I never associated the term ‘feminism’ with my father. Not until I started paying close attention to the true meaning of the word - Equality of Genders.
My father grew up with three sisters. That’s three times the pain of seeing someone you love, leave. He was probably not a feminist back then. He understood and accepted the ways a patriarchal society works. He married my mother and nothing changed. He stood up for her when he needed to, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Except for the time he insisted she get a job in All India Radio because she was immensely talented and he couldn’t let that go waste. Or the times he would take her for Kavi Sammelans (Poetry recitals), a predominantly male activity back then, and encourage her to take on the mic. Or when he himself designed the cover of the very first book of poems that she would ever publish. So, you know, nothing a middle-class man living with his parents in the 80s won’t do.
He was still not a feminist.
He wasn’t one when he introduced me to the concept of a Toolkit and taught me the basics of changing a tyre, or when he let me find my own way through the streets of a busy Mumbai where I moved to pursue my dreams of being an animator (dreams that changed their path mid-way). He wasn’t a feminist when he encouraged my sister’s interest in Sports and sent her for tournaments to places we hadn’t even heard of. When he taught her to stand her ground and fight her own battles.
He wasn’t a feminist when he didn’t question my decision to move into my very own matchbox of an apartment back in Mumbai, when my relatives were already tracking my age. When he didn’t ask me how much money my boyfriend makes, when he proposed. When he didn’t send me off into the new family, with a lecture about how it was my NEW family. When he accepted my husband as a new addition to the family, without the frills of ‘daamad-ji’ hanging around.
But then one day, a year after my wedding, he sat me down. He asked me how things were and he told me a story. The story of his sisters, of how talented they were, how creative, how special. And then, how he saw them wither into the mundane. They are amazing wives, excellent mothers, but not their own anymore. Not the same ambitious, driven, talented women anymore. And he could not see that happen to me. He asked me never to stop being me. His only advice, to his married daughter was ‘Never change WHO you are, to fit WHAT you are’.
It was on that day that I first really understood all the things that he had done for us. I started noticing his interests around the house. How he insisted on helping my mother in the kitchen if we had guests over. How he bought her a car on her 50th birthday because it’s never too late to learn to drive. How he still gets her stories published in his company’s annual magazine.
My father has always been a feminist.
Because Feminism isn’t marching on the roads with banners demanding equality. It isn’t a community of man-haters with an agenda to take over the world. Feminism doesn’t say a woman should stop being a wife or a mother. All it says is, let’s meet mid-way. That a woman’s ambitions deserve the same respect as a man’s. That bearing a child might be a woman-only job, but raising it requires equal participation. Feminism isn’t a bad, vengeful word. All it means is we are both equal. And he gets that.
My aunts, my mother, my sister and I, had together raised a feminist. I bet, he still doesn’t know it.
Vedangi Dandwate (Author)