Check out this excellent article from today’s edition of the Times of India. We are justifiably angry with Sanjay Dutt for his lessons on tradition and Indian culture. Me too. I even blogged about it a couple of days ago. And, I stick to what I said then. That a woman’s surname is her problem. She must be free to choose what she wants to do. If, as the article states, feminist opinion is really divided over Michelle Obama’s choice to quit her job and support her husband’s run for presidency, then something is wrong. As we keep saying, it’s about choice. What I don’t understand is, why do some people dictate to us what that choice must be? Basically, what these feminists are saying is this. You are free to choose as long as we approve of the choice. Right?
Now, I have a problem. My problem is the label of feminism. If feminism is about choice, if it about the radical notion that men and women are equal, then these people must not be called feminists. Let me clarify. If a man chose to take on his wife’s surname, it would raise many eyebrows. But, nobody would condemn him for it. Maybe he would be called hen-pecked, but that’s about it. If a man chose to get back to work after a month of debilitating sickness, he would be called committed. But, if Aishwarya Rai or Sonia Gandhi or Michelle Obama choose to take their husband’s name, they are compromising the basic freedom of women. If Rachida Dati gets back to work just five days after she delivered a baby, she is giving away the right to maternity leave and putting pressure on hundreds of other women to do the same. Don’t we realise? Don’t we realise that we are imposing double standards of men and women in the name of upholding equality? Don’t we realise that by criticising these women’s choices, we are in fact denying them the right to choose?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-feminist. Far from it. But, I genuinely believe that women’s choices must be theirs alone. The choice to take on the husband’s name, the choice to refuse maternity leave, the choice to stay at home and care for their children, the choice to give up a flourishing career for the sake of her husband: all these choices are hers. One argument often put forward is that these women are never actually given that choice. That the decision is imposed on them. My question is: how do we know? Why do we assume we know? Why do we refuse to recognise that the women themselves may actually want to take these decisions? I have no answers.