed it, the 19th century novel Pride & Prejudice translated remarkably easily to modern day mores?
I’m trying to work this out, just as this unnumbered wave of feminism is still trying to work itself out. I’ve only really scratched the surface of this cultural puzzle, as I’ve only really scratched the surface of being the owner of a womb. Right now though all I’m left with is the little feminist inside of me that is running around in a wild fear screaming ‘IF I CAN’T TAKE REFUGE IN THE WESTERN WOMAN’S FEMINISM, WHERE CAN I?!’
- E.D

13 thoughts on “‘Reppin it for the Asian Feminists, yo.

  1. I feel for you, but I’m also proud of you for having reached these conclusions at such a young age.

    We are our own worse enemies, and that is an important realisation to come by. Just because we are women, doesn’t mean that we haven’t been indoctrinated by the patriarchy. At least once we understand that, we can begin to start making informed decisions about what rules we want to follow, and why we want to follow them.

  2. Dear Anna,

    Can you kindly fuck off?

    Your comments about grammar and punctuation are becoming tiresome. This website is run and managed by two girls in their twenties, both of whom have other things going on in their lives. We are all doing the best that we can with the limited time and money that we have (not much). We did not invite you here, you chose to come, and you can equally choose not to. The latter decision looks eminently appealing to us. Unless you want to pay us £30,000 a year to hire a full time sub? No. Thought not.

    • Word. I’m an editor and on a casual read nothing tweaked my beady eye. I think someone may be forgetting that this is a blog, not a multi-million pound media production. The fact that the quality of the writing and depth of subject matter kicks the arse of the majority of female-targeted multi-million pound media productions should also be taken into consideration before one gets one’s snark on.

    • Yeah… I must say I’m known to be iffy about such stuff and nothing here worried me. If there were some errors it certainly didn’t distract me from what the author had to say which was very interesting!

      As a side note, I brought this up in a debate (albeit beer fueled) with two guys and the discussion we had about female issues and which “culture” has it best was super interesting! So thank you! It was certainly something I’ve never thought about!

  3. What a great article. As a doddering thirty something in South London, my main exposure to teenage girls is through overheard phone conversations on the bus about blow jobs and One Direction. It gives me faith in the future that there are young, funny and smart girls like this in the world.

  4. Brown girl problems. lol, I gotta use that phrase more often. But rest assured…

    “Except… no. Instead, it opened up a whole new precarious balancing act. Which bits do I abide by if I didn’t want to be oppressed? I can abandon the norm of arranged marriages, yet open a new can of worms in finding a husband through the beautification of my lady parts and the perfecting of my womanly wiles.”

    Trust me, there are men out there who are intelligent and lovely and fucking great fun to be around that don’t think it’s gross that women have body hair, that don’t expect you to be caked in make up all the time, that don’t expect certain behaviours based on your gender. There are normal people out there. Believe it.

  5. Woman, you are flipping brilliant. I love this piece of writing =D and I identify with the annoyance of having to listen to whining girls =P Just live your life as you see fit- as i’m sure you intend to do- you’re MADE of awesome and talent. The good people and the right guys will bend to how you want to look and what you want to do and be.

  6. One of the BEST articles I have ever read. I am 16, and I am so glad and refreshed to see a girl of similar age to be a feminist (and one with such writing talent too, may I add)!

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