8th March has become synonymous with International Women’s Day. It is a day to commemorate social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world, a world still battling to reconcile with the idea of gender equality; with the fact that every individual, regardless of their sex has an equal right to define oneself. This year, the theme for Women’s Day is 'Be Bold for Change'. ‘Bold’ in India, however, strays away from its etymological roots. Often associated with Munni ki ‘badnami’ and Sheela ki ‘jawani’, the term has more or less deviated from the notion of empowerment its Saxon origins signified - courage, confidence, of actively shaping your life.
Boldness quintessentially involves talking about issues that have been veiled as social taboos - matters of body, sexuality and desire. The controversy surrounding ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’, a movie censored for being “lady oriented” and talking of “their fantasy above life”, blasphemously involving "sexual scenes" and “abusive words” is a case in point. So a woman loses agency over her own body. Consequentially, it becomes a platform for the practice of societal norms and traditions. These expectations are ingrained within an entire section of population, further hammered in by ‘fair and lovely’ ads and politicians blaming jeans and chowmein for incidents of sexual assault. ‘Boys don’t cry’ and ‘Girls don’t curse’, ‘stay a virgin till you marry’ and ‘marital rape is absurd’ are normal advices that shape children. Plus, every age range comes with its own peculiar set of responsibilities as a girl treads on the arduous path towards womanhood. 20s to find “the one”, 30s to multiply with “the one”, 40s to endure “the one” and 50s onwards to pray for or mourn the loss of “the one”. Any digression from the set formula sends the world into a tizzy.
Tug of war over honours of communities and families are centred on a woman and her body. These Victorian conceptions overpower the rising middle class of India, the epitome of diaspora values - educated, pseudo-liberals mimicking the first world while their hearts remain firmly rooted in concerns of ‘izzat’ and propriety. Certain events become mirrors to reflect this hypocrisy. Families watching “Margarita with a Straw” in multiplexes, hoping for it to be non-Jadoo version of “Koi Mil Gaya” were in for a jolt. Here was a girl, plus with Cerebral Palsy watching porn in the first ten minutes. Aunties visibly gasped, uncles were aghast and teenagers smuggled silent giggles. Women can have sex, want it and enjoy it; was no longer merely etched on walls of Mount Abu or pages of Kamasutra. It was not a movie asking for pity, but demanding empathy for the turbulences any young adult goes through. A woman in sync with her desires and speaking her mind can often be much harder to accept than an Ujala blue alien helping a “special boy” become well, “normal”.
Menstruation presents one of the most overt rituals of gender segregation. Girls are given discreet lectures about the impending doomsday. How they can’t tell their fathers, brothers, future husbands about the monthly, visibly painful phenomenon, or suddenly indulging in pencil fights with male best buds is discouraged because they can’t be your wingmen to spot that wayward stain. Urban India may pride itself for not indulging in practices like having separate quarters for menstruating women, but an entirely natural body process is still shrouded in shame. There are secret sessions to deal with period-talk in schools strictly for girls, more hushed up than training Dumbledore’s Army being hidden from Umbridge (like boys don’t know about the mechanisms of uterus before that awkward biology class). Sanitary napkins sold have more layers and coverings than nuclear reactors. And the sudden advent of period at a public place is marked by the ‘walk of shame’ till the utilities arrive, making sure no one gets a sneak at the arsenal.
Being bold is not limited to what has come to be referred as ‘lean-in’ feminism of breaking glass ceilings. It also needs to diffuse into the monotony of day-to-day lives, which are significant sites of domination and gender discrimination. Women’s bodies are their business and to be taken pride in. They don’t need to adapt to a certain size, behaviour or manner. They are not to be controlled by the omnipresent ‘male gaze’. So, this International Women’s Day, march together not just to celebrate womanhood, but to challenge the overarching social mores. As parts of world seek to portray what a day without a woman would be, it is time to be bold in the true sense of the word. Burkha, sari, pants or skirt, lipstick or not, it is time we reclaim ourselves. #beboldforchange