Feminism and the Gen X woman

I had written this series of posts on Feminism some years ago when I realized that there are lots of young people out there who have little idea about our struggles. We had seen first hand, the changes that swept over the world and India in the late 60s and 70s — the defining decades that brought to the fore terms such as feminism, equality and empowerment.

Those were times when equality and liberation as the rights of women came to be understood by an entire generation of women – spanning all strata of society — since at that time the social strata were not so sharply divided on economic lines as they are today. So the concerns across the board were similar; all we had wanted was a chink in the walls enclosing us to let in a ray of light to give us the hope and energy to break out of the confines — and so many of us did too!

I thought there is no time like the present to re-post the series as there has been so much discussion about feminism, choice, empowerment and the like in recent times. I was especially appalled as so many others have been over the supposed choices a woman wants to make in her life for empowerment. To call it absurd and meaningless would be too generous, as the issues confronting women were and still are infinitely more serious and life-changing than making choices about the size one wants to be, go pubbing or have sex outside marriage. This is the result of the sharp economic and cultural divide in the society today. I am deliberately not linking to the video even to hold it up to ridicule.

As a disclaimer, let me state that this is not a historical commentary of those times, but my perspective. I will be trying to explain some of the anomalies that exist till date as an outcome of those decades, and which the Gen Y finds most vexing in older women. Do read the entire series of which this is the first part.

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When the feminist movement came to the country, it had impacted all of us who were teenagers and young adults at that time. Big and small towns alike were affected. Germain Greer, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir – all became cult figures for a whole generation of women. While those who had not even heard of them still talked about them, the others discussed their work and argued about their merits and demerits. Feminism soon was the ‘in’ thing and yours truly joined the brigade with unconcealed gusto.

We lapped up anything to do with it, whether it was the protests held across the US and Europe, feminist literature, the magazine Ms which was started by Gloria Steinem, even its homegrown sisters Eve’s Weekly and Femina (yes, they had a lot of food for thought in  addition to recipes back then), had heated discussions about gender issues over cups of tea in the canteen, looked down our noses at boys for belonging to the unwanted sex and talked about higher studies and career options. Incidentally, I used to aver that I would go on studying all my life and would never get married!

We went into the phase of self-discovery and proudly donned the plain and ‘intellectual’ look, discarded the titles Miss and Mrs for the more fashionable Ms. that had become the signature of women the world over and dared to look the men in their eyes and demand to be recognized as equal humans. Never mind that many of us were still fighting to get even a higher education, wear dresses of our choice and raise our voices against suppression of those very voices.

What we also didn’t realize then was that we were still playing second fiddle to the men – when we added the Ms. we used our husband’s surnames and when we refused and stuck with our maiden names, we still carried our fathers’ name. Isn’t a father a male too? Or does his being our progenitor put him above the despicable males of the species? I ask the same question today and just as it had been absurd then, it is absurd today as a gender statement. Anyway, we were the ‘new women’ of the century and we were oh, so proud of the fact and forget such minor details!

In hindsight, I can only smile wryly.

So while some of us fought and succeeded in entering the hallowed precincts of college, still others got the choice of  wearing clothes in keeping with the new ‘equal’ image — trousers, ‘bell-bottoms’ and in rare cases even jeans, when the girls were fortunate to have relatives abroad or could afford to buy them. Those were heady times. Television, which had been restricted to the Capital of the country came to Mumbai in 1972 and later in the decade to Chennai and Kolkata. And that opened up new vistas for employment and offered tantalizing career options to the women. Newsreaders were the icons of the times. I was in Mumbai then and I still remember that dusky beauty Smita Patil reading Marathi news, and other stalwarts like Salma Sultan, Sarita Sethi, Bhakti Barve, Sheila Chaman and a host of others who  made the viewers hang on to their words and faces for the few minutes they read the news, me included. Our heroines were Ela Bhatt, Kiran Bedi, Shantha Rangaswamy…

Ironically even as many of us scorned  fashion and make-up and the use of feminine charms to get noticed, the beauty pageant scene also flourished in tandem. So we had girls aspiring to become beauty queens and willing to be judged on the basis of their vital statistics and pearly smiles, wearing bikinis and parading on the stage, flashing their brilliant smiles and reaping the scorn of ‘feminists’ like me.

With the advent of feminism came one more group – the activists. This group screamed itself hoarse about women being exploited by the advertisers and filmmakers who were supposedly disrobing them to make a fast buck. Maybe at that time they did have a point, because women were not in a position to bargain for their rights and had to go along with the producer of the film or the organisers of fashion shows and beauty pageants as also advertisements. But what amuses me is that the activists have taken a diametrically opposite line now and feel it is every woman’s right to dress as skimpily as she likes. The bottom line is that a woman’s body is still a topic of discussion and a thing to be flaunted,; and if then they wore skimpy dresses because they were being ‘exploited’, they wear them now because it is their ‘right.’

The women who went into the media, fashion and films became the glamorous icons of those decades. But this post is not about them, but the average, largely middle-class, ordinary women – the new women of the 70s who have gone on to become the ‘old women’ of today and who have also become mothers and mothers-in-law in the interim.

Please bear with me, as I walk back to the decades that wrought so much change in the society, the after-shocks of which are still being felt today.

Except for those who went on to become a famous model/actress/media personality, the others settled for marriage, having had their fling at college and briefly dallying with a job. Jobs were mostly that – JOBS; not a challenging career or even something mentally stimulating in most cases. Banking, bureaucracy and teaching were the staple jobs that were open to women, and thousands of women entered these fields in the late 60s and the 70s, especially in Mumbai and then other cities. Despite the monotonous nature of the jobs, the women still had an aura of glamour about them. I had a neighbor who worked as a telephone operator and who was the most fashionably dressed woman on the street; the college lecturer in her starched saris and metal framed glasses came in next on the glamour quotient. Professionals like doctors and research scholars were equivalents of demi-goddesses, no less! We looked at them and aspired to become them or be better than them. I had several cousins who worked as doctors, teachers, research assistants and lecturers among other professions. Needless to say, they were adored by me and our other female cousins.

