This post evolved out of a post-length comment I inflicted on a beautiful, loving lady that almost all of us have read- and agreed with. Her thoughts are so balanced and full of wisdom; her perspective so inclusive and broad; her heart so compassionate and genuine…. that it is easy to love her. I speak of none other than Zephyr, who wields a potent pen at her blog Cyber Nag… where she is anything but a nag.
She wrote a fabulous and in-depth series of posts on Feminism- the holy grail of the contemporary woman (and the contemporary man too if he knows what’s good for him). If you haven’t read the series yet, now’s a good time to do so. The first part is: Feminism and the Gen X Woman.
I have always shied away from being called a feminist. This is not because I am a wimp (ha!) or don’t believe in the radical concept that women are people too. It is because the things being done (and said) in the name of feminism sometimes appall and dismay me. To use a simplistic, homely phrase: it seems like people are in a hurry to cut off their nose to spite their face. I don’t think that’s quite a good idea. Nor effective.
I don’t like the male-bashing or reducing the battle to it becoming a men v/s women squabble. To me the battle is about learning to stand unflinchingly, in unconditional support, of your own perception of yourself. Provided you know what ‘yourself’ is. That’s where the doldrums begin, in truth.
The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.
~ Michel de Montaigne
It is easier to wage a battle without than within perhaps. Far easier to blame another than to introspect. So much easier to copy the behaviors and mindsets of your antagonists than to define Who You Are.
I don’t think that emulating men (in their vices OR virtues) is the way for me to underscore my own identity. I will only be immortalizing and eulogizing things which do not reflect Who I Am. In my quest and journey to discover and establish my own identity, what mileage would I get by holding someone else up as role model? I’ll only erase the last traces of myself that way. What kind of a statement would I be making about myself by doing that? That I don’t consider myself worthy of emulation? Doesn’t seem frightfully clever to me!
Please read Zephyr’s post Opening That Window And Breaking Free (the third in the series) before you read my response to her thoughts. She has said it all far better than I ever could.
I was arrested by an astounding statement she made in the first half of her post. She wrote, and I quote:
“And so we perfected the art of ‘standing on the inside while sitting on the outside’, if sitting was what was expected of us.”
How perfectly and concisely she has said what I always thought wordlessly. I never could put it into words. The best I could do is to say- Women don’t need to be aggressive/ belligerent in order to win their rights. If they would only recognize their inner power, they would know that no one can bully them IF THEY CHOOSE NOT TO BE BULLIED!
Far from effective, besides being terribly pedantic… and befuddling the whole point in the process!
It saddens me to see that most people (men and women, both) raise their flag of discontent and get ready to battle over the smallest issues… and then concede over the major ones. It should be the other way round!
My in-laws were pretty conservative. They had decided ideas about what a DIL should wear and how she should behave- in all matters, big or small. I am perfectly fine with that. Every family has its own ‘culture’ which they work hard to preserve. As a part of that family, it was right that they should expect me to honor and adopt it.
(No, I don’t find anything wrong in making room for another in your mental map. Just as I was making room for them in mine, they too made room for me in theirs. The only difference is, I made the room first… and they did it later. What’s wrong with that? You can only change the ‘system’ from within- we all know that, don’t we? I got in and they moved over- without there being a song and dance about it.)
As a result I always wore a sari (even at night… and that was truly a pain) and kept my head covered at all times. I barely came out of the kitchen for the days I visited them. I touched every one’s feet (twice per visit; once when they came and again when they left) no matter how many times they visited in a day. But I always accompanied it with a breezy ‘good morning/ evening’. Everyone just loved the strange mixture. My MIL once confessed that they did not expect a ‘highly’ educated girl like me to fit so well into their family by adopting their ways.
Of course I smirked, secretly.
It is a mistake to look at someone who is self-assertive and say, “It’s easy for her, she has good self-esteem.” One of the ways you build self-esteem is by being self-assertive when it is not easy to do so. There are always times when self-assertiveness requires courage, no matter how high your self-esteem.
The opposite of self-assertiveness is self-abnegation- abandoning or submerging your personal values, judgment, and interests. Some people tell themselves this is a virtue. It is a “virtue” that corrodes self-esteem.
~ Nathaniel Branden
I made room for myself in that family… not by bluster but by sitting when sitting was expected of me- while I stood quietly within. With time I was able to do more and more things as I liked… while maintaining the broad framework of the values of the family I had married into.
A few years later, I announced that it was time to make good on a promise I had made to myself many years ago. It required me to do something that my in-laws would surely not like. Thankfully, I had discussed the issue with my to-be husband before our marriage was fixed. Only when he agreed to support me on the issue did I say yes to marrying him- that’s how important it was to me.
When the time came to actually do it, however, I found both him and my in-laws absolutely against the idea. My own parents weren’t too pleased either. My husband had agreed earlier but his secret hope was that he would be able to dissuade me when the time came.
I refused to budge and reminded him of the promise he had given me before our marriage. He couldn’t deny the promise he had made. I held him to it and did what I wanted more than anything in the world. My in-laws did grumble for a bit… but what could they do, I was already a part of them!
That’s when everyone realized- my own parents included- that I wasn’t as docile and pliable as they thought I was. 🙂
Later of course, they all congratulated themselves for being awesome enough to let me do what I wanted. “And look”, they told each other gleefully, “how wonderfully well the whole thing has turned out! We took an excellent decision, didn’t we?”
Which was perfectly fine with me. I got what I wanted where it really mattered- without heated words or a trace of acrimony. That, I think, was the real victory.
Standing On The Inside does work!