Feminism begins at home

Vaishnavi Sundar
Posted March 1, 2017 from India

My life as a feminist started just as recently as 2012. I was very keen to learn about the movement, its struggles, the breadth of work that has been covered, and how much still remains to be done. It was definitely not an overnight transition but a very gradual, difficult and curious journey from questioning, understanding to living a feminist life. I learn every day, and I believe I will until I die.

I was brought up in an extremely conservative, traditional setting, so I willingly accepted a lot of impositions laid by patriarchy. My childhood wasn’t half as rosy as the other kids I knew, so that made life even more complicated. I endured a brutally painful marriage, and it came to an end for no fault of mine. This is of specific importance to the life of my mother because her marriage was a failure too, the only difference is she is still in it. My exposure to the world and my eagerness to find myself a slightly more palatable life of dignity pushed me towards feminism by default. In the process of self-preservation, I realised I had left my mom behind.

I vowed to myself that I will try and impart as much as I have learnt so far to her, so she could be free from the shackles that she has forcibly bound herself in. But it is not easy with the differences in our opinions, my sedentary lifestyle that keeps me hooked to the computer and the sheer energy to confront her over every silly thing she does in a patriarchal vein.

Every now and then over the past few years, I have taken methodical efforts to make her see the other side, and look deeper into her own hypocrisies and patriarchal manacles. It is amazing how once we have crossed the bridge and moved on, some things are just so glaringly obvious to us, but not for her. It took her a lot of time, energy and sometimes even some tears to understand that I am actually meaning well, I don’t intend to just be bitter with her over trivial things. She understood much later how they were never trivial in the first place.

Yesterday, I decided to do a little experiment. I asked my mother if she can name one or two prejudices that she used to have in the past, but not any longer. She took some time to think, and I nudged her into the first few questions. Here is the entire conversation, translated and paraphrased for reading.

Me: You used to have an internalised bias between me and my brother that somehow you tended to favour his preferences over mine time to time, growing up. Do you identify this as a prejudice?

Ma: Yes, but I never meant any harm to you or found you to be inferior in anything.

Me: Can you think of something yourself?

Ma: Yes, earlier I used to judge women based on what they wore. That if they wore something tight or not fully draped in a saree, I used to hesitate to talk to them, judge them.

Me: Now you don’t? What changed?

Ma: No, now I don’t. I realise people are above and beyond the superficial clothes they wear. And what anybody wears must be their wish.

Me: What about the career choices women make?

Ma: You are a filmmaker, this would have been impossible to accept if I was stuck in my ways.

Me: Okay, that’s great - so what about the very notion of family and the morals associated with being together as a family - I think it is so overrated, do you?

Ma: OH YES! It is nice to have the people you love to be around, but the family system has caused more damage to Indian society than anything else.

Me: Why do you think so? Because you used to think otherwise before

Ma: I have seen what families do to their children, lay ultimatums in front of them that the children are forced to take up. Children must not have to live a life that a parent wants, they must be able to live a life that they desire.

Me: So what about families that choose to never have children - I know how much you love little kids and yearn to play with one. How are you feeling about that?

Ma: I used to feel extremely sad and pity a couple that can’t conceive a baby. I am sad I don’t have a grandchild. That people had a choice in the matter was not something I could comprehend back then. Now I know that life has a lot more things to it, and wanting to have a child, giving birth to one, or adopt, is entirely the couple’s decision and must not be interfered with.

Me: Ma, what do you think about relationships, marriage, divorce and such?

Ma: I could not afford to walk out on my marriage because back then it was easier said than done. But I realise now that if two people like each other, that’s good enough. Or if they don’t then that’s fine too. Better than being in a bad relationship. I learned this the hardest way.

Me: So is it okay that two people like each other? Any two people? What about two women?

Ma: *laughing* Well, it is very difficult for me to understand same-sex relationships. For sixty years I have been conditioned otherwise.

Me: So what if I or my brother announce that we liked someone of the same sex?

Ma: I would still have my heart in my throat, but I will be willing to accommodate anyone in my life because my children like them.

Me: thank you, ma - thanks for saying that. Do you think I am fat? Do you worry that I am fat?

Ma: I am fat too. *laughs* yes I have been prejudiced towards fat people, and have said hurtful things like, “maybe you should watch what you are eating” to them. I regret it so much. And I will never associate food and body weight anymore. I understand there are so many reasons people put on weight, like how after my uterus removal surgery, I have started gaining weight.

Me: Yes, but it’s totally fine! Okay now tell me about something you used to quietly tolerate earlier, but won’t any longer?

Ma: I will not tolerate any kind of abuse anymore. I am done taking the beating. I now am capable of giving it right back, it is about time.

And then the conversation went on to discuss topics like caste system, reservation, mental illness, women in leadership etc, for another 30-40 minutes. After our discussion, I realised something. I have grossly underestimated years of endless confrontations, fights and my adamant consistent stand over certain matters, to be nothing more than a waste of effort and time. But today, she proved me wrong. Maybe I am the one with a short temper, but she proved to be the bigger person between us both.

Always, ALWAYS remember, feminism begins at home!

(Image credit: google. I don't own the copyright)

Comments 5

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Jill Langhus
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

Wow! I'm REALLY impressed with your mother and what you have taught her. You both are very strong for challenging norms. I often wonder if it makes sense to seemingly waste so much energy alerting people to misogyny, and outdated norms, especially with my in-laws, but this has given me new inspiration and resolve. Maybe you "can teach old dogs new tricks:-)"

Vaishnavi Sundar
Mar 02, 2017
Mar 02, 2017

She teaches me awful lot of things too - like yesterday when she taught me a valuable lesson on perseverance :)

Jill Langhus
Mar 03, 2017
Mar 03, 2017

Good to hear:) Thanks for sharing your story.

Lisa Anderson
Mar 06, 2017
Mar 06, 2017

Dear Vaishnavi,

I love how you've written about your mother and how feminism begins at home! Isn't it powerful to see how loved ones' opinions and views can transform over time -- how people close to us can pleasantly surprise us with the evolution of their thinking?

Thank you for sharing and shine on!

Warm regards,


Vaishnavi Sundar
Mar 07, 2017
Mar 07, 2017

It certainly is, Lisa. Thank you and big warm hugs :)