In a recent family gathering over Rakhi celebrations, we were all chatting and laughing over jokes and conversations. Teasing cousins, pulling each other’s legs and revelling in a general sense of bonhomie and cheer, ones that only families can bring.
And then it was decided that we will all have lunch. Without exchanging words, the women got up and went inside the kitchen while the boys and men continued to sit revelling in the bonhomie and cheer.
The kitchen was suddenly a crowded place with more women than it could take – one to roll out the pooris, the other to fry, another one to serve and a fourth one just hanging around unknowingly between the kitchen and the living room because it would be odd to sit with the men while the other women stood inside the kitchen.
I wanted to scream when I was asked to go tell the men in the room, asking them politely to eat the food that had been cooked and served for them on the table. On the other hand, I was also worried that my 6-year-old would see this scenario and become one of those men who decide to keep sitting.
But what angered me more was that I did not call it out. I was scared of being the troublemaker. I was worried about being branded as the one who will create a scene. As someone who will demand more than what was assigned to her.
I had already expressed my desire not to celebrate Rakshabandhan as a festival anymore because it was patriarchal in nature – as binding as Karwa Chauth because I did not feel I needed anyone’s protection. Having ruffled many feathers because I expressed this desire was in itself a cause for guilt because it threatened the fabric of a family.
We do not want others to see holes in the quilt that covers us so we keep mending those holes. We keep putting patches of cloth over them in order to protect ourselves, not realising that that quilt needed to be thrown out long ago because its fabric does not have any strength anymore. That we need a new quilt. We need a newer way to live. We need newer ideas for a family structure to survive.
We have all seen this scenario playing countless times over weddings, funerals, family gatherings and the works. To an extent that women themselves judge other women for not playing ‘womanly’ roles that heterosexual marriages have imposed upon them.
Food and the availability of it is not a woman’s job.
Looking after a child is not a woman’s job.
Ensuring that the house is clean is not a woman’s job.
Because it does not come encoded in her DNA. It is something she has imbibed just like everyone else, from the people before her.
If we continue to play these gendered roles it can prove to be dangerous for both men and women.
While both sides have taken an extremist stand to the situation from time to time, it is now imperative that men and women come together and overturn this patriarchal structure because it does not just harm women. It also harms men.
First and foremost, men need to acknowledge the fact that they have received privileges over generations that women have been excluded from. An acceptance of the situation is the first step towards understanding it. Women also need to stop caving in to situations at home and work which constantly feed the very cycle that they want to get out of.
Secondly, men need to support women, starting with those in their lives. Mothers, sisters, partners and friends. This can be done by respecting their choices and at times, even encouraging them to make healthier choices for themselves. Women too need to acknowledge that they do not have to play second fiddle to someone else be it a partner or a child in order to form a sense of identity.
Men and women saying that it doesn’t happen to me or around me is not enough anymore. If you have received support in your life, pass it on to those around you. That is the only way we will all move forward.
Men and women who do not care for what society thinks are deemed ‘dangerous’ because they are the ones who tip the balance in the relationships. They are the ones who threaten the social fabric, demanding change.
A change for equality – one that is gender agnostic. One that allows individuals to be who they are. Not because they tick all the right boxes that their gender puts them in.
I did not want to celebrate Rakshabandhan because the only thing I need protection from are my own fears and doubts that add to the self-sabotage of whether I am good enough if I am not performing a prescribed role that someone else defined for me, without asking for my consent. I want protection from these ill-conceived ideas of what is expected of me in social gatherings.
And the quilt that I have right now is not enough to protect me from these evils. In fact, that quilt of what comes under ‘family and social ideals’ is exactly what needs to be thrown out.
Because on that day while I did not scream and call it out, I was the first one to take a plate for myself and eat the food that was served on the table.
Perhaps calling it out is not always the answer. Setting an example is. It’s time we share the seat on the table and share space in the kitchen and the outside world. Taking a small step at home will go a long way in shaping the outside world.