By Rajitha Menon
Many summers ago, my extended family gathered in our house for a Sunday get-together. As was customary, the women withdrew to the inner chambers, to talk about health issues, kids’ schooling and eating habits, and neighbourhood scandals. The men settled down in the living room, discussing sports, economic and politics. The latter was a hot topic, since we were in the middle of a charged election season.
I was a teenager then and, like most teenagers, found the kids annoying and the adults boring. As I wandered aimlessly from one room to the other, I heard one of my uncles proclaim the advantages of voting a particular party into power.
He finished his monologue with the assertion, “I promised the candidate that he will get all the votes from my family. I have also told my wife and daughter to vote for the guy.”
While the others nodded their heads in approval, another uncle (incidentally a supporter of a rival party) asked a pertinent question: “What if they want to vote for someone else?”
The first speaker scoffed, “Oh come on! As if they know about what’s happening. They are not interested in politics, man. Why leave the decision to them and waste a vote?”
There were murmurs of agreement.
Nothing about this conversation struck me as unusual at that time. It was a common strain of thought: women can’t be ‘bothered with’ politics. It is a man’s domain, both for participation and discussion. At best, the woman could play a supporting role.
Years later, as I write this down, I wonder what has changed. Yes, women are more informed and more active consumers of news. Some have made forays into the political sphere while others are vocal on social media. Yet, for all the gloss on the outside, the rot at the core persists. And this can be resolved only when we actually start talking.
This is not to say that posting content on social media does not matter. Such platforms are great levellers and can influence both public opinion and state action. The power it gives the common woman is unmatched and we should definitely use it to make our collective voices heard.
But what stops us from talking to our family members when they say something that is problematic or untrue, especially when it’s political? Why do we just roll our eyes in exasperation when they argue in favour of the most ridiculous or vitriolic policies or laws? Why don’t we argue with the same conviction and vehemence that a younger male cousin so effortlessly showcases?
Rhetorical questions; of course, I know why. Because we are labelled as the ‘argumentative girls’, the dominating daughters, the troublemakers. Because contradicting elders is seen as disrespecting them. Because a confrontation can ‘ruin the mood of the evening’. Because what’s the point?
The point, dear sisters, is that the more we keep quiet, the more comfortable our men become with taking decisions on our behalf. Not all our fathers and uncles are present on Twitter and Facebook to take note of the radical content we post. Heck, most of them don’t even know what our political affiliations are. Women are considered unable to organise and govern themselves, though that’s far from the truth.
We need to set that right, and for that we need to talk. To talk sense, we need to know. We need to know what’s happening in our locality, in our district, in the state, in the country and in the world. And our information needs to come from a credible source, one that does not mince words and can actually hold a mirror to the society.
Do not be worried about seeing something that is contrary to what your parents or family members are proclaiming. Chances are, you are seeing the reality while they are being carried away by propaganda and inherent biases.
This is much more than proving a point to anyone, though! From our abysmally low female representation in the two houses of Parliament to the online sexual harassment that any female critic of the present ruling dispensation faces – everything is linked to our silence.
There is a growing body of study that demonstrates the benefits of women’s leadership. The men have had their chance to rule the world and look what they turned it into! Now it’s our chance and, by God, we are going to do a better job.
While you are at it, bust those other stereotypes too! You don’t have to look a certain way to be taken seriously. Wearing short dresses and posting pretty pictures on Instagram does not disqualify you from talking about politics.
There is no right age to start becoming politically and socially aware; you are never too young or too old. If your social circle finds politics uncool, there is nothing wrong with expanding the boundaries to fit more like-minded people.
Remember, we didn’t come this far to only come this far. We are going to talk and they are going to take note. And they are going to have to make space for us – whether it is in the Parliament or in the living room.
Rajitha Menon is a finance professional-turned-journalist based in Bengaluru and Ernakulam. She is the author of the short story ‘Peering Through the Mist’ in the anthology Everything Changed After That: 25 Women, 25 Stories (Embassy Books). Buy it on Amazon.