Every little girl carries the burden of her womanhood along with her on this journey of life. She only realises the power, and the strength of the same womanhood much later. Every year Women’s Day comes around and I feel nothing like a woman. I am very much a woman, twenty-one years of age and even more so in appearance but I still think the meaning of being a ‘woman’ is my mother or my grandmother. They to me are ‘real’ women. I am but a girl, still learning to adult. But how often do we contemplate our idea of what it is to be a ‘woman’? All our ideas are based on what we see and what we learn. It’s social conditioning if you please.
But our learning of gender right from the beginning is wrong. I know if I hadn’t questioned what I learnt I’d be less of the woman I am today. I’d continue thinking that girls can’t lift benches, play volleyball and are quiet, shy, sit with their legs together and do what her parents tell her always. Nothing in this sentence though sounds like me. I grew up watching my Mum cook every morning at five-thirty, go to work and come home and feed us every day, while my father would come home watch TV and play with me. Very early on I started to realise that one day I too would grow up and become my mother. For a while, I even idealised it and thought that was the only otpion.
When I grew into a fiesty teenager, I learnt a new meaning of womanhood, how lopsided the world was in the favour of men. Big words like ‘patriarchy’ hit me hard in the face. The statistics were laid out in front of me in every newspaper, female feticide, the phrase ‘that time of the month’ that boys would laugh about and girls were embarrassed about, that in freezing winters we still had to wear skirts, that we couldn’t have too much hair on our bodies, that we’d get stared at on the streets for no reason, just for existing. And if we did raise a voice, we’d be called ‘feminazis’. I made peace with it till I was 18, that it is the way the world is made and that’s the truth, it was my truth, my sister’s truth, my mother’s truth and my friends’ truth, the truth of every woman.
But as I read more, learnt more and started looking at every point of view I could look at I learnt how to love being a woman. I learnt that there are so many types of women, so many and that finally felt liberating. I didn’t have to grow up and become my mother which somewhere down the line I started to dread. I didn’t have to live my life on anyone else’s terms. The point at which my eyes opened was when I began to see my womanhood as a strength and not a burden. When I was convinced it was easier to convince everyone else.
Women are celebrated, yes religions love to celebrate women, society loves to, the government loves to as well. But for all the wrong reasons. Either it will be for her ‘motherhood’ which is seen as a part and parcel of her womanhood and sometimes the most significant part of it, or for her beauty, and for her ‘purity’. She is the embodiment of the nation, in India’s case ‘Bharat Mata’. Yes, the world has progressed, women are allowed to work, women earn, but the expectations still remain the same. That one day she will become a mother, one day she will get married, her safety is still uncertain, and if she raises her voice against the sexism, the reply will come “not all men” or “what about the men?” And the men are right, if this situation has to change then it will only be when men shed the burden of their manhood and understand that such a thing exists.
Equality will only become a reality when women feel appreciated and important outside of Women’s Day, when she is allowed her freedom every day, since the day she is born. The same goes for men when they can step down from the pedestal that they’re put on, stop subscribing to the expectations of masculinity they carry on their shoulders and see eye-to-eye with the opposite gender. That’s when there’ll be no need for all-women spaces, Women’s Day, reservations for women in the government and in public transport. Every Women’s Day I am disappointed because on that day people will ask why women are not getting the rights they deserve but will do nothing about it.
Every Women’s Day my father wishes my Mum, “Happy Women’s Day!” and my Mum still begins cooking at five-thirty in the morning, goes to work, comes home and feeds us. It’s the little things, every Women’s Day I am still not allowed near the temple if I am on my period and every Women’s Day I am still gawked at on the streets, and can’t stay out without friends in a city at night. So, what really has changed? Nothing. This is the burden of womanhood.