Feminism came to me as a white woman dressed in a pink short dress with perfect nails and brightly painted lips. I was 12, with big glasses and pimpled face, sitting in Ahmedabad. Never in my life, I realised, would I be able to carry that pink dress with my maternally-inherited curves. So I rejected feminism.
I had to relearn what feminism meant to me when I went to the US as a young 15 year old exchange student. It made me look at myself and search for why I feel the way I do about my skin, my body, my hair, my strange accent.
But I had to see myself as exotic to explain my role in the society as a brown woman. Feminism didn’t provide me answers to the problems I faced continuously at home in India, in the society in which I felt I needed to belong, and fight to belong, just because I wanted to.
I found a solution: I needed to “uplift” myself and my neighboring women, but lift us up from where and what? – I did not know. Women needed to be empowered in my poor country; empowered because they had been suppressed. But what if the men had climbed up the stairs they shouldn’t have? Why did women have to do the climbing to fight the oppression? Why couldn’t men climb these stairs down to the place where women all sat together discussing anything – movies, sports, family, or politics – and have some chai.
Declaring that where men stand in the society is the utopia that women need to achieve, I felt and continue to feel, is like using a war to fight the war. That we as women enter this fight on the rules set by men, I have found, is against the very idea that the feminist movement should stand for.