As I read Yashika Singla’s conversational part-memoir, part-manifesto, My Subconsciously Feminist Father, I wondered whether a book on feminism in 2023 really has to lay out such basics. I had to remind myself that not every young person is brought up away from limiting, preconceived gender roles. Despite this, I would bristle again—this time, at her narrative-creation.
I do agree with her that beliefs, and how they play out in parenting, can be complex. And the format she has chosen for her book could have easily helped her present complexity with nuance. Each of the 10 chapters starts with a collection of memories, and is followed by a sub-section, “Unsolicited Suggestion”, addressing that section’s theme. The title is attractive, too, as it sets out also to appeal to a man, especially the mamma’s boy who thinks he is better than any average feminist because, say, he loves his mother, sees the (read: for the) sacrifices she has made.
Singla traverses her growing up years, when her father, driven by his compulsiveness, would take charge of domestic chores despite his “proud patriarchal” or “sexist” traits; her marriage to a not-actually-feminist man; and conversations with friends, some inspiring and others she terms “nouveau feminists”. Here, Singla loses her way. Incidents that could have illuminated clear points on equality are overwritten and fall into the trap of making problematic declarations.
The promise of her book lay in how it would tell fathers (and at times mothers) how to be, and raise feminists, not by gimmicks, but by seeing egalitarianism as natural to themselves and their relationships. But she slips up by trying to make sense of her memories or infuse misplaced humour. Take, for example, an incident with her father chiding her then pre-teen sister for wearing a salwar kameez, telling her she shouldn’t wear “all this”. Singla somehow infers, in retrospect no less, that he meant her sister would end up wearing such clothes as an adult married to a sexist husband anyway, so why now. She uses the title as a weak justification: “It could be said that he was imposing his ideas on her and forbidding her from doing what she liked—how is that any better than forcing her to do the opposite? Well, I never said he knew what he was doing. That is why I started calling him the subconsciously feminist father...!”
This makes her inconsistent in tone and in labelling beliefs. She talks about a male friend as one who “definitely isn’t a feminist; he just doesn’t believe women are lesser than men in anyway nor does he feel threatened or a constant need to be better than them. Another subconscious egalitarian maybe.” If this was tongue-in-cheek, it was not apparent. It ought to be in a book written to explain that feminism is basically about men and women being equal—Singla does after all explain this algebraically in her introduction.
My Subconsciously Feminist Father was a great concept in its attempt to stress that feminism doesn’t have to look a certain way: It can occur when men are decent colleagues, considerate partners, good fathers; it can show up as women exercising choice fearlessly but respectfully, a phrase Singla uses herself. The book could have truly become a simple yet revolutionary reminder, a manifesto for all homes. If only it didn’t try so hard.