-two perspectives on feminism

‘’Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in Ethiope’s ear… beauty too rich for use, for Earth too dear.’’

Miss Matthew scans her fidgeting class with sad amusement as she recites. Half the heads are rested upon the desks and the other half turned in every direction but the blackboard.
Among all the bored faces, she spots one with plain disdain. Ananya's lips are turned down at the corners and she appears to be glaring down at her textbook.
‘’Miss Sharma! I see that our world-renowned poet Sir William Shakespeare has failed to impress you. What exactly about this sonnet disgusts you so much?’’
Ananya tries her best to maintain an indifferent demeanour but something inside her is ignited at the promise of a debate.
‘’In my opinion, Shakespeare is vastly outdated. Today beauty is of no consequence. A woman is as good as a man in all fields of wit and wisdom. Therefore, considering today's social environment, schools should not be creating a wrong image of a woman by teaching us such obsolete ideas.’’
‘’My condolences to your future Romeo.’’ Miss Matthew mutters under her breath. But she is pleasantly surprised to see a lot of students now sitting up with unprecedented attention. She decides to go along with the debate. "So, if you had a chance to write a poem describing a woman, how would you do it?"
A thoughtful silence envelops the class only interrupted by rapid scratches of pen on paper. To no one's surprise, Ananya Sharma is the first to come up with her poem.

‘’When we play Charades in class

Why is a woman shown by ‘eight’- a number?

A vulgar gesticulation of hands

Are her curves all that is there to her?

Her beauty is likened to roses that wither

And the deceitful Moon that plays hide and seek

Why not to a steady Oak trunk

Or the blinding Sun at the day’s peak?

She is the deep growl of thunder from the heart of the storm

Not just a soothing raindrop that kisses your cheek.

She is here to lead the way, to conquer the world

No more to nurture and serve.

She is ambitious and stubborn

A straight line, not a curve!

Stop thinking it is okay to cry

Because you are a woman and hence weak.

Dry your tears and mask it with a smile.

Harden yourself and let authority speak.

Stare ahead and advance undeterred

An arrow, straight and quick.

Be not like a useless curve

Forever indecisive, erratic.

Don’t look for longer lashes, red lips

Or admire your waist in the mirror.

Check if your gaze is steady, chin is high

And shoulders stronger and surer.

Tear out the murky pages of patriarchy

Open a fresh page and write your fate!

Be tough, don’t falter, don’t bend….

That is how we set a curve straight!’’

Ananya beams at her classmates as her poem is met with an applause so thunderous that Miss Matthew has to intervene. Amidst the cheer a lone voice calls out, ’’ May I read out my poem, Miss?’’ A shy soft-spoken girl, Riya raises her hand. ‘’Well, wonders will never cease! We would love to hear your poem…is it also a fitting response to medieval gender stereotypes?’’ ‘’No, Miss. My poem is a response to her poem.’’ The students sit up straight and for a moment, no one appears to be breathing. Even the self-assured Ananya looks a little baffled. Riya nervously clears her throat and begins:

‘’ Women who condemn grace and beauty

A sign of shallowness, they believe….

Afraid to be gentle and compassionate

I think they are miserably naïve.

What kind of Feminist are you-

Who wants every woman to be masculine?

To be tough and oblivious to emotion

Not a curve, but a straight line?

A curve is supple and flexible

Unlike a line- stubborn and rigid

Though the hurricane uproots the proud oak

It fails to destroy the humble reed.

And who says a curve cannot be strong?

That passion and emotion shows weakness?

The tempestuous ocean waves are curves

And so is the leap of a lioness.

The graceful dive of a swallow bird

Cutting neatly through the winds

The steady hand of a painter on canvas

As it masters lines and tints.

It is true that the rose eventually wilts

But she blooms with grace divine

Her petals luscious and tender

That a thousand thorns couldn’t malign.

The Moon does not blaze like the Sun,

But she weaves a cradle of sheer silver

Where you can lay your head and count the stars,

As you slowly drift into slumber.

Why do you ask her to conquer?

What if she wants to embrace?

To nurture, create and beautify-

What is the shame? What is the disgrace?

Next time she cries, tell her it's okay

Only a coward hides her tears.

She can love her curves unabashed

And admire them in the mirror.

Next time you think you know enough

To have the right to dictate,

Just ask the curve once if

She even wants to be set straight.’’

When the bell rang signalling the end of the class, for the first time ever, no one spoke a word. Ananya Sharma found herself speechless and Riya discovered a new feeling of confidence. Miss Matthew thanked her class and went out the door, a little awed by the workings of her students’ minds. William Shakespeare’s words glistened on the blackboard until the Math teacher entered and wiped it away.

-Annyesha Bhuniya