Friday, August 07, 2009

Why I Am A Feminist - I

I was born into a household with lots of books. So it is hardly surprising that reading has been my greatest pleasure since I - well, since I could read. I remember when I was in Class 3, and my teacher was explaining the concept of 'hobbies'. One of the hobbies listed in the book was 'reading'. She said something like, "Some adults like to read books." And I was very surprised that she had classified it as something grown-up people do, for reading was the only activity in that list that I actually enjoyed.

I also started fantasising at an early age, conjuring up imaginary people and places and events. I had a whole host of imaginary friends and even enemies when I was about four, I think. But as I grew older, I realised that in my dreams - whether sleeping or waking - I was usually male. It disturbed me slightly at times, especially when I had dreams about saving some damsel in distress - and I wondered about my gender identity. It was only after I grew up that I realised that my assuming the male identity in my fantasies was little about my sexual (or even gender) preferences but only about the stereotypes embodied in the books I had read.

You see, in all the books I had read the heroine merely "waited to be rescued" (courtesy Shrek 3), while the hero did all the rescuing and adventureeing. And I wanted to be the one having adventures. I wanted to be climbing trees like Julian and Dick and George (though George was mocked for wanting to behave "like a boy"), not boiling water in a kettle for a picnic lunch like Anne (in the Famous Five series). (And I felt for George when she was made to help Anne cook and clean rather than join the boys in their activities.)

As I grew older and could understand better, I revolted against these constricting stereotypes: girls could have adventures too! There is nothing gender-specific about being bold and brave. You don't need a penis to stand up for what's right. Women can be heroes too, and not just by staying at home and knitting sweaters for the men who have gone to war.

Added two hours later: I just picked up the Second Sex to resume my reading, and came across this:
Thus the supreme necessity for woman is to charm a masculine heart; intrepid and adventurous tough they may be, it is the recompense to which all heroines aspire; and most often no quality is asked of them other than their beauty.
(emphasis mine)


Anonymous said...

Ditto! About being born into a home with lots of books. :)

Also, ditto about identifying with male heroes, and connecting more with a gender neutral sort of role, actually -- but that which is interpreted as more 'male' by people around us.

Oh, I didn't like The Famous Five for precisely that reason. :)

Just wrote out a long post about gender identity, after reading yours.

Unmana said...

Read and commented!

I actually loved the Famous Five, and all the Enid Blyton books I read. I did have this vague disquiet, but I wasn't a very critical reader then, I'm afraid.

AMODINI said...

I did like the Famous Five, and the Five Find-outers (remember Fatty ?), and my daughter loves them now. The George/Anne behavioral thing was a minor irritant thing though - the stuff in the Amar Chitra Kathas that is passed off for mythology worries me more.

Anonymous said...

I agree with whatever you have said...I loved all Enid Blyton books especially the Famous Five...The thing about her books is that they reflect the times they were written in...Yes, the gender roles may irritate us today but one must remember that the author wrote these books 50 years ago...

Unmana said...

Amodini: I LOVED the Five Find-Outers. Especially Fatty - and the youngest girl, whose name I can't remember.

I agree it was a minor irritant: but it adds to children's gender perceptions, and that's sad.

Anonymous said...

As usual, when I read your posts, I wonder why I even bother with my blog!:-)
a) I am kind of uncomfortable with any kind of 'isms' other than I guess hedonism
b) Most of the feminist I met ,were the ones who seems to have only one identity -that of being a feminist.Every argument/conversation/thought they had seemed to emanate from that single point, which frankly made them unbearable after a certain point.
I don't what my point is though :-)

Unmana said...

lostonthestreet: I know lots of people are uncomfortable with labels. I say I am a feminist simply because I believe men and women are equal. It gives me an answer to all the sexist (and even other kinds of) crap that's regularly thrown at us. Feminism gives me a frame to reference all that, helps me understand why it happens, makes me realise I'm not alone.

Hedonism may be a good start, though!

Anonymous said...

Fatty and Beth or was it Bets (?) for Elizabeth. I found Enid Blyton very nice but sexist. But there were some lively, lovable 'tom boys' - maybe her way to create real characters of all kinds.

I identified with Robinhood at a time, and I agree with everything you have written here.

Unmana said...

IHM: Ah yes, I think it was Bets or Betsy. The Famous Five would have been unbearable without George, don't you think? I had a crush on Julian when I was first reading it, but I recently reread one - and Julian comes across as such a pompous prig.

Sandy said...

This is surely an interesting blog. I am glad to have discovered this one courtesy IHM.