Soon more job markets opened up. A lot of new industries and services came into being and public sector companies were set up, offering more choices in jobs for women. Starting with receptionists and telephone operators, there were jobs galore right up to the top management echelons. Cost of living was going up. Higher education was more than just a degree in science or arts as other fields opened up, with higher fees of course. Single incomes were found insufficient to foot the college bills and attendant expenses. of children. Lifestyles were changing at a rapid rate. From bicycles, middle-class families graduated to two-wheelers. Some who held posts in the higher echelons of bureaucracy and public sector companies had four-wheelers given to them by their organisations.

One thing didn’t change though. Working or not, they all still fell into the rut of marriage, children and home. Holding a degree and/or a job added or took away from their market value, depending upon what the respective families were looking for. Girls were selected on the basis of their having a job when the family was looking to improve their lifestyle and found single income to be insufficient for that. Ironically, many parents of girls looked for families that didn’t want their daughters-in-law to work, because they felt that it put a lot of stress on their daughters for reasons given below.

The bank clerk/officer came back from work and cooked and cleaned and pandered to her family, as did the women working at the other jobs and professions mentioned earlier in the post. She was so proud to be a ‘working woman’ and earning money, that she felt privileged. It didn’t occur to her to ask for rights or equality either at home or at work. The rest of the women had ambiguous feelings towards this class, ranging from admiration to envy to disapproval to plain scorn. The older generation had only one reaction for these women – disapproval. To them, they were those who didn’t care for their families, neglected their children and dressed up and pranced and hobnobbed with men! In short, not the ‘homely’ woman. ‘She is a working woman!’ was often spat out like an abuse. The working women slogged even more both at home and work to prove that they were doing both the jobs well  😦

So these women, pioneers of sort, soldiered on, bearing more burdens than they could carry and doing it because it gave them a sense of worth, an identity outside their homes and the freedom to escape from the monotony of their lives. Some climbed the ladders of professional success while others passed up promotions because it entailed a transfer or more responsibilities that might interfere with their domestic duties. The children grew up seeing their mothers working and while some grew independent, others remained dependent with their mothers fetching and carrying for them, which was done out of a sense of misplaced love and a large measure of guilt for leaving them at home.

–more

PS: While going through the post again today, I saw that I had missed replying to some thoughtful comments that added so much value to the post. I want to assure you all that it was a dreadful oversight. I have replied them now. Kindly pardon my missing them when you had posted them. Sorry once again, Bhavana, Sribblehappy, Archana, Sudha.

(Image courtesy: etsy.com)

117 comments

  1. […] She wrote a fabulous and in-depth series of posts on Feminism- the holy grail of the contemporary woman (and the contemporary man too if he knows what’s good for him). If you haven’t read the series yet, now’s a good time to do so. The first part is: Feminism and the Gen X Woman. […]

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  2. […] The churning of the society during the defining decades of the 60s and 70s produced not just the economic classes but also created distinct groups of women in the middle and upper ends of the social spectrum. These groups were formed as a result of the lessons that the events and experiences threw up, from which they learnt, learnt wrongly or didn’t learn at all. (Read the first and second parts of the series Feminism and the Gen X woman here and here) […]

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  3. […] The churning of the defining decades of the 60s and 70s produced not just the economic classes but also created distinct groups of women in the middle and upper ends of the social spectrum. These groups were formed as a result of the lessons that the events and experiences threw up, from which they learnt, learnt wrongly or didn’t learn at all. (Read the first and second parts of the series Feminism and the Gen X woman here and here) […]

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  4. I’m glad I found this post a little late. I enjoyed reading the article and the wonderful comments 🙂

    Yes, I did not like the Vogue Empower women video too. From what I understand we havent really come a long way. The basic issues are still something that we are fighting for. But the things is each of us fight for different things, Some people fight for financial independence while some people fight for other forms of independence. We cannot generalize it. But we should at least be able to do what we want to (as in I should be given the choice whether to work or not and it should not be forced on me. I know a lot of people who dont like to work and prefer to be stay-at-home moms, but are forced to work by their families). I can boast by saying that I’ve been lucky enough to be raised as a strong independent woman whose parents have given me the independence to make my decisions. But sadly that’s not the case with even half the population! I think we’ve still a long way to go!

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    1. But Ashwini, there are rights which need to be given legally and there are social rights, which need to be taken. When I said that we had similar concerns across the board, I was talking about a time when we all thought of ourselves as women first and classes later. Today it is the other way round with classes coming first and each having no idea of the other end of the spectrum. Working and not working are not so much an issue today as it had been then and I see so many well qualified women opting out of working because it is their right. How many of the the present generation of women talking of gender equality accept a man who wants to stay home? There are so many counter arguments to the issues posed today! I would love my post to be read more as a chronicle of the past and how much things have moved forward instead of just focusing on things that have not 🙂 It is also an humble effort to make the women of Gen X more human with their strengths and weaknesses!

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  5. Our basic struggles have remained the same, haven’t they? At least for those of us abroad, with no household help, our situation is no different from those of Indian women in 1970s and 1980s. We are still trying to do it all and now we have the added burden of making it all good and photoworthy on Pinterest and Facebook. The other day I heard an Indian man in our circle (someone who we are only recently acquiainted with) – an educated, well-employed, seemingky modern man say he’s culturally opposed to doing things like cooking and cleaning. So the more things change, the more they stay the same 😦

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    1. You know Meera, I am planning on another part in the series which will deal about the equality, differences and such among the genders. I wouldn’t agree that things have remained the same except for the poorest of the poor and in the rural areas. See the changes vis-a-vis what I have written. Today a girl gets a college education by default. She might have to fight for the course she wants to study, much as a boy does, but no more. I have seen even children of maids and labourers wear jeans and cut their hair. Dating is common in upper class and even middle class children. Working is a right of every girl and parents and in-laws encourage it. As for doing housework by oneself, it is not due to cultural compulsions but due to personal equations. The breed of the likes of the said gentleman is not the norm any more. Men are being pushed to the other end, if only it were noticed just as women want to be the men of earlier generations.

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  6. It seems like the mindset has not changed much and to me, now, that is not very surprising!

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    1. That is a sweeping statement, Roshni 🙂 Do read the rest of the series give me your feedback on them too.

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  7. I remember reading this post of yours! Nice to read it again. Looking forward to reading the next posts in this series too.

