My Experience Growing Up As A Feminist Without Even Knowing (Desi edition)

My brother and I grew up in an Indian household, as first generation children with my immigrant parents, the norm was to believe that patriarchal oppression was acceptable. However, from the tender age of 10, I couldn’t follow this unacceptable culture of thinking men are superior to women. Thankfully, this is changing, and many women and men within our community are now socially, economically, politically and personally equal.

I grew up to be an empowered woman, opinionated and with an unshakable will and growing up with this persona in an Indian household often created conflict. I still remember hearing the words follow after me when I storm upstairs with tears in my eyes, “you can’t do this because you’re a girl” or “behave like a woman” and so on so forth. What does that even mean? “Behave like a woman?” – How does one behave like a woman? Is there a guide I have yet to read?

Double Standards … 

I distinctly remember every time I wanted to go out with my friends on the weekend. I was bombarded left, right and centre with questions of where I was going? Who was I with? And what time I would be back? And to get permission, I’d have to give a 3-5 working day notice to my parents. Soon I gave up any hope of having a social life. However, with my brother, he’d receive a polar opposite response than what I had, for him, the answer was always yes, and the only question that followed was, “do you have enough money?” – Seriously. Where was his interrogation?

My mother and I always compared our teenage experiences growing up, and often I am reminded of how blessed I am with the freedom and opportunities I have today. It genuinely upset me when my mother told me that many young girls were told their dreams and their careers could be pursued after marriage, and when these young, naive girls go in accepting marriage proposals believing these lies, they often find out too late it’s not true, and their dreams shatter before them. It is common to hear that “married women have a specific role in the house and have the responsibility of caring for children and her husband”. However, I believe women are so much more capable than that, and thankfully my mother didn’t let me feel anything differently. From that moment on I decided that marriage is a choice and I will not get married to have someone support me financially. A marriage is a commitment and partnership; it takes to two people to work, not one.

Virginity is overrated. 

Rooting from this, growing up sex was (and still is) a taboo subject in my household. Virginity, in my eyes, is overrated. Women are amazing sexual beings that should express themselves from top to bottom. I always believed sex should be an open and appropriate conversation between parents and daughters. We should educate our daughters (and sons) about safe sex and contraception and what are the signs are of an unhealthy relationship. I learned that it’s vital that we shouldn’t look down on girls who have had sex before marriage or their body count nor should be priding girls in preserving their virginity until after their wedding – sex is sex, regardless of when and where you have it. It’s not dirty; it’s a journey you and your lover both take and no drive is the same.

Unfair and Lovely! 

India has a variety of many cultures, over 150 different languages and is home to over one billion people! With this, it’s a shame that I grew up with such strict societal beauty standards, thinking fair women were seen to be more desirable than darker skin women. Growing up, I stayed out of the sun, I believed in the “fair and lovely” beauty line, and I downloadwas always conscious of my scars and stretch marks. Now, women all over India, Sri Lanka and other countries are crushing these beauty standards, with movements like “unfair and lovely” and “melanin magic” we are reminded that every woman is beautiful regardless of their skin tone. Of course, after a while, I shunned out any brown aunties comments and opinions. Sunlight is so crucial for us because one of the effects of staying out of the sun is that I lacked vitamin D which had me feeling sad, fatigued and restless, (so go and soak in the sun!)

Lastly, as a feminist, I don’t hate men. I, as a feminist wish, to see the improvement in women’s lives and to see society end legal and cultural barriers rooted in gender.

Until next time,

Love,
Nisha x