Lost in Translation

Who knows me the most intimately in this entire world?

My best friend? My mother? Both these answers would be completely acceptable but also completely incorrect. The right answer to who knows me the most intimately in the world is: my waxing lady, Shreya.

There is no experience in the world more conducive to bonding than having your body hair ripped out in rapid bursts. You may even black out a little, but hey, it’s all part of that painful, expensive and arduous process of making yourself easy on society’s eyes. Shreya was just the woman for the job.

In some ways, Shreya was like a dentist involved in the process of drilling through your teeth. Even though the dentist knows that you cannot possibly talk with all that equipment stuffed into your mouth, it doesn’t stop them from chattering on and on. Similarly, a young client in excruciating pain never stopped Shreya from babbling cheerfully on about movies, boys and ingrown hairs. I usually limited my answers to groans in varying tones.

But over the years, as our one-sided, talkative sessions have become regular and my sense of dignity has all but disappeared, I’ve noticed a pattern in her verbal diarrhea. Shreya has an eloquent catchphrase, a reassuring promise that she often repeats at our sessions: “As soon as the torture is over, you’ll be beautiful.”

Every time I have been privy to this utterance, I wince internally. Her reassurances have made me wonder what I am really putting myself through this pain for — and wonder if it is just to meet some outdated societal prerequisite for beauty. With every discarded wax strip, I began to feel as if the very ideals that feminists today are trying to nurture were being ripped away.

But this piece isn’t about hair. This piece is about internalized double standards and the normalization and rationalization of them when they come from people whom we know and love.

For most of my life, I’ve known that my friends and parents aren’t sexist. I’ve known that I am not sexist. And I’ve known this so strongly that every time I hear a subtly sexist comment (or when I catch myself making one), I rationalize myself into believing that the friend, family member or waxing lady didn’t mean it, because I know and trust them. More often than not, they really did not mean it; they just didn’t know any better. And to be completely honest, I think that might just be worse.

I remember rolling my eyes when Shreya called this waxing “monthly maintenance,” officially christening the international money-making scam of tricking females into conformity by dubbing the process “hygienic.”

This is patriarchy, a hegemony at its ultimate best when the suppressed themselves have internalized their oppression. And it leaves no woman, no matter her age, untouched. Ironically enough, the reason that we are unable to carry on a consistent dialogue about this long enough to make an impact is because the society we are trying to critique tells us that we talk about this oppression too much.

Not once have I heard people say that we speak too much about casteism or religious intolerance. Not once have I listened to people groan when we talk about illiteracy or child labor and child marriage. But the minute we bring up sexism and gender disparity, all the voices for the issue are drowned out by the empty vessels making the most noise about the overrepresentation of gender issues. There’s not a single version of “we talk about gender and rape too much” that I haven’t heard, and it never fails to astonish me.

As a female, it is your duty to support your sisters in arms. It is your duty to speak up when someone unknowingly, or knowingly, makes a regressive comment. It is your strength and not your limitation that you get fired up on important matters, because it means that you have certain substance to your character that shatters the glass ceiling built for you. Never again do I want to hear a woman say that there is too much feminism, because if there truly were, you wouldn’t doubt the effectiveness of the word “no.” And “too much feminism” cannot become another thing to guilt women about, because after centuries of “too much patriarchy,” whose excessiveness was not questioned, “too much feminism” will be the mantra of the coming age.

With Shreya, my biggest regret during our conversations was letting out a nonchalant “hmmm” at her incessant conformity to gender stereotyping. I’d traded my beliefs and integrity in for a mere month of well-shaped eyebrows and smooth skin, and I was ashamed. Because if someone makes gendered comments, it’s on them. But if you let them do it without speaking up, it’s on you.

So, the next time someone like Shreya unknowingly launches into a tirade on the sloppiness of women, it is important for someone like me to convey a firm nonconformity to their views. Not just because it would be wrong for me to let it slide, but also because they otherwise will not understand the sexism in their ideologies. Because every time we “let it go” is another brick in the wall of normalized sexism that we are fighting to tear down.

Because as long as there is “too much feminism,” we know that we’re doing something right.

Anusha Subramanian writes the Thursday blog on being an international student. Contact her at [email protected] .