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    1. You had even left a comment in the original post, Manju. I will be updating the posts to follow too. So do read them 🙂

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  8. What a treat to read this historical perspective from someone who traveled the path! Being born in the middle of 60’s by the time I reached my teens and beyond I had already inherited the gains of the struggles made by women like yourself.

    But I think even before the 60s-70’s, some women had been breaking the ‘tradition’ though not calling it any movement or anything. My mother started working outside the home in early 60’s. In fact, her mother fought with her husband (my grandfather) to make sure that my mother and both her sisters got some vocational/professional training (in 50s) so that they would be economically independent. My aunt (my father’s sister) started working in an office (9-5 job) in 50’s. So a lot of women were perhaps already making way and creating openings for the women’s movement that would soon follow.

    And yes they were all taking care of their families and domestic responsibilities in addition to their jobs. I have vivid memories of my mother working so hard to make sure everything was in order for us children, and she never once wavered in her ‘homemaker’ responsibilities, and was of course an exemplary teacher liked by all her colleagues and students. I never realised at that time but only later I understood how she inspired me to become a teacher. I always think of my mother and my grandmother (Dadi) as my first feminist teachers. And both were your typical Indian punjabi women fully involved with their family life and with only one concern – their families’ well being for which they made tremendous sacrifices. Will we say today, it was their ‘choice’? Or will we say – it was their ‘compulsion’ or ‘societal pressure’? Hard to say. The point is that as far as I can tell they both lived fulfilled lives.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that often meaningful and sustainable change happens in small increments, often in one little corner at a time, but the impact and ripple it creates can be vast and all-pervading. I can again give so many examples of how my mother taught me and my sisters – simply by her example in so many little fights during her life – to stand up for ourselves, to not get stuck in societal conventions, to think for ourselves. And yet to be respectful of our traditions, to not condemn something simply because it is traditional or conventional, so many such things. Isn’t that really the way things change? These days somehow it has become fashionable to cry hoarse for ‘change for the change sake’, revolution for revolution sake, choice for choice sake, freedom for freedom sake, without any attention to the deeper reason why it is important to have freedom, choice, change, revolution.

    I can go on and on….but I will wait and look forward to your other posts on this very important topic. Thanks Zephyr for writing and for re-posting this.

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    1. I am glad you found the post good. It is so interesting to know about your mother and grandmother. It was so far-thinking of your grandmother to have insisted on your mother and aunt getting trained for some profession even in the 50s. It can become a big handicap when one is not trained for a job. It was typical of the women of that generation to have thought of the family as on par with their jobs. Often the very satisfaction of accomplishing something gave them the energy to do double work unless of course they were mistreated (which many were, as Dagny has pointed out). I have tried to bring out more facets of the working women phenomenon later in and now feel that I should write more posts the series. There was and is so much more to being a woman than demanding for this and that all the time, even while the poorer and really exploited women languish in their suffering. Let me see 🙂

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  9. I’d like to add to the last para of your wonderful, wonderful article. Of course, my neck is nearly all dislocated… you know why. 🙂

    ‘Working women’- the much scorned species- did double duty (and still do today) under a heavy blanket of guilt as scorn and accusations were heaped on their drooping shoulders.

    Even worse was that the woman never got a penny of the money she brought in. She was expected to hand over her entire salary to her husband/ in-laws. If she wanted to buy so much as a pair of sturdy slippers for her poor feet, she had to beg… BEG… for it. As for clothes (or God forbid, a lipstick/ kajal) she was accused of trying to attract men by ‘dressing up’. She was ‘allowed’ a meager amount towards her transport fare… and that was all. Imagine killing yourself and never to even see the prize for which you killed yourself. Can any torture be equal to that?

    I wonder what today’s women- those who ‘demand’ choices- would have to say to that.

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    1. Sorry about your neck dislocation dear. You know I leave some points out deliberately for my discerning readers to fill them in as you have done. There are many many women who still do it in smaller towns and even the metros but it is not as bad as before thanks to the pioneers having borne the brunt and paved the way for more freedom. Besides, I carefully kept the post a dispassionate personal commentary since I was afraid it might descend to a rant if I didn’t rein in my thoughts 😀 The second and third parts will deal with some issues too and now I feel I should be doing a couple more in the series, maybe not back to back, but certainly in the near future. I hope you will comment on them too 🙂

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      1. Of course I will Zephyr. Reading your posts is immensely fulfilling to me. And to interact with you… is priceless! ❤

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        1. Thank you so much for the appreciation. Hugs right back 🙂

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  10. Quite a long history that!I grew up through those years and did hear about those early activists but i don’t think my choices or beliefs were influenced by them.Somehow i have trundled along life’s path with the confluence of societal expectations and my own inclinations wherever possible.

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    1. This is just the first part, Indu. Of course many were immune to the movement as it panned out in India and even those of us who were directly impacted, adapted it to break free. And that gave many like me the strength to compromise some, stick to our guns some, as we moved along life 🙂

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  11. I have seen a couple of Eve’s weekly issues and read Femina nearly regularly for a long time. I liked it better than ‘Woman’s era’!

    I too used to wonder why women agreed to carryon with their father’s surname! In my family my mother never used her husband’s surname till the end. It was P.Ambujavalli…my mother side use their village name and then surname. P. was for Pavanje. I was Kodavuru Sandhya Rao before marriage!

    I remember all the Hindi newsreaders you have mentioned here. I mentioned them in my ‘DD series’ posts too. Salma used to keep a single rose near her ears always! Mrinalini also was famous!

    Yes, many women had the guilt of not taking care of their children during their crucial stage in life like when they were studying in higher classes etc. Hmm…I think this guilt feeling is still continuing. Unless we have somebody reliable to take care of our children, we, women tend to feel like that.

    Now, let me read the next part. Enjoyed reading this post, Zephyr. I relate a lot to the subject here though I was never a rebel, but wanted to be one, I tell you!

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    1. What I find most annoying is this attitude of deifying one’s father and castigating all other males. If you carry your father’s surname, are you more emancipated or what? Isn’t he also a male and symbol of patriarchy that they are so busy vilifying? Oh Sandhya, I had quit my full time job when my older one came to his 10th class Boards. I wanted to give him a few years of childhood when he didn’t have to open the door and eat cold food. And today, Indira Nooyi is being torn to shreds for voicing her feelings. She is also of our generation, isn’t she?

