2001: She was born a girl into an incredible country that identified with its fierce goddesses who breathed fire, personified power, and stood on par with their male counterparts. She cried inhaling her first whiff of the air, little aware that she was beyond blessed to make it out alive. She knew not that miles away, amidst lush green fields, was another mother crying her heart out in a dilemma, for her firstborn was a girl. The neighbours hushed about with heavy air, only the wind rejoiced and the father froze, forcing back his tears inside – for his Papa had taught him that men don’t cry. They were both born in the same country, but in two different worlds.
2005: Her parents celebrated her, gifting her the luxury of feeling loved. When she sauntered with her fingers safe in between Dad’s warm hands, she found the first male she would blindly trust. With trust, came absolute faith in him. She asked him why some men brawl, why the maid at home keeps crying, why it is wrong to steal and why the gods dropped her at their doorstep and he said that it was life. She believed him. That very day, her mind reflexively registered that the aggression in a male and the sensitivity in a female was normal; was life.
2008: She loved her school uniform; it meant a lot of things, but significantly equality and a sense of belonging. She loved her pencils and all the tiny things they resurrected on a cold sheet of paper. She loved how something as lifeless as graphite translated magic. She was taught to wear her skirt below her knee otherwise it meant she was seeking attention. She was trained to judge girls with extra makeup, a shorter skirt, or a poorer grade. She sexualised her existence subconsciously. She was jealous of the boy next door who was allowed to wear his trousers however he wanted but then she also felt sympathy because he wasn’t allowed to wear colourful gowns, was he? She knew men wore “masculine” things, whatever that meant. Even clothes did not escape sexism.
Also read: The Echoes
2015: She no longer liked ink on her fingers, she preferred them on paper. Her diary and her best friend were often so similar, she couldn’t distinguish between them. They held her secrets, looked innocent, and yet she felt the potential they held. She was taught to keep away from darkness as well as the men on the streets, for one was said to breed monsters and the other was worse. She was blind enough to believe gossip was fun. Too much societal air blew through her nostrils for she had learned too much. Then she finally figured it out she had to unlearn. Thankfully, she did just that. She identified as a feminist not knowing how it worked, just aware that it was about inclusivity. It meant a better world and she needed it. It terrified her how real she was becoming, but it also was strangely comforting to live under her very own skin and for once claim it like a queen.
2018: She was almost 18, an almost adult. Things don’t change suddenly. People don’t wake up one summer morning, with birds chirping, and realise adulthood. Growth is a process, so is maturity. She still remembers all the stares a cold shoulder had to bear; she is neither ashamed nor proud of it. She remembers the times her girlfriends blushed at catcalling – they felt beautiful perhaps, but she had shivered. She wondered if there would have been fewer wrinkles on her Dad’s forehead had she been a boy. She spotted the simply outrageous act of stalking in a so-called romantic song. She noticed the lyrics and the objectification there when everybody else was busy dancing to its beat. She pitied the 13-year-old brother of her friend who chose to bully to be “cool” but it hurt him as much as the others. Even without realising it, she had grown up, bold and beautiful with burning anger clothed in her calm composure.
2020: She watched the world with morbid fear amidst a pandemic, for there were many things to fear than just death. She has started to make sense of half the things she shouldn’t and it scares her. She laughs at her insecurities, making a joke about them before someone else could. A wounded person, a boy hanging on his fan wrecked by the burden of masculinity on his shoulders, and the rape of an innocent girl make the news every day. But the world moves on and, with it, its people. She doesn’t want to. The sheer acceptance that follows something so gruesome disturbs her and it screams inside as she attempts to proceed with living. She knows that the world needs love, equality and kindness. She believes in feminism as she believes in medicine.
Standing in the kitchen humming a tune, her mother beams at her. And looking at her mother never complaining about everything she has ever done, she suddenly is closer to the answer. She understands that feminism is simply about choice. Now feminism is to her: the right to ask if the boy next door is okay or if he needs a shoulder to sob into, the right of the village girl who shares her birthday to walk down the untrodden path to school with her brothers, the right to count stars on a deserted road at midnight and return home alive and whole, the right to say no, the right of every human to choose love and life.
Annie Iniya J is an undergraduate in biomedical engineering who has over the years acquired the rare skill of camouflaging into the background over socially awkward conversations. You can find her on Instagram @iniya__01.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty