Over the past few months, I’ve had the good fortune to come across people who believe in uplifting others and empowering those around them. Many have termed me as ‘brazen’, ‘brave’, ‘confident’, etc. I’m not trying to get social media affirmation in any way but when you live your life in a particular way which isn’t immune from criticism, such compliments help you stay on track and remind you why you chose such a path in the first place.
Criticism comes from all directions – family, friends and even strangers on the internet. My social media posts have always been bold and unapologetic. Whether its my posts about politics or embracing my views towards sex which might come across as unconventional to my family. Not long ago, I had relatives who sent screenshots of certain pictures of mine from Instagram to my parents. To me, there is nothing wrong in those pictures. But the context in which it was sent to my parents and the accompanying lecture they had to listen to about the way I was living my life made the pictures the most evil thing in the world. What followed was a frantic phone call from my mother in Delhi, yelling at me and then crying in the end like any good mother would do. Amidst all that yelling and drama, I chose not to change the way I live my life. My mother begged for reassurance that I will never post any explicit picture again. I refused to give any such reassurance.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my parents and appreciate everything they have done for me. But the ‘log kya kahege’ attitude is my biggest pet peeve. I asked my mother why didn’t those relatives ever call them when I posted about my achievements on social media? Why did they only decide to call now and that too particularly about my dressing? And why didn’t my cousin approach me first? Because in India, our society works on this structure where parents have authority over how the child lives his life, regardless of the age. Yes there is paradigm shift these days but I was caught in the crossfire. Being your own person in a way which doesn’t sit well with the people around you can be difficult.
Marriage is not my goal even though sometimes I don’t have clear career goals. Marriage isn’t a settlement, an end goal or means to anything for me. But I’m happy for those who want to get married at any bloody age they like. This is despite the fact that my mother told me when I was 17 that she wanted me to get married by 22-23. No arguments. I’m 22 now and my parents refuse to talk about marriage till I’m 26. I was raised by parents who were conservative with a mix of liberal about many things but I refused to change the person I am, no matter how hard it was at times. But is it worth it?
I have seen both ends of the spectrum. My high school wasn’t some brilliant platform where you could fully grow and flourish and recognise your potential. If anything, gossips, rumours, social life, parties, cliques etc would be the dominant factors shaping your mentality. And here’s the harsh reality – I was, regretfully, involved in the slut-shaming, gossiping and judging. Questioning another girl’s character based on how she dressed and who she dated started coming as naturally to me as eating food. But being on the receiving end of that gossip slowly made me realise how misplaced these judgements can be. It also made me question who I really was. How did a junior school introvert, always interested in Nancy Drew books, evolve into this? It was a mere cover that I had put on unintentionally as a fight or flight response to the toxic mentality we see in high school. Its true, teenagers can be mean. I want to apologise to all those who I have ever hurt or said mean things about.
Growing out of that and being your own person is worth it. Being unapologetic about it is even better. In the past few years I’ve learned so much about what women empowerment truly means. Kindness and love go a long way. I’m not completely over my bitching phase but I’m learning with every step I take in life.
Sarahah gave me this amazing opportunity to send messages of love to those who I have seen travel on the journey of self-realisation and evolution. While constructive criticism does help a person improve, positivity helps them realise that at least they’re on the right track and its worth the rocky road.
People’s reaction on social media to rape victims is heartbreaking at times. Questioning where they went, why and what they were wearing is the cruelest form of victim blaming. And to see women do it hurts even more. Sometimes I wonder, if I hadn’t evolved from the mindset I was carrying around with me in high school, would I be one of them? Would I also be hiding behind my screen, terming the victim as shameless or characterless for living life the way she wants to?
I was somewhat privileged to attend a high school that at least gave me the opportunity to meet people across different backgrounds and personalities and to be able to go back to a home where I could afford being headstrong and ‘rebellious’. Those factors somewhat aided the evolution of mindset. But what about those who go to high schools where teachers do moral teaching/policing and the home environment compliments the sexist attitude they might encounter at school. We’re not taught how to encourage each other at school. Even at home we’re taught about competition from an early age. Be a good girl not only in academics but also well-behaved and well-spoken. Polite, soft and meek. Teachers too chime in at times to comment on issues such as a girl’s skirt length. Why are we then surprised on the lack women empowerment around us?
My dad used to tell me as a kid that girl’s shouldn’t argue with their parents in front of others. Whenever I tried to, I would get slapped and scolded. Now at every gathering with family and friends, you can hear my voice in full volume arguing over politics with my dad, which he enjoys and encourages. My mom once told me that you should never have sex before marriage. Now she always nods in agreement whenever I tell her that I prefer live ins. I sit with family members and straight away ask for a whiskey, ignoring the stares of uncles and aunties . I tell them I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life or what my exact career plans are. I embrace my confusion and my views without any shame. This is who I am.
I got a message on Sarahah a few days ago with someone confessing that they slept with my boyfriend and always wanted to tell me that. While I don’t know who it was or which boyfriend, my first reaction wasn’t to term the girl a slut, bitch or whore. My first reaction was, well let bygones be bygones. If I was in high school, rumour mills would have started churning out every possible name with each being branded as a slut.
Go ahead and be bold and live life the way you want. I know you might have relatives (close and distant) who will comment and judge. You might have acquaintances who won’t always agree. Flush out the toxic people from your life. My biggest strength comes from the people around me, who have loved me for who I am and encouraged my growth. My selective group excludes not only people I knew in high school but also relatives and cousins. In a society where we are taught ‘Family hai, karna padta hai’, think whether they are helping your growth or halting it. You don’t choose your family but you can choose who stays with you on your journey. Whether you want to get married early or not, want to work or not, have a plan or not, want kids or not – whatever it is just embrace your true self.
I love being unapologetic for who I am. And for those around me who are on their own paths of self-realisation – never stop. I promise you – it is worth it.