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  12. I am reading all the posts of this series right now. Have been so annoyed by the hollow activism lately, I am very sure I am going to like all the posts and ideas here.

    Somehow, I am not getting the posts in my reader, will check it again if I have subscribed it right. Or earlier I used to follow the fb links?

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    1. So sweet of you to read them all in one go 🙂 Actually, I had started writing it for the same reason you came here to read them. I felt that we are losing our sense of proportion and perspective.

      As for the reader issue, I will ping Vinni about it and see what the problem is and if it is from my side, he will resolve it. 🙂

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  13. Well written article

    Kindly also see http://mowingthelaw.blogspot.in/2012/04/fairy-tales-and-feminism-refashioning.html
    which is also on ‘Feminism on India’

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    1. This was a personal perspective as I had stated at the outset but do go through the second and third parts too to get a complete picture of how the average college educated but repressed women learnt to deal with the changing realities around them without burning bras and antagonising the ‘establishment’. They might not provide empirical data or scholarly analysis, but certainly help get a peep into the psyches of the women born in the ’50s and who are the dreaded and much hated MILs today. And before you jump to conclusions, I am a ‘loved’ MIL and mother 😀 😀

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  14. First of all, thank you for allowing me to glimpse through the early stages of feminism in Urban India. I have read tons of material of the various waves in the West and photographic journeys of the same–but not many from an Indian perspective. So this helps me personally to understand India better.

    You make many interesting and significant points. That families wanted d-in-laws who were working to provide second income is an important piece. Liddle n Joshi in their book “Daughters of Independence” have made similar observations. Whats more that in middle class families, folks did not want d-in-laws who did not have at least a bachelors degree–issue of both status and helping kids do homework:)

    Great point on the issue of body–as long it is the male gaze that dictates–whether or not directly or by women owning that gaze, it remains a process of exploitation.

    Onto your second post in this series. Thanks for directing me to this series!

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    1. First of all, pardon me for missing to reply this beautiful comment. Better late than never, I thought, even if it is three years too late 😦

      Thank you Bhavana for reading the pieces and making pertinent observations. The study you have mentioned must have talked to a lot of families and women like me to have come up with that observation. But the thing is, the women bent over backwards to prove themselves both at home and in the workplace and yet were bullied and ridiculed. It is to their credit that they soldiered on and set the stage for the next generation to get into the groove more easily.The most beautiful thing however was the way they glowed, even if the job was a mind-numbing clerical job in a musty government office!

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  15. Superb post, as usual. You have touched upon some very minute and subtle things.

    Yes, this dress thing is one such confusing issue. Almost everything that women want to do today is either strongly justified as their right or vehemently ruled out as a ‘misunderstood right’.

    //One thing didn’t change though. Working or not, they all still fell into the rut of marriage, children and home.//

    Very well said. Some people say, joint family system is the first enemy for feminism. Some say, as long as arranged marriages are there, there would be this disparity. For that matter, I would say, as long as this ‘rut of marriage, children and home’ is there, there would be this inequality. Women wouldn’t get what they want. But, if men and women become completely independent of each other, then what is the point? It’s a catch 22 you see. 🙂

    I liked the narration of your most fashinable neighbor (the telephone operator) and the news readers. I have seen some telephone operators in my neighborhood too in my childhood. And, yes, the news readers were the role models for most of my aunts. That was another thing that kept them glued to the news programs. 🙂

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    1. Nice to see you back here, Bharathi. LOL on the second para of your comment. 😀 And agree totally with the Catch 22 situation. We are becoming a society of confused people and the effects will become apparent in another generation, when women might sadly not be more liberated of with better rights but more disillusioned because they have chosen to go on a too individualistic path to the exclusion of a lot of things both good and bad. throwing the baby with the bathwater is what this generation is busy doing. Women of my times were happy with simple stuff and knew how to gracefully take our rights if we felt trampled upon.

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  16. feminism is a Greek word for me and i will never understand the meaning of it. loved the journey to the era which i always loved. unfortunately even today women are expected to come home and carry out the household chores without much support.

    rest of my comment will be on part 2 (shouldn’t expose my ignorance by writing too much here).

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    1. Like you say things will not change unless we make an effort to change out perspectives. Hopefully the third part of the series will be more helpful? 😀

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  17. Strange that the present generation needs this explanation…

    Matter of fact looks as if Gen Y is content to rest on the laurels of Gen X and make small noises to show some movement… Else by now there should have been songs of victory instead of cries for reservation

    Good on you!!

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    1. We all need to be reminded of things Deepak. what we get in books and papers on women’s studies are too academic and too much in black and white. And unless we learn to see things in all their shades, we can understand nothing. And the last part will detail all that I saw in other shades and so shaped my state of mind. Do read the second part too ‘A society in flux.’

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  18. Let me begin with a confession. I have never really understood feminism. Oh, I know its many definitions, its history, its growth over the decades, the movement, the academic discourse that it has generated over the years, etc. But none of the above actually capture what you have said so plainly and clearly: “Feminism is an attitude.” This is the best understanding of feminism that I can think of or relate to.

    My discomfort with feminism also arises from the understanding I see today in a large majority of urban, educated men and women is that feminism is synonymous with being liberal or it is another word for male bashing. I know of students who join women’s studies programmes and change so drastically that even their parents don’t recognise them ! They graduate from the programmes burdened, and not enlightened with all the academic knowledge that they have soaked up. This confuses me even more. And then we also have “Black feminism” or “Dalit Feminism”.

    I loved this post, Zephyr, as a personal account and understanding of feminism. But more than that I have loved the way you have written it so simply and deconstructed it from the point of view of someone who saw it all happen and saw it all change too. Looking forward to more posts in this series.

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    1. Psst..Let me make a counter confession: I don’t know the history, definition or anything else of the word, despite reading all those feminist literature all those years ago. So I have written about what it meant to me and am sure what it meant to many thousands more — an attitude that we adopted and adapted to suit individual needs and problems. Sometimes I feel too much theorizing only complicates an ideology or phenomenon. Remember how a simple physics or chemistry experiment in the lab made us understand an obtuse theory? The same way, the concept of feminism worked for me. At the moment I have the last of the series coming up, but might add to it later. Others are welcome to contribute too. Hint hint..

