Recently, I was wondering what the big deal was that A grade actresses were asking for more money, when they probably make much more than the average woman anyway. My boyfriend sat up shocked, "Don't say such things. Women deserve an equal amount as their male counterparts. After all she's working as hard as he is!"
I've realised over time that my boyfriend is a feminist and is very proud to say it. In most societies people question women if they are feminists but no one has ever wondered if a man could be a feminist as well.
Once my boyfriend was sitting with a group of his friends who were whining about how their girlfriends are always cranky and irritable during menstruation.
"She says she's in pain and doesn't want to talk to me. How rude!" one of them said.
Another friend chipped in, "I don't know why these women complain so much. After all we have to shave every day don't we? All those cuts and waste of time!" Which was followed by applause and agreeable nods from the rest of the group.
And then my boyfriend spoke, "It's not the same thing. You can decide if you don't want to shave. You can go anywhere even if you have a beard. Women have no choice. They go through this to have our children. They are in a lot of pain and are still working and running around all day. They are cranky because they can't help their hormones from going berserk. Some can't enter kitchens, others don't enter temples, and many men label them as untouchables at this time of the month. Has that ever happened to you because you didn't shave?"
Needless to say my boyfriend lost that group of friends rather quickly.
Another time, we were at a wedding together. And I made a casual remark about the beauty of settling down and having kids. Obviously, this remark was keeping in mind the bride and groom at the wedding. But, my boyfriend had something else to say. "If the husband stays at home and looks after the kids it would be great but I can bet my *ss that the bride will have to give up her job when they decide to have kids."
"What's wrong with that?" I asked.
"There's nothing wrong with it. It's just that it cannot be the norm. A family, a husband, a society can't just expect her to give up her job. The man needs to share household duties, take care of the kids, manage the help, even if she chooses to be at home! Hate those in-laws who sit at home and wait for their bahus to get up so they can make them breakfast and tea. In this society marriage means getting a free maid."
After I had calmed him down, I looked up feminism. The wife being just a homemaker was not just an Indian notion, but a global mind set. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) criticized the idea that women could only find fulfillment through childbearing and homemaking.
"That's the damn thing girls are taught in every house!" my boyfriend roared.
In the book Friedan hypothesizes that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. Such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family.
The belief system then needs to change. Woman need to choose feminism and should want to find an identity apart from their husbands and children.
At another event my boyfriend and I went to, women weren't allowed to vote because it was a 'male' topic. I thought my boyfriend would almost have a fit and beat up some people. But I held him back and decided to argue for this right.
"Men don't think women are intelligent enough to vote or what?!" my boyfriend thundered.
I had even argue that over the years, because of a patriarchal society where sons were given more importance and were first priority when it came to education and health care, females were seen as the weaker sex, unimportant and hence unintelligent.
On the way back home we decided to walk, and a few men whistled at me because I was wearing a rather short dress. I looked at my boyfriend and asked, "Do you think I was asking for it? After all, I could have just worn jeans."
My feminist boyfriend said, "No woman ever asks for it. It's the male mind that doesn't respect women. It's her body, and it's her decision to wear what she wants, where she wants, and feel free. It's the sick mind of a man that ogles, and rapes."
"So shouldn't men appreciate women?"
"Of course. Like I appreciate. By complimenting them if you know them or by keeping your space and staying quiet when you don't."
At work my boyfriend is even more cautious with his large female staff. He is the COO of an organisation and he treats everyone the same. He has the same set of rules and targets for men and women.
Once a male employee asked him, "How come you're allowing Sujata to go home early today? Just because she has her period? We men don't take days off!"
My boyfriend said, "At the end of the month I'll see her target and yours, and then judge. And if you cut your leg and bandage it and are in pain, I think I would let you go home early too."
My boyfriend can be a feminist and still be very macho. He tells me it's all in the mind. How well you think of a woman. Any woman. If your instant reaction is of respect, then you're a feminist. If you believe she deserves equal pay, equal opportunities, and is as intelligent and hard working as a man, then you're a feminist.
Women have fought against Sati, dowry and domestic violence for centuries. They've been fighting for equal pay, equal opportunity, and the chance to be anything and go anywhere that men have been allowed to do. For every time a woman says she is not a feminist and a man says he is anti-feminism, they should realise that as the urban privileged class, everything that a woman can do today like drinking, walking on the street in whatever she chooses, voting, having a job, etc. is because of a feminist movement that has fought hard against a system that wouldn't have allowed them to be who they are.
With feminism comes great responsibility. To uphold the grace, respect, dignity and equality that comes with the word.
It's wrong to say only women are feminists. There are some men who are too.
Madhuri Banerjee is the author of 7 best selling books. Film Writer of Hate Story 2. A CNN-IBN Blogger. Times of India, Write India Mentor. National Award Winner. Revlon's Relationship Guru. She is also a Feminist and a Male Rights Activist which makes her a Humanist. For more follow her on Twitter @Madhuribanerjee