I went to college in Madras at the end of the nineties. It was an all-girls college, in a cramped campus, the land better suited perhaps to a commercial space rather than an institution of higher learning. There were no leafy, tree lined grounds, or shady spots to sit and chat with friends. There was no derelict block to sneak off to. The canteen was perilously close to the administrative offices. Overall, the space hummed with a certain official, industrious quality. We were all there for three years, in and out and on to the next thing – second degrees, jobs and marriages.
We were, I think, playing at being in college. We were not very well dressed for the part though. Strict dress codes on campus and from home, meant that a rather large swathe of my batch mates came to school in decorous salwar kameez and a well-oiled braid down their back. Jeans were permitted but only with shirts or kurtas that had to cover our backsides. We accepted all this. There was no protest. No dissent. We were mostly from all-girls schools, where similar diktats had been passed on to us. So we just assumed that this was how things were. Of course, we longingly looked upon our counterparts in cooler colleges, with their insouciant sleeveless t-shirts and real canteen.
As I look back on those days, I realise how ‘good’ we all were. We listened to our lecturers, our parents, we did as we were told. We did not answer back. We were basically still school girls without the pinafore and ribbons.
What really strikes me though, is how we didn’t talk about greater, bigger ideas. We talked about our record submissions, lab work, and assignments. We giggled and talked about our favourite movie actors (few of us knew any ‘real’ good looking guys, or guys at all) and our computer classes, and what we wanted to do next. I often think back to how we didn’t ever discuss feminism, or talk about feminist issues. In fact the word, didn’t really blink on my radar until much much later.
The first time I really thought about feminism, was when I was in my mid-twenties and taking a short, creative writing course at Central St. Martins in London. I was married, had a day job as a copywriter, and like millions of other people, felt I had a book inside me. Each week we would read out a short story we had written and then open ourselves and our work up to criticism. One of the women in the group read out what I thought was a fabulous story about a married woman cleaning her kitchen floor. The story made a reference to Betty Freidan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and I kept thinking, I have to read this book. It was the first time in my life (shock horror) that I had heard of the author.
In the 10 or so years since that class, I have never gotten around to reading the book. But I have read articles and blog posts about feminism and been a silent, ringside voyeur of twitter chats with a feminist slant. I now identify myself as a feminist, but there is something that holds me back from proclaiming this loudly. The simple fact that I haven’t really read a single feminist book. Do I know enough? Do I have anything intelligent to say? What if I sound stupid? It’s the same feeling that stops me from talking about sub-prime. I really don’t feel like I would have much to contribute.
And I wonder how many of my friends from college or who had a college experience similar to mine feel that way? So I thought, well I would like to read feminist books. The top 10 feminist books every written. And I will blog about it. I suppose it’s because I like the idea of having something concrete to work towards. Because I have no ideas for short stories. Because once I have made this rather public pronouncement then I will have to stick to it. It’s like saying ‘I’m going to run a marathon’ on Facebook. You kind of have to after that.
I have no real hard and fast goals that I want to achieve through this. I would like to be more well informed for sure, but also, I hope to start having conversations with people around me about the things I am reading.
So, here we go. I am, of course going to start off with Betty Friedan. The paperback is really expensive, so I am downloading (I hope legally) a pdf. If anyone has a copy they would like to lend me, drop us a comment! I will be very grateful!
See you soon!