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    2. //They graduate from the programmes burdened, and not enlightened with all the academic knowledge that they have soaked up. //

      Lovely. I am one of those who have seen a lot of people that have been burdened with unwanted information and knowledge by education! 🙂

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  19. I am sorry, I guess you misunderstood me a bit here or may be I did not put forward my point very clearly. I did not mean to dismantle the family at all as it is at the root of all of us. 🙂 I meant that there should be a more healthy sharing of responsibilities at home between the man and the woman which would lead to healthy and happy families and women can excel even further in their careers or their line of work. 🙂

    It was fascinating to read your post as it brought an entire generation of women in front of my eyes and your thoughts and narrative give life to it. 🙂

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    1. On the contrary! I understood you but didn’t frame my response properly. But you mentioned family instead of housework, which is the reason I talked about family disappearing as an institution. If you read the comments on the second part, you will understand what I mean. 🙂

      When I write about the working women, I will probably be able to deal with it better. Women have the resources, power and knack of getting things done their way. And those decades taught them how. Only some learnt them while the others didn’t.

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  20. An absolutely brilliant post. You brought alive an era of women in front of my eyes and the concept of feminism and the evolution of the woman over the last 4 decades. And you brought out every thought, every feeling, every prejudice and every emotion beautifully. And I can see and feel saddened by the underlying truth that though women have progressed a lot in their careers and hold equal and even higher positions and responsibilities in the work front, they still are more bungled in the institution called family than men and that still burdens them and stops them short of reaching even greater heights. But nevertheless, women have come a long way and I am really happy for that and I have no doubt that they will only get stronger and stronger as time goes. 🙂

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    1. You mean housework, or do you mean family? Family is not her prerogative alone, though the large part of the responsibility of bringing up children falls on her, at least in the initial years. I don’t think they would feel comfortable if their husbands offer to do it, either 🙂 And it is not family that stops them, but sometimes it is what gives them the strength to go forward. This generation that keeps chafing at the family forgets that it is the product of that very institution. What will happen to the next generation if we dismantle even this?

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  21. WARNING: Long Response. Fascinating post Zephyr. I remember those heady days. And yes, then, as now, some were in the dark ages and some relatively better off. It is also true that from holding two jobs – that of home maker and child rearer, most women have gone on to hold three – + that of provider whilst many (not all) men have tried to remain just providers and haven’t contributed a kauri towards home-making or child rearing. Some men, thank goodness, care enough for their life partners to want to contribute. Accepting the need for change, wondering if other men think them hen-pecked are all problems both partners work around. As long as they remain best friends, open to each other’s needs, nothing else really counts.

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    1. those are perennial issues Kayem. They come more in the relationship category and can be sorted out if both parties have a mind to do it. But being militant about relationship issues is counterproductive as they are not the same as issues confronting the society as a whole. Too much individualism and ‘ME’ do not make for a good unit, whether it is the husband-wife, family, society or even nation.

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  22. Hey, It is about Gen X, about middle class women, in the 60-70s, and it is about my own life time!.
    Agree with you.. The comments too have, mentioned a lot of valid points. You seem to have a good circle of readers, who enhance your post with their insightful comments.
    I did not know about being a feminist , but I was not much interested in being stereotyped.
    It is good that the movement, helped me, though I did not realise it. It made me go out and work, get married to a person of my choice, multi task, enjoy the freedom, make friends, and live life fully. My mother did not have those choices. She was sheltered , and could only encourage her children in what she thought was taking forward. My Dad too was very understanding.
    The best lines I liked were
    //Feminism has to be an attitude. And in the absence of any movement as there was in the West, it had to do with our perceptions. We took what we could and snatched what we didn’t get and we did more than those of today’s generation//

    Wonderful post. Waiting for the next , to see, why multi-tasking was not a good idea

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    1. We none of us like being stereotyped. But it had started with the awareness of the Feminist movement in the West for me at least. Though the radicalism got toned down rapidly, the essence remained. and yes, we achieved all those things because we had someone to support and push us ahead. And any ideology can be workable only if we add our own perception to it and make it work for us, right? And thanks for the appreciation. My readers are indeed very intelligent and I keep learning from them all the time.

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  23. Great post…thanks for sharing Indian women has always been iconoclastic ! Unfortunately recently she started looking more westward due to some reasons. With time, I sure those confusions will fizzle out.

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    1. Thank you Nitin, for you comment and perspective. Hope you liked the post 🙂 And sorry about my late response.

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  24. I loved this post.! You have traced the beginnings of the feminist movement in India so cogently–I look forward to reading more on it.

    And isn’t it intriguing how things have come full circle as far as women wearing skimpy clothes are concerned. In fact the ‘skimpy is exploitative’ mindset very much persisted in the late eighties/early nineties when I was in school. This ‘right to dress skimpily’ thing is pretty recent and has gained momentum mostly in the last decade.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment and pardon me for replying three years too late. Things seem to have come a full circle with regards to the shortness or skimpiness of dress for sure, but as for other things, don’t you agree that there is a paucity of ideas and perspective while demanding for this or that is concerned? I have updated the post before re-posting. Do please read it.

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  25. Wow, this was like a blast from past, 1972 I was not even born then..

    All this change revolution or whatever we can call it is fair enough, need of the hour it was BUT as it was then and as it still is now all this change etc was entitled I would say to those who were lucky… Because then and now there are still women out there who had no idea what was going on.

    As is now one part of society or culture moves way ahead leaving the rest behind which is why we still find majority still under influence of NOW GEN X. As they were under gen. Y.

    No change happen for good till we take all of us together, millions of women still live in gen y.. And they have no odea of this revolution or movement.. That is why I said it happened for the lucky ones..

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    1. There are several reasons why there is so much disparity in the condition of women in the country today and benefits so lop-sided. There is a very valid reason for it and I am surprised I have not been able to see anything written about it. If I can see it, I am sure others can see it too. Still….You will have to wait for the next part or maybe the next to read my interpretation of the movement over the years. But it is nice to see the young people realise that there is this disparity because sometimes I am disheartened by activists taking up trivial issues to fight for.

