Why are you a feminist?

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‘You were pretty cool the last time we met. What’s happened to you now? Why are you wearing your feminism on your sleeve, like a label? Has the West caught up with you?’

I am a feminist. I always was one. I am a woman, so how can I not be a feminist? I was born to a sigh of disappointment that my genitals were not aligned with the wishful expectations of my family. I was a feminist in all those moments when I was told to leave a room, or to just go away because they believed I could not handle seeing a dead uncle, or talk to doctors and lawyers about important things. I was a feminist when I was yelled at in public by my brother and no one told him it was wrong to do so. I was a feminist when I had to absorb, to tolerate, to let go, to not take things to heart, to be pious, to be religious, to have a heart the size of a whale which can just engulf enormous masses of pain, anger and injustice. I was a feminist when I saw over and over again how girls around me were diminished by the love for a boy. I was a feminist when a man could divorce easily but a woman could not. I was a feminist when I saw my brother-in-law eat mounds of meat and sleep all day while my sister worked as a ‘housewife’; I was a feminist when he did nothing for his family while my sister was continuously expected to remain within the sham of a marriage because ‘a woman must always have a man in her life’ and ‘so what if he is good for nothing? At least he doesn’t go to prostitutes’. Well guess what? She doesn’t either.

I was a feminist when my best friend told me that he wished his wife was pregnant with a boy because ‘raising a girl is a lot of hard work’. I was a feminist when I met women who were slut-shamed because they chose not to wear a headscarf. I was a feminist when I met woman after woman hiding scars under their make-up: suffering gas-lighting, physical abuse, and being relegated to invisibility in relationships and at work. I was a feminist when I was treated as lesser because my cleavage was not on show, because I am more comfortable being covered.

I was a feminist when I saw how a serial sexual abuser’s crimes were covered up by his family. I was a feminist when I saw how all of the shame became the burden of the girl. I was a feminist when all the religious examples of great women were those who birthed, absorbed, tolerated, died from within, but who did not say a word. I was a feminist when I realised that my value was in my silence.

I became a feminist when in my 30s I started undoing the cultural baggage that convinced me I was a lesser human being and that I deserved to be lesser because that was part of my gender role. I became a feminist when my niece was born, because my hand trembled at the thought of handing her this baggage. I am a feminist because I am now trying to live unashamed of who I am. I became a feminist so that others won’t take so long to realise their feminism.

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