The Feminist Phenomenon

Girl: I wish I did weed properly at least once. I have completely quit smoking though.

Boy: Ah…that’s great. But you are not a ‘strong woman’ anymore, at least not the Anurag Kashyap way!

Trust me, this is not a conversation snippet that I have conjured out of thin air. Like every other work of art/fiction it is ‘a slice out of life’; a blatant one at that. And it set the ground for a very interesting topic: Symbolism in the Feminist Movement.

I am not quite well-versed in the history of Feminist Movement. I know a bit about the suffragettes (First-Wave feminists), a wee bit about the Second Wave Feminists with a dash of Plath and Beauvior and a vague thing called Neo-Feminism or Lipstick- Feminism.

I am of the opinion that by and large, Second-Wave Feminism is the apple of every feminist’s eye (and the albatross around the neck for die hard chauvinist/’masculinists’).

The elegantly smoking woman who did not quite care about her ‘feminine attributes’ or did not adhere to the image of the ‘conventional woman’ was a very second-wave phenomenon. Feminism as a concept developed in the United States before spreading to other parts of the West and more recently Asia (or is it just India?). Look at some of female authors from the early and mid 20th century: Ayn Rand, Patricia Highsmith, or even Virginia Woolf. None of them are self-proclaimed feminists (unlike Beauvoir) but they all embodied the independent and strong woman with the cigarette!

Rand, in particular, made the quintessential fag a runaway hit. Plath, on the other hand was an anguished woman, ‘burdened with family and expectations’ but wanting to break free of it all. Her much-celebrated novel The Bell Jar is by all means semi-autobiographical in nature. I am not quite sure if she made any significant contribution to ‘the cigarette symbolizes the strong woman’ cause though.

Enough about the cigarette (and the West). I come to more familiar terrains. India. Home. Needless to say ‘the cigarette’ looms large.

But so do certain other things such as the clothes one wears (or doesn’t wear), if one wants to have body hair, whether or not to wear make-up or even if one wants to support her breasts!

Kalki Koechlin gave a very ‘powerful performance’ at the recently concluded India Today Conclave about ‘how difficult it is to be a woman’. The video was some 16 minutes or so long. I think I only watched the first 6-7 minutes. She talked about all the above and how ‘basically you want to be George Clooney’ but then you don’t have the license. And indeed what a ‘performance’ it was! Clad in satiny white robes (pardon my vague description, but I am no fashionista), an impeccable hairdo, not a trace of hair on her body and the perfectly made up face with that adorably bee-stung lips.

Tell me Kalki, who stopped you from making an appearance in a stained shirt, tattered denims, an unkempt bun and hair on your arms (sorry but you won’t be able to grow a beard like Clooney unless you took testosterone shots, and quite a bit of it, and I am sure you wouldn’t want to).

The fact is, most of us do not feel comfortable in our own skin without the make-up, without the perfect hair, without the nice dress and with the hair on our bodies (out of shape or not). No one really forces us to ‘be a certain way’, at least not the ones who matter. And the rest – viz- ‘society’- does it really matter?

So ladies, smoke if you want to, leave hair on your body if that makes you comfortable, wear a crumpled shirt if that makes you feel free and also do not wear a bra, if you think you don’t mind all the discomfort not wearing one causes and wear the shortest of shorts if that really makes you feel ‘liberated and equal’ to men (and other sundry beings because feminism is after all about ‘equality’).

And for those of you who think I have ‘regressive’ views and ‘misogynist/sexist’ tendencies… well I don’t give a shit! Oh that’s another symbolic thing. I ‘swore’ and hence I have achieved ‘equality’. Duh!

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