Growing up, girls are the first friends we make. Instinctively, we are drawn towards girls in our class. I remember joining a new school in Class 2 – I was instantly and eagerly trying to be friends with the most welcoming, vivacious and friendly girl there. She felt responsible for the comfort of the newcomer and we became friends. Best friends, slowly. And we continue to be friends.
As women, we seek refuge in each other because inherently women create safe spaces. Women are safe spaces. Women know and have been through it all. Those who understand, who see through the pain, the joy, the hopes, and the dreams of their fellow women go to the extent of even understanding and lending empathy to men – men who have been affected by the demands and atrocities of patriarchy.
But what do we do when women look down upon one of their own? Are we then not negating the whole foundation of being there for our sisters? When we say feminism has to be intersectional, do we not understand the depth of that statement? Or is its purpose only to fit in with the crowd or feel powerful in conference rooms?
I was reading the Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk the other day, and a certain instance in the novel was very striking. It made me think and question, ponder and reflect. The male protagonist is engaged to a wonderful woman who is very proper and poised. She is so poised that when they are making love in his office and happen to drift towards the chair of the secretary, she tells him to not do it there as that would make her feel like a secretary.
Lo and behold! He thinks to himself that despite all her strong advocacies for feminism, his fiancée is not so much of a feminist. She does not want to feel like a secretary!
We as women forget that this discriminatory way of thinking for our own sisters feeds into the many ways in which offenders and perpetrators fool us and are able to get away with their wrongs, by pitting us against each other.
And as patriarchal and misogynistic as our society is, the least we can do is to stop strengthening the misogyny.
A wonderful example of women supporting women can be found in the current ongoing scenario where those who stand against the hijab are backed by the solidarity of those who accept the hijab. For it is not about individual interests or beliefs but about a bigger goal, a larger aim — of believing in, and perpetuating, that a woman is a human being fully capable of knowing and deciding for herself.
It takes strength and grit to stand up to umpteen forms of subjugation and oppression every day and no woman has not done it. We do it every day and every step of the way. Therefore, we expect that our struggles and victories are acknowledged, understood and celebrated by our own. Expecting solidarity and support from those who are not women is a further step, the first step is to find cohesion within our own clique.
We need to be self-sufficient for being able to stand up for ourselves and for other women. We need to choose ourselves over the dominance that has pressed us down over centuries.
May we continue to value our financial independence, and may we continue to uphold it. May we continue to derive so much strength from it that virtues like empathy and support for other women seep into our very being and not just remain in our words.
Malvika Sharad is 26 years old and works as a communications associate at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, New Delhi.