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?!’