Vani Subramanian

It’s that time of the year again. Those 31 days during which we, the 49%, have a chance to be seen and heard in ways somewhat different than the other 334 days. That brief window when we women may occupy the public domain as something other than those stereotypes best captured in ads where we crave to be white from our teeth to our vaginas, panic over the smallest pimple or roll of fat, stress over feeding husbands and pleasing mothers-in-law, and manage to achieve that mythical balance between being home-girl/working-girl, Sita/seductress, virgin/vixen, whatever/whoever… via something off the counter, of course. Because let’s face it, while we may engage with governments and NGOs, colleges and committees, mass movements and the media throughout the year, everyone knows that March is the springtime of ‘women’s issues’. Our calendars are testament – crowded as they are with planning sessions, meetings, conferences, workshops, seminars, book launches, film festivals, and yes, even deadlines for whimsical articles such as this! But do them we will, because the season is short. And this is our chance to assert ourselves as somewhat real women, with some what real issues, articulated in a somewhat real voice.

Some. What. Real. Really, that’s the best it gets.

We know that it is somewhere in between the media and the corporate ‘celebrations of the power of women’ and the world moving on to the next piece of sexy, we must make space to publicly remember the struggles of women who have gone before us, to lend our voices to those who wish to speak out today, to demand that wrongs against women be made right. With the festivities, protests, and yes, even there tail discounts that today extend beyond Women’s Day to Women’s Week and Month, ‘What’s the gripe?’ you would be right to ask, even if you aren’t joining voices with those who say, ‘We never get a Men’s Day, much less, a Men’s month, and anyway, women today are free enough, equal enough, liberated enough…’

ENOUGH. That’s the key word here. The moment we are described as ‘free enough’ and not ‘equally free’, ‘liberated enough’ not ‘equally liberated’ or not simply, ‘equal’, we know that having a Day, a Week, or even a Month in our name is simply not enough.

Woman Enough?

In my early days in a Delhi-based feminist collective called Saheli, I remember an autowala asking me what kind of office we had under the flyover – a ‘woman’s group’ I told him, and he was like, ‘Woh kya hota hai?’ (What is that?). Two decades later, that is unlikely to happen to any of us, almost anywhere in the country. In fact, we are at that juncture where the phrase ‘women’s issues’ has virtually become code: for the violence women face, the inequality we live with, the injustice we endure and the patriarchy within and around us. And since every self-respecting code needs a formula, it shall, for the purposes of this article, be henceforth referred to as w.i. :-).

It has taken decades of painstaking work for w.i. to gain such status. Some of us have sung and danced to make it visible, some have rallied amongst the people and protested against governments, some have networked globally, many more have worked locally, and yet others have chosen academic or artistic routes to imbue w.i. with all the meaning it holds today. In fact, it’s got to a point when almost everyone – feminists and traditionalists, mantris and media folk, children and adolescents… almost everyone knows w.i.

That, my dear, is precisely why we’ve got our knickers in a twist, as an old Saheli would say.

Such definitive ‘knowing’ of w.i. is the problem we face today. The dexterity with which the term is bandied about by all, has become its limitation. When we are identified as ‘Ye woh mahila wale hain’ (These are the women’s {issues} people), the key question to ask is of ourselves is, ‘Which ‘woman’and consequently, which ‘issues’?’

Indulge me a little mind game: what is the women’s movement, or indeed, even ‘woman’ in your mind when you think of violence or oppression or injustice? Is she young or old? Working class or middle class? Majority or minority? Agricultural or industrial worker? Tribal or urban poor? Landed or landless? Upper caste or Dalit? Local or migrant?Straight, gay, bisexual or asexual? Marked by her ability or disability? And what of those who no longer wish to be called women, but were born and raised as such, or those, born and raised as men, but who longer identify as that, or those that fall out of the male/female binary in biological or social terms, but think of themselves as women?

Does not the woman in our mind change with location and context? Clearly, we all talk of only some of the women, some of the time, not all of the women…

Of course, the mind boggles. But who said any of this was going to be, or ever has been easy?

Our coming together as a political entity called Women and in fact, a movement, more than three decades ago was a major turning point in society, law, economics, global relations, the works (not to mention, our personal lives). But one of our greatest challenges remains responding to the diversity among us. We know how many of us don’t fit into one, neat little definition of ‘woman’, yet so far, the truth is that even we within the women’s movement have stood at the door, implicitly asking the question: Are you ‘woman enough’ for our movement/group/concern and maybe, even care!

Let’s face it. For every new group of women who wrest their way into our consciousness/fight to make themselves heard by us, we simply add, but we do not stir. And so it is that our understanding of issues, and our ability to understand the nuances of different, multiple or cross-cutting identities and locations has not been shaken. At least, not shaken enough to significantly alter our political responses, make meaningful alliances, networks or indeed, relationships across these diversities.

As I look back at the many Marches (and marches) gone by, I see there are many more to come. Many more in which we must move far, far ahead of where we have reached so far. Because where we are is not enough, not for any of us. Not for many of us.

Footnote: As I write this piece while recovering from a hysterectomy, an age-old idea of being ‘woman enough’ comes back to bite me. By 49, I believe I have long laid to rest the question of whether I want/ever wanted to have children of ‘my own’. Yet, funnily enough, I find myself facing it anew, and receiving assurances about how I could adopt ‘even now’, become a mother yet. Arghhh! ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same,’ I mumble to myself irritably. That evening I receive a text from a friend: ‘Welcome to the gang of wombless-women.’ Feminism and the subversion it taught us are alive and kicking.

Now, if only we could learn to subvert ourselves some more!

Pic Source: By Saheli


Orginal Post here — http://www.tarshi.net/blog/i-column-woman-enough/