Women, ladies, girls, sister, mother, daughter, wife. Feminism, gender. Have thought about each of these a lot over the last couple of years to the point that my head aches and I get all confused. Of course studying gender has meant that I couldn’t really avoid it, but even my own experiences as playing out some of these roles has made me think much (too much time on my hands haha!). I feel like its everywhere, all around me, but that is because I have chosen it to some extent, and carry this lens around me wherever I go (because I love it!). Well I do spend a lot of time working in this area to, in a project called Creators of Peace, that is about women’s empowerment and peace-building. We do a range of activities in the UK and around the world, and we’re planning a conference in 2016 all about it. I’m off to Vienna next month for the 7th Fundamental Rights Platform Meeting at the European Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna, to facilitate a discussion about gender and security with policy makers, NGOs and more on the issue. So yes I guess I am living and breathing it.
I went to the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre recently and absolutely loved it. My first event was seeing Malala speak to a full house in the Royal Festival Hall, she said “women are not discriminating against because they are weak, people are scared of their power” and I had to agree. This young girl is one hell of a brilliant public speaker. I like to think I am pretty confident and articulate, and write fairly well. But when it comes to public speaking I speed up too much and get nervous. This teenager studying her GCSEs in Birmingham is one smart cookie, she really is. She ‘s been defending the right to education for girls for a very long time, way before she got shot. The thing I like about her most is that she puts clearly on the agenda the fact that gender inequality is rife in the global north, the West that is. We spend so much time talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan – yes I know its important and we all need to know what’s going on – that it overshadows what is happening on our doorstep, the violence in the private sphere and the inequalities in employment right here in Europe. When I was studying gender for my MSc there were tears, anger, confusion; the lot. I was also annoyed as I felt my course was one-sided and did not explore masculinities, they should rename the course Feminisms and International Relations. I studied Men and Masculinities during my undergrad and loved it. I felt my course was a little one-sided, and as much as I am a feminist, I don’t want to be the feminist that the person on the street thinks about, as feminism is totally misunderstood by many, as actually it takes on so many different meanings in different contexts. Women are confused. Feminists are confused. I often find it is other women that are standing in my way, critical of my ambitions, failures or success, they are often the enemy standing in your way. These days you can’t win if you want to look sexy, you’re too sexy, too strong, not strong enough, flirty, too blokey perhaps…damn!
I found it refreshing when I listening to Vivienne Westwood speak the following day, stating she does not like to label herself a feminist – the first time I said this at the University of Bristol some of my fellow course mates went into attack mode. How could I let the side down? Well, as much as I am a feminist in my own way, I don’t need to shout it out and write it out on my chest in the same way as don’t choose to scream and shout I am Indian, Sikh, British etc. Ok I might shout now and then, but generally I’m just happy being a human being with all the madness going on around me. It does not mean I am in denial of the inequalities or injustices at all. I loved Westwood. She said when wannabe designers contact her for advice, she tells them it’s not all about the courses and lectures. Becoming a good designer is about knowing yourself and the world, living and reading as much as you can so that you can give something of value, depth and worth back. The woman is rocking it. Aged 72 and she looks cool.
Next I catch Ruby Wax talking about neuropsychology and I love that she voices out loud in her quirky style what I am always thinking. That a lot of the world is staving and suffering in poverty, and that we in the West are suffering thanks to a whole heap of mental illnesses we live and breathe daily. Comparing our lives with others, glued to laptops, running on treadmills at the gym because we’ve created machines to do the manual labour at home that would’ve kept us healthy as long as we ate properly. It’s all a joke really. Everyone trying to get a slice of happy, live the way they tell us to, tick all of the boxes and try to avoid all the ‘bad’ things that can happen in life such as death of loved ones, divorce, not finding love, illness, losing jobs, losing money etc, which all in fact are a key part of the journey teaching us things, giving us pleasure and pain, making us grow, revealing other truths if we let them, and no one really knows what is going on really. Love Ruby, sod what everyone else thinks. Go on, I dare you.
I’m the youngest in my family, with four older siblings doing the marriage, mortgage, car and kids thing. It’s interesting watching from afar the changes, routines and developments, that are happening, to them and to me too. I think of when my parents came to England, and how our lives have been different to theirs. I love going home to visit family. It’s never for very long due to a range of commitments, but always good to be home and feel grounded around the people you grew up with, even though we’ve that changed so much and are so different to each other. Dad isn’t there and the nieces and nephews are growing up. Since I’ve been ‘unemployed’ this year I’ve had a lot of time to think about so many things, it’s been brilliant in many ways. I was also able to spend some real quality time with my mum over Christmas and new-year. Normally it’s too much turkey, chocolate, crappy TV and a trip to Debenhams or BHS where mum’ll buy me new pyjamas and underwear. But this time was different, I had a few more days. I love the time I spend with my mum now more than ever. Since I lost dad I value it more and she gives me another piece of her childhood, time in India, or stories of when she arrived in England each time. I knew mum didn’t really go to school as a kid. It really upset her and she never really got over it. She was denied of an education that from early on dictated the life she would lead. She told me recently that my dad had promised her father in India that my mum would get an education in England. But my dad in the end was protective of mum, and she didn’t go to school for a single day. Mum told me of her days as a teenager and how it felt to be at home alone while dad was at work. It pains me even now to think about her experience, and I think of all the books I’ve been reading and all the problems over there, how its so critical as mentioned in the Millenium Development Goals that we need to educate women to reduce poverty in the world and achieve equality. And I think to myself I could read a million books, but these issues for me start at home, they are in my own backyard, in my lap. Life is funny like that, when things come full circle.
Bless my lovely mum. She isn’t fluent in English but she is one hell of a smart cookie, a woman of steel that has taught me so many things. As I’m heading home for mothers day this weekend I think about her journey, and how mine has been so radically different, so so different it amazes me. Mothers are wonderful beautiful beings. Throughout my life I never thought about wanting to be a mother, or how many kids I want. But recently I have thought about it and actually I do want to experience motherhood, there’s way too much love inside of me for it to just stay there and not go to anyone else. Can’t wait to go home this weekend and see the most important person in my life. My mum.