“Are you going to do feminism?” pat came a question from my aunty as my dad told them about my admission into a Master’s program in Gender Studies.
“Hmmm yes I will be starting my program in Gender Studies this September,” I responded (at the back of my head I kept telling myself, nobody does feminism, one is either a feminist or not).
“So are you a lesbian?” she chuckled, “only lesbians study gender and all.”
Completely dumbfounded at what she had just said, I for a second did not know how to react.
“Be careful, one, you are educating your daughter beyond a Bachelor’s degree though not required and to top it up you are sending her for a course in Feminism. She is going to hate men and bring in a woman as her partner,” cautioned my uncle as the discussion had clearly moved into my decision to pursue a career in Gender Studies, something that was not very common or unheard of in the community or the family I came from.
“But what makes you say that uncle?” I retorted, “Feminism is not anti-male or male-bashing but it’s all about the fight for equality, equality between the sexes. And not everyone who is a feminist or enrolls for a program in gender studies is a lesbian, though even if one is I don’t see any problem with that.”
“Look at her! She is saying being a lesbian is not a problem. If you give a girl more freedom and the right to do what she wants, this is what happens. She gets out of control and gets influenced by this Western culture!” responded my aunty.
‘Western culture, Western influence’, the moment these words are uttered, I always feel like tearing down my hair and letting people know what they think as a western influence or western culture could have been part of my culture, our culture and their culture for centuries. It’s all about perspective which often comes to be shaped by hegemonic and dominant narratives. And thus, becomes important for us to look at culture through a different lens. Deconstructing stories and narratives that are handed down to us over generations is critical. And this is exactly what I decided to do.
So the conversation continues:
"What if I told you that homosexuality is not alien but something that has been part of our culture for centuries?” I asked my family that was by now convinced that I was completely astray.
“No, how can you say that! Look at history and you will find that all the successful unions have been between a man and a woman,” replied my uncle.
“Absolutely. Homosexuality never existed in our country,” my aunty chimed in.
“But that is what the narratives you read chose to show you. Say for e.g. we have had so many instances where women have made valuable contributions to the society. Not as a daughter or a wife but as powerful individuals at par with men. But for centuries we have been reading “HIStory” and never “HERStory”. Does that mean women didn’t exist?” I questioned.
I further added-
“Patriarchy has been the order of the day. And by ignoring and excluding women’s contributions, the narratives reinforce male dominance. And it does not come as a surprise when social texts are one-sided and represent this dominance,” I confronted, “anything that is not in line with the prescribed social norms is highly disregarded and deemed alien.”
“Are you trying to tell us that history is wrong and we are all wrong who have seen the world more than you?” asked my aunty.
“No, all I am saying is history can be interpreted in different ways and I rest my case."
As the conversation ended, I reflect on how stories shape societies and the world around us. Like every other child, I have had my share of reading Fairy Tales where princesses have been stripped off their agency as they wait for a prince to come to their rescue or stories where adventure is synonymous with boys and initiation into care work and domestic chores with girls. But my parents always encouraged me to question the characters in these stories or not follow everyday conversations blindly, by creating a space for dialogue and resistance. There were numerous occasions when they agreed to disagree with me while respecting my perspective. Together, we resisted!
Let’s be the winds of change for our children and the generations to come, by creating spaces where they can redefine the world and the society beyond the usual lens of black and white. Afterall grey matters!