This year, on International Women’s Day, I was invited as a panelist at a renowned institution to talk on changing roles of women in society building. My excitement was not limited to the fact that I would get an opportunity to interact with young minds; I was more excited to see the names of the other panelists – eminent women leaders from the academia and law sorority. For me, this meant an opportunity to learn from informed, forward thinking industry stalwarts whose life stories and experiences are inspiration for fellow women (and men).
I was glad that we were not addressing a “women only” audience, because most organizations feel “gender inequality” is a women’s issue and hence such forums should be attended by women only. We received a warm welcome at the institute. Little did I realize what the day had in store for me.
The welcome note by the head of the institution set the tone for the discussion to follow. While she spoke of some achievements of women, she also spoke about the “boundaries” we need to operate within because we are women. Her entire emphasis was on moral policing and how important it is for young girls and women to behave in a certain fashion because that determines the respect we command in the society. I was astonished that even her international exposure and education had not been able to alter her pre-historic outlook. While her emphasis should have been on what we as girls can do in life, and that nothing is impossible if we are determined and focused, her speech was aimed at highlighting what girls cannot do or should not do.
One of the panelists started with some narrations of her courtroom experiences and I was thrilled. But, in some time, her stories turned into chronicles of sacrifices rather than courage demonstrated by her female clients. She drew references from history, to establish how women have always been valued for their selflessness. She also mentioned that the litigation segment was still a male-dominated zone with very few women opting for it as a career choice. She stated with pride that the best compliment an eminent female lawyer (a role model for many, being the only female in the Bar Council) has ever received from the Bar Council President, was on her farewell, inside a room full of male colleagues and that was “there is only one man in this room today”. Seriously???? Is “being a man” a woman’s benchmark for success? I have heard many parents say, I have raised my daughter like a son (including my parents when I was quite young, but thankfully they now understand the problem with that statement). Many young girls say, I want to make my parents proud and be their son. About time, we redefine our own success parameters.
Another panelist went on to speak about the values that we as women stand for – sacrifice, care and selflessness. She said, our role as a mother is the most important aspect of our lives and how the sacrifices we make, make us strong women. She also stressed on the fact that she does not believe in all these “feminism” terminologies and how some women overdo it, but that she believes in equality. I am sure it would have helped if she would have just “Googled” (if not read some additional literature) on feminism before commenting. Unfortunately, there were quite a few people in the room who were nodding their heads in concurrence. Sadly, even today, among many erudite people, the word “feminism” evokes such strong negative feelings.
Okay, now I have a problem when people talk about “sacrifice” being the biggest virtue that women possess. What if I don’t sacrifice always? What if I choose to not sacrifice my career after marriage or motherhood? What if I don’t sacrifice the bigger piece of cake for my father, brother or husband? What if I choose myself over others? What if I care for my likes and dislikes more? Does that make me less of a woman? Do my abilities and attitude not define me?
The notion of women being the epitome of all things “pure and virtuous” is archaic. Yes, I can be wild, expressive, carefree, messy, disobedient, rebellious, selfish, bold, and bossy. I can be everything the society doesn’t associate with “womanly attributes”. We have sacrificed enough for generations, it about time we claim being ourselves. Today, I as a woman, stand for freedom, independence, determination, excellence and empathy. Today, even if I wish to make sacrifices, these are my choices, not compulsions. From this day onward, I want to be defined by my vices and virtues, my weaknesses and strengths, my vulnerabilities and securities, and my failures and achievements. My life isn’t a saga of sacrifices, but I am the woman I want to be, I am the woman I want you to see.