      By the way, you guys are Gen Y and we are Gen X and your kids are christened by me as Gen Z. 😀

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  26. G.N. Balakrishnan · · Reply

    A really remarkable revelation from a woman past the prime of youth, very candidly portraying the sentiments, we, the senior citizens share regarding the present trend. I feel, we, the men folk are to blame to a certain extent for provoking such frivolous thoughts in the minds of the aspiring young women of yester years. In hind sight, I personally feel, the women were definitely exploited , not by all, but by a few bigoted members of the supposed stronger sex. They were not given their dues and importance, they so richly deserved and the result is the cataclysmal and explosive revolution of the working women. Only, they have taken it too far ahead . I honestly admit, that the women of 1960s and 70s, were the real heroines, who taught us the concept of MULTI-TASKING about which so much is being talked about to-day. . I eagerly await your continuing article on the same subject. Congratulations and thanks for your brilliant article.

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    1. It is often the problem when we try to ape the west on everything. We did the same in this movement too. Not realising that we faced completely different sets of problems vis-a-vis society and traditions, we went on a completely different tack and look at the disparity it has bred in the half century since. and as for multi-tasking, in hindsight I feel that it is one thing we shouldn’t have done 😀

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  27. wow!loved this one. esp professors with metal frames were demi goddesses

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    1. So the gen X was also young once, see? 😀

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  28. World has changed only a little.People still frown on women who are ambitious and so called skimpily clad women are called instigators of rapes and molestations.

    But today we have more number of women who are ambitious and women with courage to stand up for themselves.

    I’ve never envisioned the era feminism had finally caught up in India.Nice insight.

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    1. Ambition and skimpy clothes don’t make for feminism, do they? It might at best be women’s liberation. It is more of an attitude when you can be completely clad and yet be one or be non-competitive and still be one. How the first generation grappled with an entirely new idea and came to terms with their lot, is what this post about. I have mentioned skimpy clothes in a particular context of how it was once considered ‘exploitation’ and how it has now become a ‘right’.

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      1. It was a new concept in those times for GenX .I grew up with it.I mean I had heard about feminism (with wrongly understood concepts though).In school when I stood up to a bully(a guy) I was called a feminist! So the general idea of being a feminist is a woman who does not align herself to the set social norms.This misconception of who a feminist has not changed.That was the point I wanted to make and as usual I went out of focus.

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        1. I would say that it is still a new concept today though for different reasons. I had reacted to the part about the clothes and ambition as being considered the main things today of what a woman should be. I wonder if this is all feminism or feminity is about. Isn’t ambition common to both? The entire thing has been reduced to a personal level today. And no, I don’t call them feminists 🙂 I will write more on how we dealt with the issues, with a personal angle of course 🙂

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    2. //But today we have more number of women who are ambitious and women with courage to stand up for themselves.//
      Very true. I would also like to think that , today’s women owe it to the earlier generation of mothers, who contributed a lot, in shaping them.:-)

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      1. Totally agree. :-)… I should add about the fathers who taught their daughters to dream as well…

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  29. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Women’s liberation and how it all started in India with your personal touch! Can’t wait to read more.

    Perhaps this will turn into a series alongside your L&M and the Brats posts.

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    1. That’s a great suggestion.Let’s see how it shapes up and how the readers like it. As of now, it looks like it has not made much impact in terms of comments at least.

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  30. Archana · · Reply

    It is real topic to ponder how it all started. Thanks for throwing light on this one. It was no less than renaissance 😀

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    1. Right! Renaissance of sorts 🙂

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  31. Very interesting post, and interesting comments too!

    Feminism was at a very ‘basic’ level in the times of our youth, wasn’t it? At least it seems so, compared to today.

    I went to a somewhat ‘traditional’ college in Pune. When we were in our last year, A classmate of mine- a girl from a political family- ran for President of the Students’ Council. And actually won! That was a first (Female Prez) in the history of our college. We were all very proud of her.

    I still remember her on the day of the election- the only female face in a crowd of male students! One thing that I do not remember is what she wore. That was not very important compared to her being elected! 😀

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    1. Wow! That must have been a great day for you girls. That too in a ‘traditional’ college! And typical of Manju not to remember her attire! Weren’t we so invovled in such things? Do share more memories for the benefit of our readers, won’t you? 🙂

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  32. You have taken me back to an era which I have heard about, not been able to watch per se… 🙂

    Lovely! Waiting for part 2!

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    1. Let me not raise your expectations too much about the scholarly or historic nature of the posts. They are purely from a personal perspective and since it is an average woman’s perspective, I hope it will strike a chord with many. I am afraid I will come up with the second part a little later,not right away. Too busy right now. 😦

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      1. Personal perspective is better (in my opinion) since it gives a certain amount of personal touch to it 🙂
        I can speak about my own grandmother who was a pioneer in her days. She was the first in her family to finish Masters degree, and also work as a lecturer. She quit later on to become a homemaker – grandpa who worked with her in the same college fell heads over heels in love with her and asked for her hand 🙂

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        1. Psst..actually it is better because I don’t have to sit and research into the history 😀

          Your grandmom sure was a pioneer. Love marriage in those days were rare, too rare in fact. We had some such pioneers in our family too from an earlier generation.

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  33. A complete in depth post giving us a peek into an era that formed the backbone for our Gen. Its always fascinating to track the time chart and see how things evolved over a period of time and where they ultimately led us all to. Even now, times are continuously changing and its getting more and more interesting by the day.

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    1. Hey, it is anything but in depth! Just my observations which I wanted to share as a former radical feminist, as my family and friends dubbed me. How we dealt with issues affecting me and others of my generation is what this series is going to be about. Maybe you guys can get some pointers in the bargain?

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  34. 🙂 So nostalgic to read this post. As my uncle says, no matter how highly educated, no matter what career status, it is still coming back home to make kathrika vetha kozhambu just like “his” grandmother made and poriyal just like “his” mother made. That’s one side of it.

    Feminism has got to be an attitude. 🙂 Although we see its manifestation in (a lack of) clothes and “equality” in all the silly things such as doing the things men do in public – drinking, smoking, demonstrating affection and sometimes, also making out in public :-).

