Margaret Atwood had suggested that the occurrences of Gilead were in the future. Apparently, we’ve skipped to that dreaded future already. Or it has arrived prematurely.
I was faced with a racism related question this week. I was asked to talk about my academic accomplishments. Not that I have many, but a major chunk of it has its roots in my home soil. The question was whether I would be comfortable not talking about my roots to appeal to, well, probable racists. The rationale was that, since I was enumerating my achievements to charm possible donors, my nationality may put a damper on how this success would be perceived. They were worried it may spark the “job theft” fury. Of course, I was given the option of mentioning my nationality nevertheless. I chose to not. The short story below provides the reasons, voiced by a character rather than myself. The story below talks about how risk-taking is difficult. The story, speaking more for women’s rights than racism, ties into the “choosing to not participate.” Like the character below, I am in no position to make statements. I am one of those who would prefer acquiring stability and then leading a rebellion. Given the times, I would prefer diplomacy in my agenda to voice my opinion. Call me a hypocrite but accountability comes with high stakes and I do not have much to wager.
Disclaimer: Purely fictional yet horrifyingly real.
“You should have come. It was thrilling!” said Sophia.
“Hmm,” said I, rummaging the drawers to find my keys.
“The women are really going to hold you to it this time, Maya.”
I looked at her with disdain. “What happened to being supportive of each other?”
“That’s exactly what they’ll say! Why weren’t you there at the march to support us?”
I ignored her, still searching for my keys.
She sighed. “Listen, I tried to tell them about your work. They insisted this was going to help you get the pay you deserve. This is a step toward it. Every woman counts in these marches.”
“I understand. I really do.”
“Then why aren’t you doing something?”
I rolled my eyes. This was pure torture. Women, a support system at one end of the spectrum, can also be bitches at the other end.
“Listen, I need my car keys. I have to go pick Avi up. Can you stop berating me for the past and help me find them?”
She moved to check my bag then. I could tell it wasn’t only the support group but she too, who wanted an explanation for my absence. I missed a rally they organized outside a member’s workplace because she was fired due to budget cuts. You may think that’s completely plausible but here’s the catch and the cause for suspicion. They were the only two women in a group of ten and they both lost their jobs. The remaining eight men stayed on and also received bonuses. “Right under their nose” was beautifully exemplified by this incident.
I missed because I had a work call. On a Sunday, no less. But I had to attend. My livelihood rested on my attendance. In these trying times, a minor mistake was a major excuse. As you can see above, the lack of a penis was excuse enough for being sacked.
“Look,” she said. “I know it’s not easy. I understand. You have a family to support and hence can’t take risks. But we must take risks to be heard! We have the support of the men too in this. They understand our oppression. They can see it is a proportion of their own kind who are doing this. Is it too much to ask for you to support in this united agenda?”
“Sophia, do you think I’m against feminism? That by not showing up, I am pro-sexism?”
She grew quiet.
“Do you think I do not support equal pay, don’t speak against harassment or support anti-abortion laws?”
She was simply looking at me now.
“Do you think leaving the scumbag I was married to wasn’t a step toward being an independent woman? You know how he abused me. I’m there for any woman who wants to escape. I’ll urge them to do so. That’s our support group for, you know. Isn’t that something for now?”
“I go to work every day and put up with shit for a lower salary, for what? Do you think I like it?”
“I never said you didn’t have problems, Maya..that is what we are trying to do, can’t you see? We are hoping that our voices are heard and that we make a difference,” she opined.
“I want to be heard, I honestly do. But I have two kids to feed and educate. I can’t lose my job. Hence, I choose to not make a display. I can’t afford to do so.”
“We could all lose jobs over this, you know,” she said.
“I admit, that’s the difference between you and me.”
We had both stopped searching for the keys now. We were simply staring at each other, hoping to make the other see her own side.
“I’ll be there the next time. I’ll fight for equal pay, for abortion, for women empowerment. I will. But the abortion laws won’t change in the next six months and I will have to have this unwanted third child, Sophia. I can’t lose my job, even if it’s less pay than the work I do. I can’t. I just don’t have the security I need or the financial backing in case things go wrong. I am trying to do my bit. I didn’t let my kids and myself be abused by my ex-husband. I didn’t sleep with my boss to get the promotion that’s coming. I will make sure my baby girl knows her rights. I’ll make sure my baby boy understands feminism. I’m hoping to lead by example, Sophia. That’s my bit. That’s all I can do for now.”
And I walked out.
It was the least we can all do.
P.S. When I was a kid, I learned many lessons in history. I was taught about the evolution of women in society. It spoke about how women had no rights and we can vote today because we fought. It spoke about how women weren’t allowed to live if their husbands died and how the act of ‘Sati’ has more or less been eradicated. It spoke about how women can work and juggle profession and family. It spoke about how society is now accepting divorce or women from broken marriages.
The truth is that we are still being stereotyped. It is still a man’s world. I see no difference in the times past and the present. It has improved for a section of the society, true. But the worse continues. Even the “improved” section faces discrimination. The rate of progress is appalling.
I am a woman who needs no man to tell her what she must do, how she must live and what she must say. I do not need a man to direct my life. The flaw in the system is that it is an accepted norm still. Either men are unaware of their oppression or they prefer having the upper hand, or the women are simply unaware of their rights and hence fail to fight for them.
I may earn more than my future partner. If this upsets him, he won’t be my partner for long. I may have to move for work. If he chooses to not adjust even though he can, we will have to rethink our relationship. If I must choose to either work or handle a household and all my partner decides to do is impregnate me? Well, I’ll find a new father for that child. I have only ever asked one man for permission to do something – my father. I do not intend to extend that list. He too has always allowed me my freedom. A new man in a nascent relationship has many years to go.
And it is through this mentality of mine, which I will pass on to the generations ahead, that I am contributing to the feminist movement. I may not be joining marches or naming names, but I am calling BS on what is appropriately so. Women need a platform to express themselves in the trying times today. That is the need of the hour. An entire half of the world is facing oppression. That’s not progress for mankind. Women need security to do so. It’s easy to say, “risk it for the greater good.” I thought ten times before putting up this post! I was worried about making a statement because of possible Gilead-like consequences! Women are scared. Some of them are. For victory, I know we must all speak up but the complexities need to be acknowledged.
A big thank you to all the women and men who stand for us and represent us all in the best way that they can. They are using their positions of power to do the right thing. A pat on the back for all who, like me, try to do things in the best way that they can. I understand, safer options may not sound grand, but every little rebellion counts.