On Thursday, October 24, 2013 my boyfriend, Chirag Shah, popped the question on national television.
I remember feeling my hands shake and my eyes tear up while I watched him express how his larger purpose in life was fulfilled when he met me. I was in awe that it was all happening: I remember taking deep breaths to stay calm and present. Then there was the surreal experience of him getting down on one knee, pulling out a ring and asking me to marry him.
So, you can imagine my surprise when one of the most joyful moments of my life was traumatically tainted just two hours later when an article about the proposal was published on Jezebel, a site that prides itself on using a feminist lens. It was followed by another piece quoting it minutes later on Caryn Riswold’s blog and both served as a catalyst for a media frenzy. After reading the pieces, including all of the comments from people engaging in the conversation, I was angry and hurt. At the same time, I tried to stay present and celebrate with my now fiancé and our family and friends who shared in our joy.
After taking the time I needed to reflect, I sat with some very real and honest questions: Why was all of this happening? Why was it impacting me and my fiancé in this way? Why couldn’t we just enjoy our moment? And through further reflection, I realized it was because my sense of agency had been taken away. Women bloggers — fellow feminists — were swooping in as self-proclaimed “sheros,” framing a conversation without including my voice, and doing what they accused my fiancé, Chirag, of doing through his proposal — undermining me. I appreciate their intention of wanting me to have an opportunity to highlight my work, but the impact of their words and actions was disheartening.
I find it necessary to call out how traumatic the experience was for me, especially with it happening simultaneously with such a special occasion in my life. It is also important to point out that myths and cultural biases were being projected onto me by many women; specifically, these bloggers projected narratives about what womanhood means to them. This included how one “should” react to a marriage proposal according to what has been deemed appropriate by the wedding industrial complex: jumping up and down, kissing and hugging, screaming out loud and crying.
Sorry, folks, but this is not who I am: I am proud to be a calm, centered woman who is a feminist and social justice activist deeply rooted in my spiritual and cultural traditions.
I embody a very unique history and experience as an Indo-Caribbean woman of South Asian ancestry. I honor my ancestors who came before me, who endured the oppressive colonial system of Indentureship, and fought against their culture being stripped away by self-determining their own destiny. I value the strength of my story and proudly speak it because I follow in their footsteps daily and that is what shapes my stance in the world as a woman.
I believe it is possible to have a successful work life and a thriving family and reject that I need to prioritize either one at any given time. I am intentional about finding balance in a healthy and sustainable way.
I also respect the cultural values that were instilled in me from a young age about family, community and interdependence. I have aligned my life choices around these values, including being in an authentic, compassionate relationship with someone I love and respect who is also supportive of my career in social justice. While I was surprised by his delivery, my fiancé’s intention to marry me was not a surprise. We had numerous conversations, with each other and our families, about growing the depth of our partnership.
Having an online forum through blogs and social media to engage in meaningful exchanges about feminism is an important vehicle and it has the potential to propel the movement forward. Yet, the dialogues that ensued on October 24th, that personally impacted me, did not feel feminist at all.
I cannot condone feminism that chooses to take away a woman’s sense of agency, patronizes her by presenting statements like, “Maybe you shouldn’t marry him,” and that attempts to dissect her body language to make assumptions about her disposition.
I am thankful for the possibilities that have been presented to me through my happy moment gone viral including the many opportunities to speak about my work with the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, my place of employment, and Jahajee Sisters, an organization that I co-founded.
I am choosing to share my own voice as a woman of color and as an Indo-Caribbean feminist, to affirm my own agency and experience.
Simone Devi Jhingoor is an Indo-Caribbean writer, educator, activist and communications & fundraising strategist committed to Healing Justice and Reproductive Justice. Her work is centered on using the arts, political education and healing practices to support the empowerment and leadership development of women of color in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @SimoneDevi.