I grew up in the liberation-generation. We were taught as young girls to stand up for ourselves, claim our rights and pursue our dream on which there were no limits, but those were lies. There were important things they forgot to tell us about this empowerment, these are those things.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
There is deception in this womanhood-thing. A mixed message. A dissonance. I remember being taught that I could do anything, I could change the world if that is what I wanted. I could build a wall or tear one down. I could inherit the earth or populate it. I remember being taught that I should study for I would need a career to rely on and no one should have to take care of me. I remember watching videos of women running, holding board-meetings, flying planes with neon messages of empowerment flashing underneath. I remember the birth of women’s day and slut marches. I remember the moment, when in a tennis skirt and my dad’s t-shirt at the age of thirteen, I decided I was done with shy awkwardness and I was ready to be the woman this world told me I could be; I remember the smell of the sweat on my face, the sound of my coach telling me to run faster, the ugly brick red colour of the court staring at me, I remember everything about the exact moment when I could have been filmed with a magenta message of empowerment flashing across the screen of my life.
They told me I could.
So I did.
I became what I was taught women should be by the messages of empowerment that littered my childhood. I became loud, I started saying everything I meant and asking for everything I wanted. I stopped being shy and scared, and I started stating my opinion with authority. I saw disparity and I started fighting. I saw goals and I discovered ambition. I achieved goals and I discovered hunger. I saw the law and politics, and I took my place as a citizen. I saw the little things everyday, the ones that take away from you when a man thinks he’s just spreading his legs on a seat he’s entitled to, and started pushing back. I saw sex, and love, and I liked them, so I did them. I saw the night and I wanted in. I saw choices and I made mine all by myself. I did what I had been taught. I stood on my feet. I learnt all the lessons that got me a career. I became independent.
But now they don’t like me.
No one told me.
No one told me those messages, and women like me are only welcome on women’s day and when someone has a pregnancy scare. Oh everyone loves a loud, empowered woman who says fuck a lot, everyone loves them, when you have to write a second-grade essay about someone you admire. Everyone loves them when it’s the 24-hour period designated to celebrating women. Everyone likes to read about them on dust-jackets and Humans of Bombay. Everyone loves a strong, independent woman, because that’s what we are teaching our daughters to be too after all, but only in concept. In real-life, this empowerment thing is a lie.
In reality, there was deception afoot. When they said you could do anything, they left a lot out. They click-baited you and by the time you realised they didn’t even have the information they advertised, you had wasted ten minutes reading the article. In the real version of events, when it’s not women’s day, the world has very different expectations for strong independent women.
In terms of career, when they said they wanted to you to “take care of yourself” they meant they would like for you to have “pocket money” to buy dresses and stuff, because when you do make money (and more of it than your husband) they will tell you that you will ruin your relationships. They’ll tell you that your are cold and “too ambitious” to have a family. That you are neglectful as a wife or a mother. That you have too much of an ego. That you only needed to take care of yourself until you had children.
In terms of rights, when they said yours matter, they meant they matter on paper to the image of their country and the family structure in place is reliant enough to ensure no girl would ever be given too much freedom. You can go wherever you want, in a world where your hostels will have curfews and your neighbours will be watchdogs for the time you come home. You can vote, but politics is not for women so they will actively discourage you from participating from the moment you’re old enough to say the word panchayat.
In terms of marriage, when they mean they want you to settle down and be stable, they mean they want you to be someone’s wife so they can feel like their parental duties towards you are over and you’re someone else’s property know. You can have the nicest caterer at your wedding and the water chestnut can be just scrumptious but the truth of the wedding is in the moments before it, when they remind you it’s your new life and you have to be a different person to fit into it. So what if someone is telling you how to dress and you have to wear pale yellow sarees to day events now, you’re supposed to be in love girl. With the guy that was pointed out to you.
In terms of freedom, when they said you can do anything you want, they meant you can do anything as long as you uphold the ten-thousand rules of honour that are upheld by your vagina. You can be friends with boys, but don’t have sex with them or worse, your girlfriends, and marry whoever we choose in bargain for that freedom. You can go study abroad but you have to come back and be a good daughyer-in-law to someone and for good measure shun all norms you may encounter in another country because they look and smell like freedom because Indian culture is best, you are a goddess here, and it doesn’t matter if what you really want to be is a pleather clad human-kitten with a ring around your nipple. Freedom is fine, if you beg and take what is given and remain eternally grateful.
In terms of love when they said you should give a lot of love, they meant in terms of service to men and their families. They meant you should be the colourful creature that likes animals and sacrifices her joys for everyone else because that’s what really brings her joy. They meant a chaste love of the Victorian era or post-truth India where love doesn’t involve reality, biology or desire, only families, immaculately-conceived babies and duty to the patriarchy.
There is deception in this womanhood-thing. There are lies. They don’t want free, empowered women. They want a party and a reason to eat bread on March 8.
Every other day, they tell us to eat cake.