Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are you a feminist mother?

Are you a feminist mother, Amma?

Had I asked my mother this question, her answer would have been “  I don't understand what feminist mother means'.

Right. My mother died 20 years back. There was no term like 'feminist mothering' during her time. And even if there was, I don't think it would have changed any of her philosophy of upbringing her three children. And yet I feel by today's definition of 'feminist mother' she befits the term with out even subscribing to the  ideology of feminism.

Let me introduce you to my mother.
My mother had masters degree in home-science from Pune's SNDT Women's University. She was was very interested in the political science and politics of her time. She was a trained singer and used to perform for All India Radio . Fluent in Portuguese , French Marathi, English and her mother tongue Konkani she was a competent teacher in math and science. And above all she was an avid sports fan. Specially Cricket. It she who explained me what a googly means in cricket.
One of the first few women in Goa who started a school. I used often get compliments from my friends mothers who would acknowledge her by saying “ had your mother not begged with my father to send me to school, I would have remained angutha chap ( illiterate). She was very active participant in Goa's freedom movement. And her contribution has been acknowledged in  Goa's history

And in-spite all this she lived a very humble life of a 'Indian woman'. By no imagination a feminist. Suffering all the travails of patriarchal society. As a young widow- she shouldered the responsibility of bringing children at a very young age  -two daughters and a son .

why do I feel my mother was a feminist mother ?

“The term 'feminist mothering' suggests, among other things, the effort to bring up both boys and girls as human beings without socialising them into rigid and hierarchical gender roles. It also suggests that women will claim choices about lives outside of their roles as mothers. When I use the term, I refer to a commitment to egalitarian gender politics while raising a child, as well as the effort to create an environment where a child is able to make choices and exercise agency. I think the dilemma I attempt to engage with is that of wanting to give one's daughter choices and help her learn to negotiate various risks, and at the same time keep her 'safe' in cities that are often seen as dangerous. says Shilpa Phadke, a feminist and  one of the avid proponent of feminist mothering. 

If this is what feminist mothering is about, than I have a strong case for my mother.
And here is why.

When I look at my childhood, what I realize is my mother never gendered her children. If we understand process of gendering begins at birth. It may start with a simple issues like You buy dolls for a girls? And guns for boys. Make a girl wear frocks that are pink in colour. You put a sweet pony for a girl . In short you 'doll' her up. My mother did nothing of this. She never bought dolls for me.  Or guns for my brother. Or dressed me in pink. Blue for my bro.  Nor did I have a cute pony. Instead My hair were cut by the same barber who came to cut hair for men and boys in the house. There was no feminist thought behind this but a simple practical step.  It was cheap to cut hair from a barber. So till age 5, I had men's crew cut. And often guests would mistake me for a boy. I wore all kinds of clothes shorts, frocks in all shades but pink.
In short, I was just  a child in the house  and not a girl child.

I grew up in a joint family where boys outnumbered girls. In fact we two sisters were only two  girls in the house against five boys that includes my own brother.) I did what what boys did in the house. And never ever my mother told me you can't do this because you are a girl.

Since it was boys world.
I Boxed. Wrestled. Cycled. Raced and lost. Climbed trees. Fell. Broke knees. Jumped off the balcony in the sand pit below. And broke my hand. Played with marbles. Betting money, won some and lost some. Smoked my first cigarette standing in corner. Went on hunting expeditions. Got bitten by bees. Played cards. Carom, badminton, football , cricket, ( and braced body line balling from boys ) marbles. I had a stake in everything what boys did. And at no point I was told, hey you are a different specie and you can't come with us. 

If I go back to my mother with a blue eye all she said was “ when you go out with boys you must know what you are in for. They are rough. If you don't like their ways don't play with them . But if you choose to go then you must be prepared for something like this. ” Her solutions were simple never play a 'girl card' . Again, there was no conscious feminist  thought behind these words. Whether a girl or boy you have a level playing field out there . If you want something , want an equal role  than face it with equal consequences. Probably a lesson  she learnt during freedom struggle, that going to jail meant nothing different for men and women. 

Growing up as a  teenager was no much different. Same rules applied to my bro as well we two sisters. Same deadlines.  12 am max. We had access to same places as boys. And same pocket money.
In fact I remember when the school complained about me refusing to join a cookery class meant for girls as part of extra circular activity; I wanted to take carpentry lessons.  My mother wrote on my report card: “She should be allowed to learn what she wants to learn.”

Children don't need instructions in gendering. They learn watching people around them. Specially- one's mother if you are a girl. That is how one forms idea of your own gender role. I saw my mother reading books. Debating and discussing complex topics. I saw her attending lectures and music concerts. Going to libraries and mostly spending long hours writing. Solving our most difficult math problems. She watched cricket matches on television sometimes staying late at night if the match was played in London. And had a keen interest in world politics. But she was also a  fabulous cook. And loved classical music and dance.

Yet she was very 'feminine' . Almost docile.  A typical 'Indian mother'. Being a staunch Gandhian she had very simple living taste. Wore cotton saris. And performed most of the jobs by herself in-spite of having litany of servants in home.  Beauty parlour and salons were not her reality so she never introduced us to that world as girls would. We grew up as plain Jane-s or country girls. When my friend told me how her mother used to oil her hair and groom her with specific perfume and make her stand in the church at a specific point to attract 'right' boy's attention. I was shocked to learn how my mother never told us such things. In fact when one of my distant cousin was being 'shown' to a boy for a arranged match , my mother clearly told us “ you don't have to go through this experience .”
Looking back, I don't remember her spending time in front of mirror. She was not interested in jewelry or dressing up, what generally women love. Whenever the family jeweler came home to take orders, my mother would never participate in it. She would walk away by saying 'tell him exactly what you want and he will do it”. In short she never did girly talk or girly things. I realized, in my college days why I was so unpopular among girls.

Interestingly mother had a very liberal and secular views specially on matters of gender. She had a very dear friend who was lesbian ( read my earlier blog. My mother's lesbian friend) http://deadlykali.blogspot.in/2011/06/my-mothers-lesbian-friend.html )
And when a Nigerian classmate of mine would visit our home she would take keen interest in learning his cultural background and never told me not to befriend African boys.

I can go on and on, why think she was true feminist mother by today's definition and yet for her such tags had no much meaning. Being a Gandhian,  her project was how to bring up  her children as good human beings. Not as girls and boys.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post!
    I am all ears whenever you start speaking about Amma.