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CategoriesFemininities and SexualityThe I Column

A ‘girly’ feminist

My mother has always had one woe – I am not ‘girly’ enough.

Old, some soiled and rough at the edges, black-and-white photographs of my mother reveal a woman fashionable for her time. From well-fitted kurtas, bell-bottom jeans and neatly pleated sarees, hair always well-coiffed, her fashion and make-up ‘game’ remains alive and is thriving till date. Yet, the one daughter she reared runs away from everything fashion and make-up! She still hopes that someday I will convert and apply nail paint, but I haven’t conceded.

From my early childhood days, in addition to my mother, a motley group of people have always wanted to have some say in how I should groom myself. And since I have always been ‘languishing’ in books and studying, I am called a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ by society. It gets tougher when the time for marriage comes and ‘suitable’ pictures need to be clicked to share with matchmakers or or to be uploaded on a matrimonial website. Given that I shy away from all things ‘girly’, pray tell me, how do I present myself as a suitable future wife?!

In a conversation with one of my girlfriends, the topic turned to hair waxing. Our approaches were in complete contrast to each other. Peer pressure and the need to participate in some form of unavoidable beauty regimen meant that in my early teenage years, I went to a beauty parlour to get my legs and arms waxed. This, despite having negligible body hair! My girlfriend, whereas, confessed she had always been ‘hairy’ and hadn’t been allowed to get herself waxed as a teenager. Now, as an adult, she ensures she keeps those pesky hairs at bay since she thinks they look ugly. But this made us think about how social constructs lead us to believe that only certain forms of beauty and beauty practices make a girl a ‘girl’.

Popular media and culture reiterate the idea that men only date women who conform to certain standards of physical appearance and styles of clothing, which I did not,  and it was with some dismay that during my BA years I realised I had no fashion sense either. Attending a girl’s college had me encountering some beautiful and well-manicured girls and although college was a safe space, I always felt like I was falling behind when it came to looking a certain way. Not only had I not been endowed with the ideal body or face, I was amongst those who had trouble even in finding the perfect footwear!

Now, you might wonder if there’s something wrong with my feet. Finding a pair of heels or shoes should be easy enough. But alas, courtesy genetics, my feet are small, and broad at the front, which means that dainty, pointy and high-heeled stilettos do not fit me. Currently in my late 20s, I still marvel at why mainstream shoe companies and high-end brands simply do not cater to people with broad feet and how it can be a pain and a huge time-investment for someone like me just to find a comfortable fit. I dare say, unlike Cinderella’s stepsisters, I won’t be cutting off my toes anytime soon to fit into ‘prettier’ slippers. 

And, for as long as I can remember, I have despised the colour pink. Even as a child, I stubbornly refused to wear or buy anything pink. My brain couldn’t comprehend why, just because I am a girl, a particular colour was imposed on me and so I would rebel. Unlike me however, Roxane Gay, the American professor and author of The Bad Feminist loved pink but would proclaim to everyone that her favourite colour was black, in order to appear ‘cool’. And much like her there was a time when I would shun anything ‘feminine’ or ‘girly’ because I felt that to be a feminist, one has to look and behave in a certain way.

There was also a time when I felt guilty for wanting to have children and be a mother since I considered these roles unfeminist. Desiring motherhood meant veering into a more ‘girly’ territory, a notion that I had simultaneously been fighting and trying to embrace since childhood. I had understood that to be a feminist I had to be independent, be wary of men, dislike families and relationships. That to be a feminist I had to eschew any traditional roles that women held such as motherhood. It took a passage from Susan Brownmiller’s book Femininity for my mind to finally be put at ease,

If she has difficulty in satisfying femininity’s demands, if its illusions go against her grain, or if she’s criticised for her shortcomings and imperfections, the more she will see femininity as a desperate strategy for appeasement, a strategy she may not have the wish or courage to abandon, for failure looms in either direction (p. 16).

The last few words from the above passage, “…for failure looms in either direction” made me realise that any action or conduct of mine will come under judgement or perception. Reflecting on my beliefs and principles I learnt that just like Roxane Gay I might be a bad feminist but am committed to the important ideas of the feminist movement. Further, I started reflecting on how my personal actions were impacting the lives of those around me. Were my actions aligned with my ideas on how to fight misogyny, sexism and discrimination? If yes, then surely my wanting to be a mother is not in opposition to my being  feminist.

So, where am I now? Well, I happen to have in my wardrobe a bright pink jacket that is one of my favourites! But, to buy something pink required courage and for me to acknowledge that there exist multiple femininities and that all of them are valid.

Cover Image: Unsplash

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Article written by:

Anubha Sarkar is a final year PhD candidate at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. Her research, in which she explores the intersections between cultural economy, cultural policy and soft power, focuses on Bollywood.

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