Written by Himani Dias
Content warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault, abortion, genital mutilation, and pregnancy/childbirth.
I like to think I’m a feminist—much distortion has been done to that word. For me, feminism stands for—and it’s the same definition you would find if you Google the word—‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ The word ‘feminist’ has been manipulated by media outlets so much that it has now become synonymous with ‘crazy woman’. No one calls a man ‘crazy’.
I don’t think there is any doubt that females have been the disadvantaged sex throughout time. In the past, women were seen as homemakers. I don’t disagree with that—a woman does make a house a home. She was also seen as a means to procreate, to extend generations—I don’t disagree with that either. Females have been blessed with the privilege of bringing new life into this world. I am not trying to glorify or romanticise the woman, but forgive me for believing that being able to push a baby out of a vagina is a tremendous task. Being able to create, hold, nourish, and deliver a new human being—new life—into the world is pretty magical to me, but with that ability comes a lot of pain. A woman deals with the shedding of her uterus from puberty to menopause. Roughly forty years’ worth of bleeding for about a week every month. The nausea, cramps, pains, and bloating a woman experiences are no joke. The fact that girls carry out their lives walking around and accomplishing their dreams whilst bleeding for days is pretty impressive to me. Childbirth is no joke. Hours of labor, excruciating pushes, torn tissues, moved bowels, shed tears, and then finally a child is born. Her mind and body will never be the same again.
It doesn’t end there. Then comes breastfeeding, staying up late and praying that their baby falls asleep. A woman mothers her child into adulthood—physically, mentally, and emotionally. We need to give more credit to our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. Fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers are amazing too, but this piece isn’t about them.
Women deal with double standards and hypocrisy their whole lives. This is what needs to be said: Feminists don’t want women to be crowned queens over all humanity. They just want to be treated equally to men. Growing up, a boy is expected to experiment sexually—this is how he becomes worldly, a ‘man’. When a young girl does this, she is deemed a ‘slut’. Do not cringe as I speak the truth. Cringe when this happens on a daily basis, in real life. Men don’t get grilled about their past relationships before marriage. No one seems to care about their sexual history. But when a woman is about to wed, she is expected to lay bare all relations she’s had. In Sri Lanka, where I come from, a woman is expected to have an ‘unbroken hymen’. The hymen is not a medically recognized way of identifying virginity, but that’s beside the point. Virginity is not a way of determining the virtue or worth of a woman.
Women have to deal with consequences if she chooses to flaunt her assets. Lord forbid, if she even remotely expresses her sexuality, the world will blow up. I don’t want to be seen as a woman who pretends to be a feminist by attacking men. However, in my experience, it isn’t rare for some men to go around saying ‘I’ve tapped that’ after a relationship ends. This is 2021 and this is what happens.
We live in a world where some men, and somehow even some women, disregard a woman’s right and her judgement—a world where women have to cop the blame and change their completely normal lifestyles just so that they can survive. We live in a time where rape victims are blamed for provoking the desires of men. How about men learn to keep it in their pants? If a woman accidentally gets pregnant, made even worse if out of wedlock or underage, the world is ready to tell her to ‘lie in the bed you made for yourself.’ A woman does not ask to get raped. A woman does not get pregnant by herself. Why is the man who commits the act of sexual violation able to get away by saying, ‘she wore a low-cut dress’, ‘she shouldn’t have walked home late’, ‘she was just a beggar’, ‘she shouldn’t have flirted with me’? Why isn’t the man who gets her pregnant subjected to the same social scrutiny and trial as the woman he has impregnated?
I don’t understand how, being the obvious victim in all scenarios I’ve discussed, women are the ones who are expected to change so that they won’t be hurt. In some cultures, women are made to feel filthy for natural occurrences such as their period. Girls are sometimes cast out of their homes to live in shacks until the bleeding has stopped. Girls who are menstruating aren’t advised to go to Buddhist and Hindu temples because they are seen as ‘unhygienic’. This is the treatment that the female body receives.
Genital mutilation—which is the non-medical practice of removing external female genitalia partially or completely—is performed on young girls so that their ‘purity’ will be preserved until matrimony. These procedures are excruciatingly painful, have no medical benefit, and are sometimes fatal. In addition, free birth control can’t be accessed in many nations due to the social stigma and taboo around sex. This increases underaged pregnancies and mortality rates during delivery. Due to prevalent patriarchal tendencies in India, women now cannot legally know the gender of their babies until they are born because of the disproportionate number of abortions of female fetuses. What kind of sick world do we live in where a mother can’t know if she is having a boy or a girl because of fears that these pregnancies will be unlawfully terminated?
This brings me to reproductive rights. I cannot believe that the human race has come this far and yet remains so behind. How do male-dominated government bodies make decisions regarding the legality of the termination of unwanted pregnancies? I don’t understand. No woman asks to be ‘knocked up’ just so she can get an abortion. It takes a mental, physical, and financial toll on her, not to mention the inordinate amount of stress which comes due to the stigma around pre-marital sex and pregnancies. It affects her religious beliefs and moral conscience and poses a considerable risk to her health and life. It’s important to understand that even women with mental health issues, with some guardianship and psychological counselling, should have a say about their body, their baby, and their life. I say this because we live in a world where it is easier to be raped than have access to mental health support.
Having said all of this, it is difficult to be optimistic about the present injustices that the women of the 21st century face. However, there are progressive measures that make me see that where there is life, there is always hope. After the infamous Nirbhaya case in India, the severity of punishments for rapists has been increased. New Zealand has taken the initiative to provide free sanitary products to schoolgirls. Movements and initiatives now run in Africa and India about destigmatizing the period and the pad. And more and more governments including Australia and New Zealand endeavor to achieve equal gender representation in parliaments. While these don’t make the world a better place for women overnight, they are steps towards the larger goal that help me breathe a little easier.
When I become a mother one day, I hope my daughter doesn’t have to live in the suppressing world that her ancestors found themselves in. I hope that, when the time comes, when she is ready to explore her own self, unlike all those before her, she will not have to worry. She deserves that world. I deserve that world. So does every woman who walks this earth.
Himani Dias is a third year Bachelor of Arts student at Deakin University. She spends most of her spare time reading, writing and watching Netflix.