As women’s day approached, I debated over the possibilities of topics for the post—woman achievers, gender discrimination, female foeticide, and so on. Then, I recollected the INKLive 2014, where I heard Shravani Hagargi’s talk. Shravani co-founded Safe Hands 24×7, a security agency which employs women security guards. The main obstacle she had at the beginning was to gain client’s trust. They had difficulty believing her guards could provide good security. The reason—because they were women.
This got me thinking. What are the assumptions/expectations of people from a woman? How does she react to this stereotyping? Does she accept, reject or ignore them? Instead of answering these questions myself, I asked them to my fellow blogger friends.
Kokila, who blogs at Sunshine n Blue Clouds aptly describes the position of woman in ancient texts. “She is either a Goddess—the pious and the giving one, benign, patient and forgiving Or a witch—the bloodthirsty one, selfish, conniving, sly and scheming. Nowhere is she accepted as Manvi.. the Human.”
Being a woman
The society might complain that they don’t understand women, but that doesn’t stop them laying down the qualities of an ideal woman, describing everything from beauty standards to her behaviour.
“Being a woman you are expected to show your femininity through cooking, dressing, discussions about fashion trends and about your loved ones,” says Somali who loves to spot and connect the dots. Somali blogs at Scribble and Scrawl, and further adds, “I do not keep up with fashion trends, and where convenience and fashion are at loggerheads, I opt for convenience in dressing over fashion. I don’t have much interest in cooking and avoid going to the parlour as much as I can. Any discussions about my loved ones as a personal matter, which I do not like to discuss in public.”
Sagarika, a wild child, who is all about the good vibes shares a similar opinion. The blogger at Quiet Contemplation explains, “ as a woman, people expect me to be a soft-spoken, mild mannered lady who will never act upon her whims and fancies. I am the exact opposite. I am an indulgent, impulsive wild-child. Also, being a woman, there is so much “pressure” to match the society’s ridiculous standards of “beauty”. I don’t wear makeup, not quite often, partly because I don’t feel the need to, and partly because I don’t quite know how! I think that these beauty standards should be defined by only thing the woman’s will to wear it or not, and nothing else.”
Just because we, woman share the same biological structure, and hormones we are not the same. No woman can fit into the ideal woman mould without losing her individuality. The question is, does an ideal woman exist? Yes, she definitely does. Every woman is ideal in her own way.
It starts with a girl
Here, I have to admit that I had no idea about the different sets of rules that exist for genders as a child. If I hadn’t been an overindulged, and self-absorbed child, I might’ve known when a neighbour lectured me, and my girl friends on activities suitable for girls. Instead of being hurt or angry, we were sad. We decided that the poor old man was getting senile. What sane man could think 12 year old girls would enjoy doing chores as opposed to having fun!
Bushra, a city blogger, who loves solving Sudoku puzzles and trading at the bourses talks about a similar outlook. “Raised by a fauji family with a fairly modern outlook has been a blessing. They taught me the limitations in life are a result of an individual and never due to the gender.” The blogger at Noida Diary, further says, “however, there have been times when elders in the Khandaan (larger family) would admonish “Girls don’t climb trees, don’t jump walls” with a chiding to the parents. But with full support from parents this has never stopped me or any of my siblings to climb the tower back in our hometown or the ladder of success and independence in life.”
Sadly, not all girls get support from their parents. Some girls are cut off from the playground and made to do the house work, while their much older brother doesn’t contribute a mite.
And grows thereafter
Joining a dental college acquainted me with gender stereotyping, and discrimination. One of my Profs informed, “it’s imperative for doctors to create good impression on patients. So, you all shouldn’t wear jeans.” By you all, he meant only the girls. Guys, it seems, are naturally accepted as doctors; girls need to prove their worth. And should she do it by being the best? Nope, a girl’s attire matters more than her ability. (I’m glad to say, most other doctors and patients don’t accept this opinion.)
“As females we live with many restrictions—what to wear, where to go and at what time. I was questioned on many occasions on all of these,” says Saru who blogs at Words. Society restrictions don’t always dampen the spirit of a woman. A Company Secretary by profession, Saru found her true calling in writing. She says, “however, I never bothered to fit into these outdated norms of society. My work demanded me to travel and stay out, the only thing I did was to be safe. I’ve learned to turn a deaf ear to all the things that come in the way of my growth.”
Purba—a novelist, poet and storyteller from Kolkata—didn’t allow any negative stereotyping to stop her from achieving her goals. The blogger at Love, Laugh and Reflect says, “When I think of my experiences with female stereotyping, I can distinctly remember some of my relatives for whom a girl should get married by 25. So, since the last two years, all they had asked me was when I am getting married or whether they should find a groom for me. They are least interested in my achievements as a writer. If I tell them about my dreams and career plans, they just laugh it off. Somehow, their one dimensional thought and ridiculing my dreams made me even more determined to follow my heart.”
Then comes marriage
Marriage is a beautiful institution which brings together two people who love each other. In India, it falls in the public domain. Instead of the married couple, the society opines what clothes a married woman should wear, and of course other accessories to proclaim, she is indeed married.
Maniparna, who blogs at Scattered Thoughts talks about the importance of ek chutki sindhoor in the life of woman. Maniparna is a content-writer who believes in positive thinking and free spirit. She says, “As a woman, we often become victims of social stereotyping. It might be your dress, your way of talking or simply anything on earth. A litany of complaints is always there. I seldom apply vermilion (sindoor) which is considered as a sign of Indian married woman. Partly because I’m allergic to it and partly that I believe applying sindoor has hardly any connection to my love and respect for my husband. But, I’ve faced antagonism from the elders of my family, from relatives and friends for this very reason! I wonder how “ek chutki sindoor” has enshrouded all the logical reasoning. I’ve no problem if someone applies it, but why forcing anyone who is not willing to? Can we think of adopting some similar sign for married men? Ever? You know the answer.”
