Choice. Feminism for so many young women I know is that. Choice.

Being called a slut is not empowering for women - its power failure
Voices Opinion Saturday, September 30, 2017 - 13:49

It was so obvious that it had to be said. To the beautiful letter American writer Toni Hammer wrote to her five-year-old daughter, I just wanted to add, “accept a compliment from the earliest age, boy or girl.” When someone pays you a compliment, “don’t say, ‘oh this dress is old I almost forgot I had it or it's my dad's adjusted shirt’.” In other words, the writer was sowing the seeds of raising her daughter like a lady, firm, polite and comfortable in her herself, in her own skin, in her own words and thoughts and her views, as open to listening as she must be to placing her views without fear or favour. Read the piece here.

So, if it is so obvious then what is the need to write a piece? There is, because we are becoming oblivious to the obvious. For many months now, I have been reading pieces from around the world about the importance of raising your son like a feminist. As an opponent of ‘isms’, many of which are transitory, I find it funny if not ludicrous.  I have given it some thought. Beyond being polite, kind, empathetic (no sympathy please), working towards equal opportunities and having the choice to do what one would like to do or pursue, I can’t think of anything that my husband and I did anything different to raise our children in their choices.

The last - choice -  is critical. It is a luxury that few people have. Privilege is accorded to an even smaller group. The last group is expected to make good use of it, but how many of us really stop and think how to spread what we have? In most cases, we hold it as if life depended on it for us and our progeny, however unworthy they may turn out to be. That 'never know' mentality which keeps human beings trapped in trappings of pity and pelf.

I have two children and they have been raised as men and women with independent and strong views. Friends call them nétas (politicians/leaders), and all know that surviving a dining table conversation at home sometimes can be like crossing the Rubicon. The women (my daughter's friend) I know better from the time they were in their early teens past the pyjama parties, the manicure sessions, home cinema, fashion gossip, popcorn and burnt brownies. They’ve all grown up into fine young ladies who know when to occupy their space and speak with confidence and when to pull back and listen. They are feminists in their own way including one who has decided to marry early and take the path of being a stay-at-home-mum. She plans to have children early and brings her friends much joy. No challenge at all as she makes her free choice but just good and healthy joy of being a good spouse and a splendid mum which she will be one day. That's what choice is all about for men and women who have it.

Choice. Feminism for so many young women I know is that. Choice. How many of us really have the choice to do what we want, when we travel to work or go to homes as domestic help, attend chic dinner parties or hang out with friends? How much choice are we freely exercising if we get assaulted, harassed, sexually debased and some cases, even abused? Writing a post on Facebook helps as much as it limits. It acts as the nearest therapist, but long-term solutions must be found closer home, at home, daily with people we live and work. Choice is not an attitude. For it to succeed it must be second nature. 

In my dictionary, abusing people is unhelpful because that will make us exactly that – the slut or the whore we got called. Terrible to begin with and terrible now. I have not struggled with millions of other women around the world to create space and status for our daughters and their daughters to go back to the very nonsense that seems to be fashionable now. I have even read pieces by intelligent men and women who say it’s okay to be called a slut because once that level has been crossed, nothing matters. Really? If a mum tells her little daughter or son it's okay for women to be called a slut, there's something seriously wrong in that attitude and posture. It is for public consumption, not for private understanding. 

It is like saying ‘oh, you're gay or a transgender’ over a class of cheap champagne. Sick. That is not acceptance. Bad manners notwithstanding, it is a put down of the worst kind. Who I sleep with is not drawing room or kitchen conversation. What I feel is my business. That is Hammer's message to her daughter as I understand it - it is okay to be you, with your warts and views. You is normal.

I have read my Indian scriptures where the role of women is primordial and difference and diversity is accepted as normal.  I do not endorse women who think respecting another point of view -sanskari is fashionable - is a bad thing because there's something on Facebook. Today is Vijaydashami, where we pray for abundance of knowledge to mother goddess. A few days ago, we prayed to her in the form of Mahishasuramardhini, the slayer of evil. Yes, I have also spent years reading Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Veil, Rosa Parks and Michele Zimbalist Rosaldo. And many women whose pen I admire with a tad of envy as their power of words leaves me behind.

Yesterday, a friend showed me WhatsApp images of an adolescent woman because she couldn't bring herself to say the words. The adolescent is a bully, a 17-year-old gang leader in school who uses such foul language, it would make a sailor blush. I felt sorry for the girl, wondering where she would be headed. Maybe she will pull it off, maybe not. But she will have to deal with well-mannered and comfortable women like Hammer's daughter before she gets anywhere.

 As a feminist with a daughter and a son, I have other frontiers to cross. I am fully aware of how tough it gets for women in India where they may not even be able to stir out of their houses because they don’t matter. I am aware of women who get raped in their homes by their elders and other women keep quiet to protect the family's name and fame. We are a country that lives in a few centuries. We have politicians who think rape is no more than sowing wild oats for an adolescent boy, or that women who come home late at night are inviting trouble. I know. I see and I learn. 

But don’t tell me it’s okay to be called a slut or a whore when you are a sex-worker. Men and women have fought long and hard battles to get respect for who they are and what they do.  It is not normal to criminalise gay sex or call transgenders hijras, which is a deeply derogatory term. Don't tell me it's okay to call a woman a slut. That is not a sign of power. It is an indication of abject power failure.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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