I believe that my generation—and I use the possessive pronoun with extreme caution—is a fascinating sociological subject. If we were being strictly technical, my birth date would land me squarely in the category of what the media calls Gen Y. I, however, like to think of myself as an old soul. Yet, it is precisely this contrarian self-identification that typifies us millennials; we are similar by virtue of our need to be unique. For a woman, the identity issue becomes especially tenuous. The lens of a feminine existence adds an unparalleled complexity to the already-warped incongruity of aspiring to amble through a hurried life, of desiring conformation as much as rebellion, and of simultaneously coveting piety and courting profanity.
The greatest faux pas any feminist could commit is to claim to speak for all women—I intend to make no such transgression. My opinion is based on lived experience and conversations with like-minded coevals, although I harbour a hunch that it holds a much greater truth value: I have come to believe that the root of the perennial identity crisis we inhabit is a muddled notion of consent.
Common knowledge would have us believe that millennials are spoilt for choice. The illusion seems to be especially strong where our romantic lives are concerned. Consent, inevitably is inextricable from choice. However, what this argument conveniently neglects is the fact that despite the apparent abundance in choice, the liberty to exercise it is greatly restricted. The reason: what we disguise as a respect for consent is, in fact, a quest for acceptance, the greater burden of which the fairer sex unfairly experiences.
Growing up, I was fed the same dream as most of my girlfriends: the world was my oyster. Ostensibly. Also like most of my girlfriends, I was brought up in the image of an abstract ideal of femininity. There were rules about the kinds of things “good women” did and did not do. The range of acceptable behaviour differed with context—unlike some women I knew, I was taught to be competitive and to pursue my goals with a vengeance. Yet, the hard limits were common. Unladylike, uncultured behaviour was frowned upon, translating into a long list of Don’ts. Honourable mentions: talking or laughing loudly, having a debate with older people, and having a sex life. Suffice it to say that those indiscretions of which my folks are aware alone make me a disappointment.
I have not yet reached the intellectual plane my parents occupy, where logically antagonistic axioms can coexist. What I have learnt from their obsession with socialising me is to look for consent in all the wrong places. When I am discussing politics with retirement-aged friends of my father, I’m worried more about the stop-being-oppositional glances from my mother than the willingness of my interlocutor to engage with me. I am afraid of upsetting company by doing precisely that which my father does in a social setting—make good conversation. If I want to ring in the New Year by kissing a random attractive stranger on the dance floor, the fear I need to overcome before making the proposition is not one of rejection, or even slut-shaming, as much as it is of familial disapproval.
For a while, the unending implied iterations of making the “right” decisions made me forget about the concept of a free choice. Being a girl, a woman—a female person—proscribed the range of available options such that even after being disillusioned, reminding myself of my freedom to laugh at jokes, even the indelicate ones, is an effort of will. It takes significant mental prompting to allow myself to flirt with that cute stranger. The part of my brain that is my parents’ voice still has to be retold what the rational part already knows: mirth is healthy; arguments are not disrespectful; and having a sex life does not make me devoid of shame or love.
Perhaps the only item on that list without which we can all do is loud talking—already far too much noise is drowning out far too many voices that deserve to be heard.
By Suvanshkriti Singh
Suvanshkriti is a nerd and a geek, and a dork enough to educate you on the
difference between the two. She alternates between despairing for the fate
of the world and debating solutions to all its problems; she’s part
pessimist, part romantic, and all goof.