And the responsibilities
Woman is supposed to be born with a natural talent in taking care of the house, and family. Seriously, who discovered this precious feminine talent? Maybe the same person, who coined the term house-wife. The reason this term irritates me is that it feels like she married the house instead of her husband. And again, it’s not always the husband who expects, her to take care of the house by herself, but the concerned public.
Mridula Dwivedi is a travel blogger, who quit her job in May 2015. She doesn’t miss her work that much but she certainly misses her salary! The blogger at Travel Tales from India faces the same inquiry. “For me the most common question is who takes care of home if you travel so much?” says Mridula. “I simply reply that my family takes care of me and each-other!”
The woes of a modern woman
The woman of today strives hard to fulfill all her supposed obligations, and her own sense of achievement. It’s a tricky walk trying to achieve a balance between personal, and professional life. People have a way of assuming that a successful woman must be neglecting her family.
Dr. Sharmila Rao—a Dentist, Hypnotherapist, Blogger, and a Dancer—says, “ my being a doctor, many times creates an image in people of a person who is very self centered, irresponsible mother, a kitchen disaster. I remember this one time when I stitched my daughter’s dress because we wanted it in a particular style. Another parent asked me where did I get it stitched, I told her that I sew it myself, she found it very hard to believe.” Sharmila, who writes at Parwatisingari’s Weblog continues, “We have this compartments, that educated working women think, do and be a particular pattern while housewives are home focused caring mothers. We refuse to accept anything that does not fall into that stereotype.”
It’s not just the professional aspect which draws in the criticism, but also their hobbies, and interests. The woman is supposed to find solace in her family, not doing something else she likes.
Shweta is a sunshine girl full of energy, a management consultant who finds blogging fun and lives with her heart on her sleeve. People judge her passion for travelling many a times. “I love to travel and it’s known to all. When I say I am travelling alone, I get raised eyebrows…why would you want to? Don’t you get bored? Why leave family and go on vacation? It’s not safe, Too modern I think.”
Shweta, who blogs at Sunshine and Zephyr, doesn’t get let others intimidate her. She says, “well I believe in living my life happily and travelling alone makes me know myself more. I do take utmost care of myself and my safety and my suggestion to all you women who haven’t tried it, pack your bag and make a solo trip. Trust me you will never regret it.”
It’s not just the lack of traditions which irk the society now-a-days, but the opposite too. “Female stereotyping has taken a U turn. I have observed people expecting a woman to master in the tasks that are ‘known’ to be ‘men only’ irrespective of their taste. Most of them have misunderstood smartness/modernization with being like men. I don’t think woman need to master any predefined skill sets to prove herself smart/modern/competitive.” says, Sindhu—a nature lover, artist, fashion designer and blogger.
It is yet one of the strange ways of the society which expects the girl to retain her traditional values, but embrace every other modern technology. However, Sindhu, who writes at Tantu doesn’t let other’s attitude bully her into doing something she doesn’t like. She says, “one common question I am asked is if I drive a car. I say No. They ask why, insist I must be a smart woman and knowing driving makes me more independent. Noticing a bossing and downgrading tone, I say I don’t have liking for driving. They stay surprised and I keep smiling.”
It’s good to stay away from doing the stereotypical things. But, it’s better to try them first, because you never know what you end up liking.
A vagabond, dreamer and optimist, Archana loves to weave words at Drishti so that they live and inspire people for time immemorial. She describes her relationship with cooking. “Cooking for me has been the worst kind of stereotyping for the fairer sex! Though I grew up in a very conservative North India household, my father lay a huge amount of emphasis on education. He ensured that my sister and I were never seen in the kitchen during our growing years. One can argue whether it was a good thing or a bad thing given the emphasis on how everyone needs to be independent and hence also be able to feed themselves. My mother was the recipient of some very snide and sarcastic remarks since her girls did not know how to cook. Ofcourse, this changed as my younger sister took a liking towards cooking ‘exotic’ stuff and my abhorrence with the skill continued.”
The travel blogger, who blogs at Travel with Archie, further explains, “So my mother was at the receiving end of how her ‘high-flyer corporate woman’ daughter did not even know how to cook! She always smiled and said, “When the time presents itself, she will prove herself.” Well, I wasn’t sure of that confidence myself because I truly believed that cooking was a skill I would never be adept at. But as they say, never say never. My life changed and now my husband claims that I am a good cook. But I do it out of love for him, not because of the popular saying that ‘cooking is a woman’s job after all.”
Because she is a woman
For ages, people have tried to understand a woman, but they’ll never succeed. Want to know why? Because she is a woman. The world might not heed her, but she’s the one who gave birth to mankind. Centuries of subservience has failed to dampen her spirits. She spreads joy when her heart is full of tears; she continues to love even when she’s hurt. You might doubt her capability, but you can never destroy her confidence.
As Kokila, the multi-talented writer, and my blogger friend says in her post, “No one can stereotype me. Unless of course, I am willing to be.”
HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY!
Except for Kokila whose complete response you can read in her post, Aloha Women’s day, all other replies are unedited.
Thanks a lot to all my blogger friends for their response, and allowing me to use it in my post.