Women, especially those from more traditional societies, are taught many things in childhood. When I was young, I watched the men in my family as they got more opportunities and freedom, and dominated decision-making. Even though my mother did not insist on household duties, I had to get married when I was not ready so that my younger sister could marry, surely as outdated a custom as any. As an immigrant in America without a work visa, I had to stay at home, watch over my children, fold endless mounds of laundry, cook meals while being pregnant or nursing—and lived entire days with no adult conversation. “What is the big deal?” you might ask again. Millions of women around the world are subjected to conditions that are far worse. And because the world has subjugated women forever, and because women have stifled their voices, wishes and desires, does that mean that it must continue?
Every single day in my life in America, I have missed India but what I have not missed in my American life is freedom. The freedom to be a divorcee without social approbation, the freedom to wear a pair of shorts and run down the street, the freedom to not have to cook, especially when my partner is a better cook than me and a more willing volunteer for the position, to be able to prioritize my studies because that is what calls to me. This is what I want my daughters to learn, to reach out to what calls to them, to work towards that relentlessly, and to find happiness out of prescribed norms. As a parent, we say many things to our children —how to live, how to be, what to do or not to do—but surely nothing must be as real to them as watching how their parents live and struggle. This is what I tell myself when I tire sometimes of waking early to find time for my workouts or assignments; this is what I hope the girls see and will remember when they are women in a world where men largely still get paid more than their women counterparts, where a walk in the night alone in almost every country in the world can still be fraught with danger.
Feminism is a buzzword now. Everywhere one hears it and it is spoken with ferocious pride by those who consider themselves upholding it. But I say, let us just be. Let us women define for ourselves what it means to be free and if that be to wear a burka, to cook, to write, to be a mother, to not be a mother, to stay married or not to stay married—let us decide, because we women, we have a voice and we are nobody’s fool.
First published in November 2016.
Chandra Ganguly is a MFA student at Bennington College. She writes about the meaning and loss of identity and issues around gender and culture. She lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.