There was a child. Amidst all the women nudging and fidgeting for a place to sit in the moving train, there was a young girl, maybe four or five years old. Her hat was white with a pattern of oranges printed on it, the brim shaped like flower petals. Her dress was a pretty white-and-red, and she stood in her socks on the seat, her wide eyes taking in everything.
I watched the little girl carefully, smiling at the curiosity she beheld for the vendors and the objects they sold as they hung the objects on the rods above with disinterested expressions. The passing stations were a blur of grey and black.
Then, from the corner of an eye, I noticed a woman staring at me, her eyes moving up and down as if to observe my attire. Against my better judgement, I looked at her. She continued to stare at what I was wearing, with her gaze making me uncomfortable. A moment later, she frowned distastefully and turned away to look at the other passengers. But every so often, she would glance over at me and make the same expression. That struck me as odd. Until I noticed that everyone, even my mother, was engaged in the same activity. Even the young adults with their earphones plugged in and attention seemingly riveted to their phones made time to do the same.
The newspaper in my hand forgotten, I began to wonder. Feminism, for all its deceiving popularity and noble intentions, had ultimately come down to this: a group of female humans putting themselves against one another and mentally shaming each other for personal choice of clothing. Was this the ‘equal’ society we champion?
The lady looked at me again and muttered something that was most probably offensive, considering the glare of hers that accompanied the utterance.
I looked at the little girl again. She was oblivious to the whispers, the fear of judgement that we lived with. She was free, free from the fear of being judged, free from the worry of opinions — as we all were once upon a time. But she, like all of us, would grow up to develop the same consciousness, the same judging eye that we all had. Feminism!
Later that day, a ‘war’ broke out on our Grade 10 WhatsApp group. It all started as light-hearted banter, of course, as it always does among high-spirited teenagers. A girl, in particular, mentioned that she did not want to be treated like just some “girl” in an argument — perhaps she meant that she did not want to be taken lightly. As the ‘quarrel’ heated up, a boy or two took her advice to heart and were immediately bashed by the rest for being “anti-feminist” and for treating a girl badly. The boys retorted, saying that feminism was about equality, not discrimination.
In an era where social media is but a wide expanse of diverse opinions and interpretations, where does feminism stand? And what does it really mean? If you look at it, the WhatsApp debate was nothing but a reflection of the state of affairs concerning feminism. The more we try to define the concept, the less clear it becomes. In the process of analyzing the rights of women, we are drifting farther from the truth.
What is feminism? And is it being taken for granted?