One of the main reasons why I am so big on feminism and empowering women is because growing up, I had to hear things like “don’t be conspicuous”, “girls should be soft-spoken” etc. Don’t get me wrong. I have the most liberal parents. My parents gave both my sister & me world-class education in Singapore, they let me pursue my dreams. And they have always been so supportive about everything that we do or want to do. However, I wish, as young girls, we were taught to handle tricky situations and stand up for ourselves, a little better.
Parents are protective, and they want the most secure, safest upbringing for their kids. But I wish I was taught to trust myself more and care less about the society. I wish I was taught the difference between being dignifiedly quiet and meek. That line is very thin and it’s only now, as I am growing up, I am realising that my inability to speak up on some sensitive issues or stand up for myself boils down to what I was taught. Or not taught.
It’s not like I am not a confident person. I have been performing on stage since I was 3 or 4 years old. So, the issue is not about confidence.
It’s more about, “why invite more trouble”? Growing up, we were just told to focus on our studies, get good grades, pursue our interests but don’t attract ‘unnecessary or unwanted’ attention. I am sure my parents had good reasons. Like I said, they were just over-protective and for them, this was perhaps the most sensible route which they’d been also following.
The only thing they probably didn’t have much clue about was how other people were bringing up their children. As a teenager, I wish I was more vocal about what I felt, how I felt. I kept brushing issues under the carpet thinking “what’s the point”?
In the light of the current momentum that has picked up in the country (where comedian Utsav Chakraborty was called out on Twitter for sending unsolicited sexually explicit photographs to women) where women from media and the comedy circuit are speaking up and against many of their co-workers who had harassed them, I felt there couldn’t have been a better time for me to voice my thoughts. I’ll be honest. This movement has somewhere affected me and I just can’t emphasize the importance of speaking up.
So many women remain quiet because we are taught from young to dismiss the issue or to “not create a scene”. But that’s such an unhealthy way to deal with things. We are never taught to say no or to fight. We are only taught to stay away. It’s heartbreaking.
Many years ago, when I wasn’t treated well by a guy, I hardly had people taking my side. My side of story was discredited by the boys and the girls in my group because I didn’t have enough “proof”. I had a female colleague once, who said things like “let the guys lead because we girls are not capable of leading without bitching about each other”. I know of many women who do not want to be associated with the word ‘feminism’ because they think it’s all about male-bashing. And there might be so many people in our friend circle, who’d come across as woke and responsible beings but in reality, they are just the opposite. I can go on citing more and more examples which show that casual sexism and harassment are so rampant even in our so-called ‘progressive’ millennial generation.
But I am glad that today, women in India are now coming out with their stories. And the remarkable silence from so many male comedians shows how so many of them were complicit or at least in the know.
This is why it’s so important for us, as women and men, to speak up against any form of harassment. Guys, if you see any of your ‘bros’ misbehaving, please call them out! Don’t be complicit! And girls, I know it takes guts to come out and openly talk about this. But do speak up – this is the first step to fight it.
Harassment, especially sexual harassment, is a perversion of people and never a causation by the victim. And we need to have the capacity to speak up for ourselves.