The gender game
The gender game

Feminists are meant to be straight-talking, brook-no-bullshit women, but do they sometimes play the gender games that they rail against?

The thing is, I’m a feminist. And, feminists (or so I was made to believe for a long time) aren’t supposed to say certain things. Being a feminist is like donning the white cloak of the queensguard, or taking the black of the Night’s Watch (RT if you’re as obsessed with Game of Thrones as I am). We serve for life.


We’re not supposed to say that before the cerebral cortex woke up from its ritualistic slumber (read: when the Cinderella-loving, happy ending-seeking, Bechdel test-failing, forever fat girls that still lurk in the dusty, forgotten corners of empowered women’s hearts need their fix of gendered clichés) and rolled its contemptuous eyes at dear Ana and Chris, we actually enjoyed 50 Shades of Grey. And, Darker. And, Freed. Gasp. Hell. Damnation. What? After all, it’s great to have a room of one’s own, but it’s also pretty darn awesome to have a gallant ser jousting in a tourney with your favour at his helm.


We’re not supposed to admit that there was a time, not too long ago, when we seriously contemplated leaving a well-paying, well-loved job to be with a parentally-approved man we were almost, sort of, mostly sure we could learn to love in time because we wondered, in alarm, if the womb was going to shrivel and the ovaries would sprout cobwebs before we’d gotten around to freezing our eggs. You know, just in case.


We’re supposed to maintain, unflinchingly, that our various profiles, the ones that are liberally sprinkled across the halls of online matrimonial sites, are actually the works of overzealous parents and aunts. App? What app? We’ve got no app for so-and-so website. And, there’s no way we accepted and sent out a bunch of expressions of interest at 2 am after cousin-who-is-7-years-younger’s wedding. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.


Despite all the things we say and don’t quite mean (some of the time) and the things we mean but don’t say (a lot of the time, to be honest) feminists are supposed to be straight-shooters. Apparently, we know what we want and we’re not afraid to go for it, all cylinders ablaze. We don’t play games. There’s no thrust and parry between the agenda and action. It’s linear, aligned and blessedly uncomplicated – but also completely untrue.


Over the years, I’ve come to accept some of the more corrosive effects of the hypocrisy that feminists like me often espouse, with the faint discomfort that comes with finding a shred of truth in what we want to dismiss outright. There, I said it.


Memory, age 7


A fight breaks out in the garden of our summer house. I see my cousin punch one of the boys, making him bleed. He yells. My cousin turns to her brother, two fat tears brimming in her eyes. A few minutes later, the mothers turn up and yank their kids back to their respective bungalows. Back home, kaaki slaps her son and asks who hit the boy. He says he did. His TV privileges are taken away for a week. She gets an ice lolly for being a good girl.


Memory, age 14


A friend hates taking the self-defense classes our all-girls school has recently made compulsory. Once every month, she sits happily on the sidelines, claiming that her “stomach hurts”. She always goes to M Sir, not K Ma’am, with her troubles. He averts his eyes and quickly waves her to the seat on the sidelines. One month, our friend forgets she’s used up her excuse a fortnight ago and rushes to tell M Sir that her stomach hurts. We see his mouth tighten as he does the math, but wild horses could not have made him have this conversation with a female student. She misses this class as well.


Memory, age 24


A cousin puts up a long, eloquent post on Facebook about how men and society take away women’s agency by making us believe we are dependent on them for protection and our safety. It garners likes in three digits and dozens of comments. She’s the same cousin who made her brother believe, all those years ago, that she was dependent on him for her safety.


Memory, age 28


I see the internet outraging for a woman’s right to post a photo of her stained (with period blood) pyjamas on Instagram. I choose to stay non-committal and decline a website’s request to write about the “issue”.  Personally, I don’t want to look at the photo — there’s nothing dirty about menstruation, but I prefer not to look at any ejected bodily fluids in general. Belatedly, I also wonder about the girls in schools across the country, banking on men’s queasiness and the shroud of secrecy surrounding menstruation to get out of annoying physical ed. classes.

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