I Was Wondering…

DISCLAIMER: The following article solely reflects the views of the author. Though written in first person some content has been added from others’ experiences and has been modified to convey the author’s point.

What does it take to be a woman?

People would give me many different answers.

I have a friend who thinks women are naturally stupid.

I have a friend who spent his whole life growing up around girls.

I have a friend who thinks women should rule the world.

I have  a friend who never talked to a girl, really talked to one until he talked to me.

I know a woman who thinks that women are meant to spend their lives focusing on nourishing their families to the best of their abilities.  Their primary purpose is to provide for their men and children, that it is their instinct. I must correct myself,  I know many women who feel similarly. It is their maternal  instinct. And they teach their daughters to feel the same way. To put away their pride and ambition and to learn to cooperate, to make the sacrifices needed.

I know women who want to see the world, feel the world, rule the world.  They go out of their way to show their strength; they are ambitious and proud. They put themselves first, and they have learned that it is indeed the best way to handle the cruel, mocking world they are put in.

What does it take to be a woman?

I have grappled with this question in countless scenarios, and I still do every day. It is difficult for me because I spend so much time avoiding labelling myself and fixing boxes for the various aspects of my surroundings and interactions. Especially where there is more than one side to the story. Am I a feminist? I don’t know. Do you have to be a feminist to be a woman?

The truth is that this rant is the product of thought processes from different days and different periods over the course of a few years now.

Watching campaigns, advertisements, and news reports had boggled my mind because the idea of women in society and their status seemed to be so complicated when it really should have boiled down to them being human beings; all other dialogue felt unnecessary.

For the longest time, I would read and listen as I heard distant tales, the scary realities of the daily lives of many women. We read of women who have to cloak themselves when they venture onto the streets, in fear of being leered at, in fear of the hungry wolf stares of desperate men. And somehow these shrouds should serve as protection. Unlike the women who take no care to be responsible, who do not cover themselves from the glances of people. For they are surely inviting temptation. That is what the people say. But the women know, there is nothing that can honestly veil them in that moment from the x-ray stares. We read of women who are advised to stay at home instead of educating themselves. We read of women, and their spirits are broken every day. Our spirits are broken every day.

But it was just that, I would read and comprehend that this was the reality of other people, and be thankful that it wasn’t mine. Because for the longest time, I thought I was okay, safe, amongst better-minded people with my gender casting no shadows on my abilities.

Well, it turns out I had it wrong. I slowly started to realise, all this time, I was only thinking of being a girl. Because the moment you grow up, you are expected to understand society. By which society means, “Stay in line or we will screw you.” And it took me time to make sense of that.

I was not your typical rebellious teen. I played by almost all the rules. Almost.

I was too carefree to perceive the injustices of my everyday life. The boys in my class who would snicker when I showed some skin and the necessity to make sure I never dressed too alluringly. The requirements to appear like a woman and be silent and pretty. The encouragement to study along with the constant reminders that careers only come after you make and nourish a family. All the paradoxes that young women face. Well, that was about enough.

I am not going to college to stay at home and pick matching curtains. I wear clothes if they are comfortable and they look good, not to show or cover more than I need to. I don’t care if I’m not your type. I don’t care if you think I should wear jewellery. I believe in the strength of individuals who have been wronged, hurt, broken and misunderstood, irrespective of their gender.

I believe that women are as much to blame in the perpetuation of their lack of privileges as they are responsible for keeping each other strong.  Mothers, sisters, daughters and friends need to remind each other of their strength and their abilities before they encourage each other to adhere to anybody else’s standards, even their own.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I do think that women should be celebrated for being themselves, for their maternal instincts, for their thoughtfulness and for the love that they can give. And irrespective of their choices, this net covers all women.

And after everything I’ve said, my question still remains. What does it take to be a woman?

Aisha Dantuluri

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