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Letter to my feminist godmother

Dear Gloria, I did everything they told me not to do.

 |  5-minute read |   08-03-2016
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Dear Gloria,

When I thought of writing this letter on Women's Day, I rolled my eyes so hard, I feared for the health of my ocular muscles. No kidding. You're probably at some impressive gathering, addressing a crowd of impressive women, saying impressive things, leading to more overall impressiveness in the universe. Do I really want to jostle with the Lena Dunhams of the world to be a blip on your radar? Nah.

But I'm going to write it anyway. For myself. Because you've taught me, again and again, for the last three decades that it's important to do things for myself. Just for myself without giving a flying f*ck about who thinks what. It's a lesson I try to keep in mind. Often, I succeed, sometimes I fail.

I don't remember when exactly you came into my life, was I 10, 12? Maybe younger. Perhaps a little older. I don't remember the exact year. What I do remember is that you righted my world a little, put it back on its axis. I knew I needed you long before you spoke to me from the pages of the magazine a US-return aunt nicked from an Air India flight back home. The internet, in those days, was still a twinkle in the eye of middle class girls like me.

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It would be another couple of years before we'd have a loudly humming dial-up connection for the shared computer in the living room. I was allowed to be online for half an hour a day and one hour on weekends. And a LOT of that time was spent Asking Jeeves about you. My parents, who are pretty fed up of you and are convinced you're the reason their daughter is doomed to eternal spinsterhood, have, ironically, you to thank for keeping me away from internet chat rooms filled with predators during my hormone-filled teenage years.

I had no idea kids my age were learning sexual banter while I tried to imitate your thoughts, pretending they were my own. It's probably a good thing, because I doubt even you could have trumped the wickedly delicious thrill of flirting with dangers our parents didn't even know existed.

I think I officially appointed you my feminist godmother when I was 16. "What would Gloria do?" became a battle-cry in my head every time I was asked to perform to my gender. Walk, talk, dress, sit, swallow three morsels of food and pretend you're stuffed, be shy, hide your periods like it's a State secret, don't have too many opinions, clutch your virginity to your bosom and never have sex like a good Indian girl, nagged the women in my family who truly believed they were equipping me with essential life skills to navigate the world. "F*ck 'em and f*ck their expectations," you'd whisper in my head.

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And I did; everything they told me not to do. I went out, made questionable fashion choices, befriended weird strangers, thought forbidden thoughts, said them out loud and laughed like a hyena on acid. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

"What would Gloria do?" I asked the mirror every morning for a year, as I struggled to accept my body through an eating disorder. You were my only link to sanity and myself at a time when I couldn't bear to be me.

"What would Gloria do?" I asked my computer screen before typing out a resignation and I wrote a letter to my managing editor about gender biases and harassment in our workplace, instead. You made me plough on instead of giving up on a career I loved by resigning myself to the "Hey, I don't need the money anyway, why put up with anyone's crap?" rhetoric.

I have to be honest with you, though. I didn't always do what Gloria would. I let myself get bullied and shamed to keep a man happy and in love with me. Ugh. I belittled women I was jealous of, despite myself. Double ugh. Worse, I still catch myself doing it, even now, after all these years of imitating you.

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A month or so ago you said something pretty shitty while trying to rally support for Hillary Clinton. And then you apologised, albeit a bit poorly, calling the faux pas a "misrepresentation". It wasn't, but I forgave you right away, anyway. Not because I'm so blinded by admiration that I can't see a poor choice of words for what it is, but because if there's one thing you've taught me, it's that we all need to be a little kinder to each other, even in our disagreements and criticism.

As a kid, I was encouraged to put my faith in a fairy godmother who would magically come to my rescue, an entitled Prince Charming and the idea of a happily ever after. It made my obstinate brain wince and hurt, even then. As my feminist godmother, you made me give up a large part of my privilege (no daddy's money, no mummy's mollycoddling) and taught me to rescue myself when I needed rescuing. It's terrifying, but I couldn't be happier.

So today, tempted as I am to exfoliate, shop and party at discounted prices to celebrate all the womanhood bursting out my overlarge pores, what I choose to do is thank YOU - for teaching me to show them the middle finger and tell them where to go with their "exciting offers".

F*ck 'em and f*ck their expectations.

With lots of love,

Your self-appointed god-daughter

Writer

Radhika Gulab Radhika Gulab @msgrannypanties

Current relationship status: planning a romantic vacation for two. With Rob, the vibrator.

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