    All so interesting to observe.

    I like how you’ve recounted “our” times as a child of the sixties. During my childhood, we had a huge house, but no fan, fridge or TV. We got our first TV in 1983 in time for the World Cup, a sliding door vintage model. And of course, a grinder took precedence over a fridge as a transition from a aatukkal and yaendram. The only entertainment was radio (we loved it) and we had to be home by 6 pm to light the lamp and recite slokas, have dinner at 7 and go to bed at 9.

    Oh, nostalgia! The times, how they’re a-changing!

    And this morning I read that Class 8 and 9 kids were caught smoking hookah in a bar.

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    1. You have put it aptly. Feminism has to be an attitude. And in the absence of any movement as there was in the West, it had to do with our perceptions. We took what we could and snatched what we didn’t get and we did more than those of today’s generation. Ah, you have gone on a nostalgic trip. I will be coming to that too in one of the posts in the series, trying to stick to women and their lives, of course. Maybe another series on lifestyles and families? Up for more nagging? 😀 😀

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  35. Thankfully in the 21st century, Feminism in India is more dispersed, has deeper roots, and has shifted from being urban and middle class to rural.

    If the Gen Now woman is fighting for her right to wear skimpy clothes and stay out late. Her rural counterpart is busy acquiring skills to support her family. She is demanding her right for toilets, participating in anti-arrack movements and ensuring her children get educated.

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    1. But Purba, the class and urban-rural divide came in later. In those days, except for the metros, there was not much to differentiate between the classes or the geographical divisions. Shall we say that the divide has become a chasm today, which doesn’t look like it would ever be bridged.

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  36. It is indeed awesome to hear a view point from 60s/70s on the Feminist movement – given that you had done the ground work, our generation (Gen Y) did have a foundation ready, right? One thing that I was curious about was the political situation of the country then – that a lady (Indira) was visible/prominent (early 60s) and then led the country (late 60s and pretty much the entire 70s (of course emergency and its aftermath are a separate topic by itself) affect the movement/have any effect on it?

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    1. The foundation was laid all right and the house also built, but there have been many structural and cosmetic changes made to the building over the years to suit the new occupants 🙂 As for Indira Gandhi, her being the PM had the same effect of us having so many women ruling us at Delhi. All politicians are that firs and women later. And we didn’t have any feminist movement in India, remember? So we had no political aftermath of it. Whatever it was, it remained confined to a social movement, one of mindset change.

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  37. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    You have chronicled the entire movement with great insight. Even though things have changed, there remains a great rural and urban divide. We are a land of contrasts . Khap panchayats in rural Gurgaon do their best to muzzle feminist voices whereas in urban Gurgaon women have become very aggressive. The best part , like you said, is that working woman is no more an abuse.

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    1. No Alka, this is my personal chronicle, and in no way spans the entire movement. You should remember that I was in Nagpur during those years and not in one of the metros which saw more action and reaction. I will not say much here, because I plan to cover a lot of stuff in the following posts, which might not be sequential.

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  38. I can see why there is a ‘-more’ at the end & the ‘-I’ in the title. I’ll reserve my comments till I read the rest, since there is something I have to say, and I want to see if you cover the points my mind has raised, before I state it…

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    1. You might have to wait for a long time for that, since as I pointed out to Rachna, this might run into several posts. 🙂

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      1. I am ready to wait. There is a track of thought in the last three paragraphs that I want to comment on – but somehow, it feels incomplete. Hence, would wait till you write more on it.

        (Typo alert: Last paragraph, line 4. Something doesn’t feel right, including the ‘of’ split and joined with the previous & next words.)

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        1. Thanks Grond. I have corrected it. My cursor suddenly jumps and I am clueless as to where it landed and began typing! The post IS incomplete because it was getting too long and I decided to break it there. The next one will flow from that point, promise. 🙂

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          1. Eagerly awaited. 😀

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          2. I guess you are working on laptop with a touchpad. You can try changing the settings of your touchpad to less sensitive and less predictive.

            You might also want to look up a program called touchfreeze. This is a common problem with the newer supersensitive and extra-redictive touchpads. Touchfreeze has been a big relief to me but not a 100% solution, keep the setup file saved somewhere, and whenever you find the problem coming back, uninstall and reinstall. I have searched and tried several different solutions for this problem, but this one seems to work the best, even if temporarily.

            As for the post, loved the balanced and nostalgic journey, and will be looking out for the “more.”

            Like

          3. I use an external mouse but there seems to be some kind of malfunction somewhere and if I call the technical support, they will waste half of my day 🙂 The younger one has already tried doing all the settings you have suggested. But thanks for the help.

            I am glad you liked the post and I will surely try to live up to the expectations, if not in historical perspective, at least from mine and others close to me, so that it becomes easier for this generation to understand at least some of our problems 😀

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  39. It is interesting to read as a chronicle about women’s lib movement in India because I have no idea of the woman growing up in the 60s. My mom was a housewife who was a postgraduate and adept at household chores like cooking, sewing, knitting and so on. She was the queen of our home, and dad pandered to her in all matters related to the home. She was brought up by a very strict mother to be a good homemaker and to defer to her husband. It held her in good stead because she shared a great relationship with my dad and we as kids had one of the best environments at home to thrive and grow. I never heard liberation or rights or need to work from her but she has the respect and the say and support at home that is every woman’s dream today. She got rights and equality without hoarsely crying for it!

    Your point about women’s dress first being a point of exploitation and then right is very pertinent, true and thought provoking.

    And, your mention of “dusky beauty” Smita Patil amused me because somehow I see these descriptions about women all the time even from other women. Why does no one actually talk about male newsreaders or anchors in the same way? Is it because women are judged first on their looks and then their skills?

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    1. This might be a series of more than a couple of posts, Rachna and I will strive to bring in as many facets of women in those days as possible. If I go off tangent sometimes, do pardon me as someone who is growing old and is prone to rambling 😀

      Dusky beauty comes naturally when one talks of Smita Patil — she was one who broke traditional mould as far as parameters of beauty were concerned in those times and even today to a great extent.

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      1. True but reading it again and again like for Zeenat or Bipasha or Priyanka even today reinforces these stereotype instead of breaking them. I have heard women say she is pretty but dark with that shake of the head :). Doesn’t seem like the stereotypes about beauty are really changing, are they?

