18 Aug All Bark, No Bite
W hen I feel something, I feel it deeply. I tend to get consumed by the emotion, and it takes over me like the smell of burnt garlic in a kitchen. It’s everywhere. It starts to influence what I do, what I don’t do, and how I behave. I feel so much, I forget to act. It can get difficult for me to do something about it.
I don’t feel so intensely about a lot of stuff. There are only a handful of things – from climate change to gender and sex based discrimination, for example, that unleash this barrage of unbridled emotion within.
When I’m in a situation that challenges my beliefs on things I feel deeply about, I tend to take it personally. The last time that happened, I got a massive reality check.
About a year ago, smack in the middle of a lockdown, I came across a controversial incident on Instagram. A bunch of school going boys had made an Instagram group, where they circulated pictures of girls, and objectified them. The scandal came to light when one of the girls spoke up – and it went viral within hours.
Everyone was talking about it.
But not me.
I was too busy feeling – Anger. Disgust. Pain.
I didn’t know how to process the betrayal I felt. I didn’t know why I felt it so personally. Perhaps because it could’ve easily been me. Or because I could be next. I couldn’t really pinpoint the exact reason, but I didn’t care.
So, I did the only thing I knew – I ranted. I put up stories on Instagram, berating the incident, and linked resources for anyone feeling what I was. I wasn’t afraid to call them out. I continued to get worked up about the incident and kept ranting about every new development that surfaced.
A few days after the incident, a friend called to check in on me. He was worried about me – and said as much. I don’t know what got into me, but I lashed out at him. He was trying to calm me down, but all I could think about was the incident, and I was in no mood to be placated. I wanted to continue feeling the anger, because if I didn’t, then what kind of feminist would I be?
He had the sense not to engage and didn’t react to my tantrum. He asked me to take care and promised to call in a few days. Before he hung up, he said something that changed my life.
“Pooja, I tolerate your behavior because you’re my best friend. And I always will because I know that’s your passion speaking. Others will not. And they shouldn’t - you can be difficult and irrational when you get like this. I just don’t understand why you’re not more active about changing how the world looks like for women, if you feel so deeply about it. No one cares what you feel if you don’t do anything.”
I was stunned.
I had never thought of it that way. Had I actually fallen prey to performative wokeness? Did I do nothing but rant about what’s going wrong? I didn’t know what to think. He had never expressed this to me before, and I had been too engrossed in thinking I was doing my best to even consider that I wasn’t doing enough.
I mulled over it for the next few days, and when I called him back a few days later, I offered an apology along with a begrudging admission that he was right. I was wrong. Usually, I would’ve let this simmer, and obsessed over his audacity. I would’ve gotten angrier at being called out.
For the first time in a long time, I didn’t.
I first heard about Girl Up a few days after this call. A friend of mine had posted a story of Michelle Obama speaking at the Girl Up 2020 Summit, and I was really intrigued. I found out that Girl Up is an initiative of the United Nations Foundation, that seeks to support young people around the world in advancing the movement for gender equality.
I did my own research on Girl Up chapters around the world and realized it was fairly easy to start one. I spoke to a few club leaders, as well as some close friends, before I made the decision to start one myself. It took a few weeks, but I put together all the necessary documentation, formed a team, and Girl Up Sydney was born!
I work with my team to raise awareness, funds, and start important dialogue for important issues. I’m able to process how I feel about the inequalities that exist in a healthier way. I channel them into the work we do and look for new ways to make a difference – a world where no one is denied an opportunity by virtue of their gender.
This year, we were invited to the annual Global Leadership Summit (organized by GirlUp HQ!) to speak about Career Fest, a weeklong fundraiser we organized in the first week of March, that raised 40,000 INR that went towards the education of girl children across Africa. Speaking at the summit was a bittersweet experience; each milestone we hit is a dichotomy between hope and despair – our work is a sign of both the difference we make, and how little it counts for in the grand scheme of things.
So much has changed, and so much hasn’t. I still get angry when I think about what women around the world go through because of patriarchal norms. It still infuriates me when a woman has to beg to be taken seriously, and how her worth is synonymous with her appearance.
I know I’m not perfect, and neither is my way of dealing with things. I have a long way to go, and Girl Up does too.
What matters is that my days of all talk and no action are behind me.