by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 April 2007)
The feminist movement heydays were long over before I even knew I needed to stand up for my own rights. I grew up in an urban environment, single mother, poverty-ridden home.
Those who grow up in such situations are never thinking about fighting oppressive government policies, they are more concerned with just getting by from day to day. Will the electric be turned off today? Can we eat something more than mayonnaise sandwiches? Will my overworked, high-pressured, abusive mother snap again today? The last thing on my mind was fighting for my rights as a woman.
On top of everything else, there was school to keep my urban survival skills sharp and church to make me feel small and insignificant – as if I did not have enough to accomplish that task already. One of the many things I learned in church was to be mad at the feminists. I did not know why, I just knew that I should. I was taught they were out of control male wanna-bes.
I married at a young age to a wonderful guy and started having children 18 months later. My focus was then on toddler chasing and house cleaning. I still did not know I should be concerned with my rights. In fact, at this point in the late 80s, feminism was an intimidating topic for me. I just knew that I needed more than to stay at home with the kids. I was in dire need of some intellectual stimulation, but instead I tried to play the role of what the church declared to be a good wife and mother.
For some women, this would be fine, but I needed more. My husband was working during the day and going to college at night. So I would care for the children all day - every day of the week. Then on the weekend, I would go to church to have them tell me how I should be happy since this was God’s design for women.
I tried to be happy and to some extent I was happy. I had beautiful children whom I adored and a good husband. Beyond that, I was bored and feeling like a slave. It wasn’t that my husband did not love me, we just both fell into the traditional roles of family life, which worked for him – but it did not work for me. After years of this, I decided I could not handle it anymore. I honestly did not know what I needed; I just knew I needed more than what I had.
I started rejecting the church’s notions on women and realising I could not possibly fit in the suffocating mould they had created for all women. It was time for me to take control of my own life. After years of discontentment, I decided I needed to go to school. This would change my life forever.
I loved learning about astronomy, geology and reading the classical writers. I loved writing long essay papers because in my mind they turned into works of art. Each letter was a stroke of a paintbrush and I would work for hours on one paragraph just to make sure it portrayed the message I intended. When it was finished, I would beam with pride over the art I had created. I had finally found what was missing in my life. I was a writer.
I learned a great deal more at school, too. I realised that not only could I disagree with the church, a step I had already taken, but I could also disagree with the government and even the president. Not only was it my right, but it was also my responsibility to voice dissent when I felt the need. I saw so much injustice for the poor when I was young and for women when I got older that I just could not help but voice my dissent.
By the time I had matured to the point of realising I needed to fight for my rights as a woman, I was well into my thirties. It seemed so late for me to start this process that most women’s rights advocates begin in their late teens and early twenties during their college years. But I had a gift for writing and a passion for activism, so I decided against being intimidated any longer.
Now I spend my time studying and writing about the many grievances I have with the unbalanced social equilibrium of the sexes. When a person’s physical equilibrium is off, it is difficult to stand up straight or walk a straight line. In fact, they often get sick to their stomach. This is the same type of symptoms we see in our world because of the unbalanced social equilibrium between men and women.
It is time to find a cure for the injustices forced upon women. I want to see a healthy world that is balanced and fair. This is not a battle of the sexes; it is simply a matter of finally allowing the natural balance of power to run its course in every aspect of human interaction. It is time for equal distribution in the scales of power – in the home, in the church, at the workplace and in the government.
I do not see this balance being handed over easily to women though. This is something we have to take for our own by resisting the traditional feminine roles and stereotypes handed down from a patriarchal society. By rejecting these unjust expectations and embracing our rights as equal beings to the opposite sex, we can make huge strides.
Ladies, it is never too late to fight for your rights. If we have to call on the spirit of our Amazon ancestors, then so be it. I would rather be called arrogant and intimidating than to be the slave of that system. The fight will make us stronger and ensure equity of power for our daughters and their daughters.