You know what I find most burdensome, about being a woman? It’s the black-and-white nature of options available to me. It’s true that women’s liberation has brought reprieve to all my gender. We are not anymore constricted to the stifling role of a ‘little woman’. But this doesn’t mean that we’ve been liberated. We’ve just been given a choice of cages to live in, not all of them golden.
I attended the launch of ‘A Bad Boy’s Guide To The Good Indian Girl’ by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra recently. I finished the book in one night and it served to crystallize what I’ve felt for many years. There is the most common box of ‘Good Girl’ that every Indian girl is typecast in, at birth, with family & society doing their darndest to keep her there for the rest of her life.
But here’s what. Even if she does break out of that restricting definition, she simply falls headlong into another one. I’ve broken a few of the ‘Good Girl’ rules myself, opting to not mask my natural assertiveness and my ambition. Thus I’ve gotten slotted in another mold of ‘Career Woman’ (or occasionally ‘Pushy Bitch’). Now I find I’m constantly battling notions that I:
- should be an overachiever, in a meaningful job that pays well
- always be 100% sure, confident and in control
- be intelligent, sparkling, entertaining and ‘with it’
- do not like or care about family
- do not like kids or feel maternal
- do not feel sentimental or feel ashamed when I do
Would one attribute such notions to a man who was gregarious and ambitious? It is possible to see a man who throws himself into life as it comes along and loves hard, works hard, isn’t it? Why is it so hard to do that with me, then? Then, has women empowerment actually given us wings or has it just substituted one cage for another?
There is a certain attitude I sense in people when they learn about my relationship, a certain, ‘You are so lucky!’ followed by the assumption that I must be thrilled since my life’s ambition has been fulfilled. It is not I don’t feel lucky or happy; both of us do. But I resent the implicit assumption that my life is about bagging the right guy and feeling triumphant for having landed one. That’s insulting both to me and to my relationship.
How about the automatic understanding that comes the way of men when they feel ‘not ready for a marriage right now’? These are laughed off with a wink and even a subtle impression that it’s the normal man thing to feel. But I say it’s not. Apprehension before a major step is a human thing, not a male thing. It’s our bodies’ internal signals alerting us to the possibility of a situation that we need to be prepared for. Why then, does everyone assume that always know my mind and that my life proceeds smoothly without glitch? Why is my confusion always attributed to my ‘just being difficult’?
I don’t feel like I’m treated equal to men when I’m given no room for mistakes, no leeway for confusion, no space for undefinable emotions, ideas and actions. I struggle with many roles, even the ones that fit me well such as the CareerWoman or the EarthMother. I struggle when they conflict. I struggle when they all come together. But most of all, I struggle with the fact that they exist, these neat little boxes into which I’m supposed to package my personality, my dreams, my emotions, my identity and indeed, my life. When did life ever let itself be organized so neatly?
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