Feminism – What does the F word mean to you?

What does the F word mean to you? With today being International Woman’s Day, I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on what it means to me and why I think it’s so important to raise my son to be a feminist.

While feminism seems to be the buzz word of the decade, in some cultures, my own included, the word conjures up quite a bit of negativity. People envisage a feminist as a girl who talks out of place, has strong opinions and can’t be moulded. Heaven forbid you’re not able to mould and control her with your misogynistic and patriarchal ways.

For me, feminism is about equality between the sexes as well as a woman’s right to be who she truly wants to be and do as she wants to do, without societal norms defining her. And while I consciously think about it more now, if I look back at my teenage years, I was always a bit of a feminist. Whether it was sitting on the floor of Trocodero (an arcade) until a male friend admitted I was as good as him at Daytona car racing, insisting I be allowed to play football with the boys or getting my hands hit with a metal ruler at boarding school for sticking up for a male friend who was being unfairly treated. You see, I didn’t think I was better, I just believed I should be an equal.

But somewhere along the way, circumstances changed me and I lost that feeling of self-worth. Suddenly I believed I wasn’t good enough and wasn’t as deserving as my male counterparts…which led me to make decisions based on what everyone around me wanted and not on what I really wanted. My gut told me one thing but the voices in my head told me something else. And I allowed that to guide me for a very long time.

I remember struggling as a teenager with the fact that all around me, people believed boys were better than me. They got away with a lot more and they were judged a lot less. Even today, within the society I live in, women have to look and act a certain way to be deemed attractive to men while men just have to have enough money in their bank accounts. Women are expected to have children but look like they don’t and speak their opinions, but not too loudly. Self-worth (and what is on the inside) often takes a backseat, only to be replaced by what is on the outside. If we don’t see our own worth, how is anyone else supposed to see it?

What we say (especially to our children) and how we act plays a huge role in their belief system as they grow up. To me, it’s of utmost importance to raise S to see girls (future women) as his equals. I want him to be a feminist, to respect women and treat them as they deserve to be treated. We live in a world where the bias is still very much for men. Everything from toys to packaging of shower gel differentiates men from women. It creates an illusion that men are stronger, have tougher jobs and are able to take control. Even the font on shower gels aimed at women is more flowy with descriptive words like smooth, creamy and soft. Growing up, my dad taught me to build flat pack furniture because he believed I was an equal and my mum taught (tried to teach) me to cook. I don’t ever remember being told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.

The second thing that I make a priority is ensuring that S is never bound by societal norms/expectations. My biggest learning experience came from a situation where I placed far too much emphasis on what was expected of me by society, rather than what my gut told me. I have no regrets because I believe every experience gives you an opportunity to learn and I wouldn’t change who I am today. I’ll even go so far as to say I am grateful for the experience because it was so necessary and had it not been for that experience, I wouldn’t have found the strength and courage to rise up against expectations and live my true life.

The statistics around men and suicide rates is another thing that I think about. I was in a shop last week and I could hear a little boy crying. I then heard is mum/carer say “Boys don’t cry! Stop crying!” and to hear this in London in 2019 worries me. Are we saying that boys cannot have emotions, cannot feel overwhelmed and shouldn’t express it in the most natural humanistic way? By shedding tears! If you’ve ever been overwhelmed and then cried, you’ll know what a relief it is to shed those tears. So why must boys not be encouraged to release their emotions? I have seen first-hand the product of boys unable to express their feelings and how it affects the people around them when they grow up. All that pent up anger and frustration has to go somewhere! There is no need for a façade. A man isn’t weak because he lets his guard down, being vulnerable will only allow more support into his life. I want my son to know this.

I often hear the phrase “This is just how the world is, this is just how things are.” And I implore you to ask yourself “Why?” The world is whatever WE want it to be, the sooner we realise that, the sooner we can start to create a world we want to live in – a fairer and more just world. I’m far from perfect and being a true feminist is a work in progress but my goal is to play a small part in leaving this world in slightly better shape than when I arrived. The power we have innately is the power we need to tap into, to do good, to be better.

To some it may sound like heavy stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. Feminism can be practical in a myriad of little ways. Speaking up for a friend, not indulging in mindless conversation about another, making choices because we want them, surrounding ourselves with people who lift us up, letting go of those that don’t, doing the right thing (even when it’s scary) and living our best lives. If you’re not sure what Feminism means to you, I suggest the book “Feminists don’t wear pink and other lies”, curated by Scarlett Curtis. It is a collection of 52 essays written by various women on what feminism means to them. Reese Witherspoon’s “Hello Sunshine” podcast is also another inspiring one to listen to and last, but far from the least, “We should all be feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I heard someone on a podcast say recently (I think it was Ellen Pao) that as women, we are wired to deflect praise like teflon but hold on to criticism like velcro. We need to all take the time to look around us and see what we’ve created and what we’ve achieved. We are tough, we are capable (of far more than we think we are – hello child birth!) and we need to remind ourselves of that more.

Happy International Woman’s Day!

Raising independent boys

I stumbled upon a very thought provoking read yesterday. You can read the full article here. To be honest, I think the title is totally misleading. It should probably read “I wish I taught my Indian son the value of a woman.” Instead the title was “I taught my daughter to be an independent woman but I regret bringing her up like that.” Never the less, it was an interesting read.

While the situation that occurred can happen in any family, in any part of the world, the author wasn’t wrong when she generalised the ideology of Indian men. I am an Indian and let me just say that the opinions I am about to share are a generalisation (and in fact there are some amazing Indian men) but the basis behind my opinions do exist. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, it’s still very common.

In many households, boys are not expected to do much around the house. And as the author mentioned, in the last generation, the women were expected to do everything. With this generation, thankfully many parents changed. They encouraged their daughters to dream big and go out there to achieve whatever their hearts desired. The boys however got left behind. I once spoke to a woman who I considered fairly “modern” in her thinking…her daughter was a go-getter and was encouraged to follow her dreams. But when referring to the ways of her house, she said “The men in my family don’t enter the kitchen and they’re not expected to.” I remember being stunned and wondering how she could have such different standards for her two children.

She’s not the only one. It’s very common for Indian women, even those working full time, to pull the bulk of the weight in the house. And sadly it’s what’s expected of them…by their own mothers, their mother in laws and their husbands.

We live in the 21st century people and yet the expectations we place on our girls is that of a by-gone era. And what about the boys? Shouldn’t your boys know how to clean up after themselves, do their laundry, boil an egg? Why would you encourage your girls independence and limit your boys? Don’t they deserve to be all rounders as well? Don’t they deserve to be capable? To look after themselves?

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I’m not just addressing this to Indian mums but to all mums. Give your boys the independence you encourage your girls to have. They’re as capable. I’ve heard the phrase “mums and their boys”…I “know” the phrase…I have a son! There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. But the one thing I will insist on is him being independent. So he doesn’t actually “need” a woman to do things for him. He doesn’t need a woman to make him his breakfast, cook him dinner or massage his ego. He might be lucky to find a woman who wants to do all of that for him, but it’ll be her choice. And they’ll be lucky to have each other because I hope to raise a boy who will do as much for his wife as she will do for him.