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        1. Right you are! But aren’t we putting too much emphasis on things inconsequential and missing the wood for the trees?

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          1. You are right :). Just wanted to share my opinion.

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    2. @Rachna, Thought provoking comment. Your mother got everything without crying for it. You got the best environment at home. What more one wants? Why is it not possible in all homes? All these tell me one thing again and again – It’s the inherent nature of people that matters more than anything else. Good people make the best out of everything and the bad ones screw-up everything that comes their way. That’s it.

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      1. @Bharathiraja Indeed, I feel very blessed to have the childhood I had, as a result of which all 3 of us siblings are secure and mature individuals who normally resort to logic and discussion instead of screaming and yelling. Yes, I agree with your premise — it is our inherent nature and our upbringing that determines how we handle situations and face life. The ones with the right values and approach, I believe, will face most situations with elan. The one without will always find something to crib about.

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  40. I want MORE….it’s like you gave me a taste of the yummy gun powder and told me nice steaming idlis and uthappams will follow…I don’t know when..:) That said, I agree the measure of feminism has changed so much..In fact, a lot of conversations these days start with the rider ‘I’m not a bra-burning feminist’…I mean, while stating rebellious views on exploding the traditional bastions that our middle class mothers set up as ideals, which included coming back from work and doing the rest of the household chores, the need to differentiate that it isn’t our feminism talking is also sooo important..

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    1. Ah, today they don’t burn bras, but fight for wearing them as their right 😀 I told you perceptions have changed. As for doing double duty and claiming it as being feminism, you have to read more of this post to understand. Maybe read it again and you will know why even that much was considered ‘freedom.’ If I am not able to bring that out, maybe I should stop right here 😦

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      1. Aunty Nag, I think here we need to make a distinction between feminism and freedom, are we using this interchangeably or as freedom being the flag of feminism of the era? And you know I just realised that maybe what you are saying and what I am perceiving you as saying could be two different things, which is why I’m taking this debate forward. While I understand the educated, more politically aware women of the time were aware of feminist empowerment, were the other working women who then went home and cooked doing it out of a sense of emancipation or was it that we need to straddle both to be able to balance life out right?

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        1. At the most rudimentary level freedom had been the flag of feminism of those times, at least in the smaller towns and in traditional middle class families. Even in those days, some states like your own home state were ahead. As for bearing the dual burden it was not out of a sense of emancipation but out of a sense of doing something worthwhile. it gave them a sense of achievement and power in a converse kind of way, sort of made them feel superior for doing both so well — for we bent over backward to do everything and do it well. And hey, this is not about this generation at all, so I hope ‘we need to straddle both to be able to balance life out right?’ does not apply to you guys but used as a metaphor.

          And let me warn you, no matter how much probing you do, I will not be able to come out with the next part anytime soon. I envy your ability to do your Mumbai series so fast.

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          1. I hear you, balancing both worlds was said about your generation, ma’s generation. I does not give me sleepy nights to think my family might have to survive on takeouts for a couple of days when I’m battling a deadline. To Amma, it was sacrilege. A blot on her ability to manage both..:) That’s where my reference to that came from… 🙂 As for the Mumbai series, some of my favourite parts of Mumbai living are just coming up..so when love fuels the pen, the thoughts flow…Do keep reading, Aunty Nag…and let’s debate this on and on…I’m glad you brought this debate up..it’s a good chronicler not only of changes but also of the sea change in mindset,,,

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          2. I was not so strict with food but since we couldn’t afford take outs as you guys can, used to make do with curd rice when i was running short of time. I do hope I will be able to do justice to the expectations from me. 🙂 you have said rightly that it is a chronicle of changing mindsets. I want to be able to point out to them without bias to either generation.

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  41. What is in the more??? Very lucid and coherent post!!

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    1. Wait and see 🙂 Thanks for the appreciation. Looking forward to seeing you here again..

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  42. Zephyr, this is the most cogent post I have read on the feminist movement so far and it is only the first of the series. I have bookmarked it to fall back upon it for the lucidity of thought, language and words and importantly, an insight into the hearts of women. It is all there, their travails, the little whims, hankerings, the search for freedom, their dilemmas and contradictions. It is a calming voice in the deafening yet false cacophony of the pseudo-liberationist today.

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    1. Those were the ones that set me off and since I am not a historian of any merit, I thought I could chronicle my experiences along with those who were close to me and those whom I observed in the society in those days. Thanks for finding it useful. 🙂

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  43. I totally enjoyed reading this post. It is inspiring to hear from you; and is a lot of matter for thought. The love/admiration for news readers stayed on till the next generation, I guess. My mom wanted me to sport a Rini Khana style hair do and become an IAS officer. I did the former only. Waiting for part 2.

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    1. Sorry, Archana for having missed replying to your comment when I had posted this one originally. Visual media is very compelling and so I can understand why your mother had wanted you to sport that hair-do. I must admit that Rini Khanna was a smart looking IAS officer 🙂

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  44. Nice!!! New generation is reaping the fruits of our sacrifice 😐

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    1. ‘Our’ sacrifices? I thought you belonged the next generation yourself, you look so young in all the pics 😀

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      1. I agree! I had the exact same thought when I read her comment. She looks as old as me :).

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        1. Thank you, Rachna!

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      2. I fall in the middle. So I usually side with the group that is getting more credit or benefit 🙂

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        1. Very sensible 😀

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          1. 🙂 🙂

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  45. Ah! I am waiting for part 2…loved the way you wrote about ‘working woman’ and how glamour quotient was also starched sarees and glasses….

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    1. Yes, it does come as a surprise that the earlier generation also had idols and ideals and were simple girls and women with dreams and aspirations — not just terrible MILs. 🙂

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  46. A lovely nostalgic read of how the women evolved. The faces of Salma Sultan, Mukta Srivastava et al came back. I am sure GenY will thank you for reminding them that it was not an easy journey:)

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    1. Whether the Gen Y thanks me or not, I would like them to see the journey as it began and how things we had to fight for were fundamental, basic and life-changing and not just ‘lifestyle’ changes to which it has deteriorated today.

      Like

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