Finding Harmony With Family Values While Being Feminist: "Feminists Are Yet To Feel Comfortable In Family Spaces"

 Finding Harmony With Family Values While Being Feminist: "Feminists Are Yet To Feel Comfortable In Family Spaces"

Finding Harmony With Family Values While Being Feminist_ichhori.webp

The sequence of awkward silences that invariably followed the question "Would you call yourself a feminist?" from a person who was asking me would be the moment, if I had to pinpoint it, that highlighted a personal conflict with the identification of being a feminist.

When family members, friends, or close acquaintances ask this question, more often than not, their tone and facial expressions make it clear that there is a subtle challenge attached to the inquiry. In contrast, if the question were answered affirmatively, assumptions would be made about the person being addressed. The position of a woman who identifies as a feminist is nevertheless a subject of great discussion in a middle-class setting that is governed by values and cultures that are also essentially middle-class in their sensitivities. These assumptions differ depending on the class and social group. My own issue with the feminist identity also manifests inside this paradigm.

As a result of my persistent efforts to involve myself and a few of my friends in activities that were frequently only open to boys, such as lifting chairs for events or claiming space on the school grounds for our games among boys playing football, I have come to be known for my "boy some-ness," as one of my classmates innocently put it.

Such a response from a youngster who was just my age when I had just started high school was also not unusual in a setting where the majority of students belonged to the middle class.

The ideologies and values that I developed as a result of my academic exposure and personal development that critique patriarchy through feminism, however, started to conflict with the fundamental values that I grew up with as I became more aware of the unhealthy power relations and issues of gender inequality in society. The only way to resolve this conflict—which took the form of many disagreements between close friends and family—was to agree to disagree.

Being raised in a typical middle-class family meant internalizing several perspectives, moral standards, and value judgments that are indisputably associated with these social circles. I, therefore, had several deep misgivings about the body and female agency when I was growing up. This is reflected in the way discourse around sexuality and anything that could be interpreted as sexual, right from clothing choices to relationships, were portrayed as shameful and my contrary views on these subjects were framed and voiced only in recent years.

Similar inputs that bore religious authority from places like the Sunday school and Catechism classes served to further amplify the values that were inculcated through cultural and familial institutions within the greater framework of class and society. To preserve the "innocence" of a group of teenagers, I recall one of the professors telling us not to look at movie posters on the walls that featured "scantily dressed performers."

Because it appeals to the greater image of a "typical middle-class family," advertising portraying a mother who is constantly cooking or cleaning and a father who is preoccupied with work become a standard image that is not changed even if many modern families do not fit this image. This is also the reason why films like Thappad jolt us awake because they highlight the subtle microaggressions and patriarchal dynamics at work in a middle-class family that appears to be happy and where it is implied that feminism is not necessary to deal with "just one slap."

It broadens one's viewpoint by exposing us to newer narratives and views when we study gender as a site of power and control that is used by dominant patriarchal forces to maintain the subjection of all factions who do not subscribe to the prevailing ideology. Many of my key ideas drastically changed along the way to becoming broader and more inclusive, and they also diverged from some viewpoints that were a part of my cultural and class-based upbringing.

When a future husband, who is unquestionably expected to be in the picture, is brought up in conversations about having a tattoo or piercing, it often raises the chance that he won't approve. Even the idea of continuing one's education overseas somehow ends up being inextricably linked to a cost-benefit analysis of how it would impact one's likelihood of getting married.

It was startling to see that the absurdity of having my every minute decision regarding my body or my education linked to a fictitious husband figure and his approval had been rendered not silly at all. This actually demonstrates how ingrained the idea of male approval is when it comes to the agency of women.

Certain roles are unquestionably modeled for women to fill within the framework of a middle-class family and society. When people want to alter or question these norms, they are labeled as "those ladies" who are "too modern" or "too high-class," which inevitably causes isolation. Feminists may now be accepted in middle-class families and cultures, but they haven't yet developed a sense of security and confidence in these settings.

Words like "feminist," which circulated in offensive comment sections on social media, became part of a substantial segment of the Malayali population's vernacular over time. Most women from these classes and backgrounds experience discomfort, complexity, conflicts, and hesitation when it comes to identifying as feminists because of the cultural meanings of words like these and the attitudes they shape.

Within such a status quo, choosing to identify as a feminist and sustaining particular familial values and cultural backgrounds become mutually exclusive options.

However, there have been good developments in the way Malayali women have taken back the term "feminist," which has resulted in a radical reversal in its connotations. Public figures like Parvathy T. K. and Rima Kallingal, who flaunt accessories and tattoos that blatantly announce their feminist viewpoints, are notable for having pioneered this trend.

What began as a backlash against these performers who spoke out against misogynistic movie dialogue and gave TedX speeches on feminism, evolved into an expression of empowerment that disavows its own humiliating implications.

With the help of Instagram and Facebook groups where scathing gender analysis meets razor-sharp wit, forces with roots in the middle class and who share similar feelings took on the work of demolishing this phrase. Furthermore, they undermine the legitimacy of ideas like moral policing and idealized character characteristics like "adakkaam" and "othukkam," which loosely translate to norms of modesty and gentleness required of women, as well as the offensive potential of words like these.

These initiatives slowly open the door for strong feminist women to challenge patriarchal notions without fear of ridicule or retaliation.

The visual media and greater culture, which symbiotically affects and draws itself from class sensitivities and societal conventions, would also reflect this as more women felt confident and empowered to break away from these narratives of physiological restriction and ideological subjection. To end the conflict, I started with, a rewriting of these demeaning definitions and antiquated ideals can be seen as a sign of hope.

Every time I gave a hazy response to the question, "Would you call yourself a feminist?" there would inevitably follow a period of trying introspection. These thoughts frequently resulted in regret for not being more adamant about my beliefs and frustration. The challenge is to progressively close the gap between discriminatory family and class beliefs and ideals of feminism and progressive thought, as these ideas frequently conflict with one another and cause women to feel insecure, conflicted, and lost.

This would help to ensure that future responses to this issue would be more confident and aggressive as well as supported by strong belief and encouragement from those around them. I am encouraged to think that the next generation of feminists, from all social classes and cultural backgrounds, will be more conscious of and secure in their views on feminism and what it means to be a feminist—one who not only claims space but also feels at home and powerful there.

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