The two important questions that women should ask themselves throughout their lives
by Anita Menon
I never thought of myself as a feminist. I always felt that everyone gets their own share of opportunities that they can grab or miss. Well, it was easier for me because, growing up my parents were devoted to my “growing up” which in effect meant being completely focused on my education, my personality development, my talents etc. When you are raised with such dedication, ideologies like feminism have no room in your life. My parents made available to me all the opportunities that they could and I trusted them to be the best for me. I was at my confident best because my decisions were backed by my parents.
But to strike a balance, I was also taught to step down a little, to accommodate, to compromise and to sacrifice (if need be).
This, I believe is a part of growing up as a girl and eventually into a woman who will have to do this more often for her family and all the people in her life. Somewhere it has become second nature and it startled me how negligent I had become towards my own needs. Being in a marriage, having a child – all of this demanded many compromises; big and small. I don’t know about other women, but there are days when I feel, can’t I have just two minutes to put my feet up and for once not think of what I need to do next to make the lives of people easier? I began to think if I wanted my daughter to have my life? Did I want her to accept what’s given to her without making an effort to discover that she could perhaps get more? I would never want that. Well, if I could be so protective about her interests, why couldn’t I be protective of my own? Why can’t I think of what makes me happy and pursue those interests. Somewhere, I automatically think that whatever I suggest will meet with resistance. I had stopped exploring. I had stopped pushing my boundaries to see if it was possible.
I could not for a moment think that my needs could be greater than my family’s needs.
I thought back about all the women in my life and at work and somewhere I felt they all had made several compromises on the choice of their projects, or because they were getting married or had got married, were expecting or had a child already. Every single case of a raw deal being meted out to this band of talented and hard-working women.
Every single incident, where a promotion was denied to me because I was having a child, another chance of growth denied because they were certain I won’t move out because I had a settled life that I would not want to mess around with and so on. Sometimes all of this is shamelessly apparent, yet I do not do anything about it. Somewhere deep down, like most women, I believe this is the best I can get and I should be happy with it. I do not even make an effort to see if I can get anything better than this. I completely forget how hard I have worked throughout the year and how much more I needed to put in just because I didn’t want anyone to come back and tell me that I compromised on my effort because I was a woman and its kind of expected out of me.
I remember, in one of my appraisal sessions, the discussions started with – ‘ We know that you have other responsibilities apart from consulting assignments. We are glad to observe that you put in equal hours of work and effort (actually it was more) as your male colleagues.” Why would they start a discussion about my work like that. Are they trying to tell me that if at all I haven’t been up to the mark, they forgive me because I am a mother? Or that they are genuinely surprised that I was able to meet/exceed their expectations despite my constraints! Would they ever start an appraisal session in a similar tone with a male subordinate? I guess not.
Well, these tiny discrimination are not just limited to performance appraisals. Every single day, there is a power struggle whether we like it or not. I am so sure that each one of us women have gone through this every single day of our working lives. If a colleague talks to us with disrespect and we retort back, we are branded as aggressive. We become an easy target for all the coffee break conversations among male colleagues. An ‘aggressive’ woman is looked down upon. Every action of her’s is minutely scrutinized to spot signs of crazy, delusion and criminally aggressive behavior.
Yet again we forget to trust our own selves. We become doubtful of our own capabilities and talents. We stop questioning because we do not want to be singled out.
Keep your head down and work – that is the mantra
Sometimes all of these injustices boil inside and I begin to wonder, maybe somewhere inside me a feminist is desperate to come out and stand up for me. Why was I being so resistant? What am I so scared of? Of losing favor among my own people and people at work. Was I happy right now in a situation where I was pleasing everybody else without caring if I was happy with it?
What did I need to do to change my situation?
I started with two questions?
1. What do I want? ( courtesy – The Women)
2. What’s in it for me?
WHAT DO I WANT – I thought about all the things that I wanted to do – like write, bake, read new books, generate business ideas, explore other interesting fields, exercise, look good, eat well, rest well ( in no particular order).
Every woman should ask herself –WHAT DO I WANT – and write against it endlessly. Keep scribbling under that heading. Writing things down gives life to ideas. It is my personal experience. Though our brains are wondrous, there is so much clutter in there that the answer to this pertinent question can get muddled. Just write everything down. Keep a notebook. Keep jotting silly thoughts, important thoughts and future thoughts. Writing gives confidence because our thought process is clearer when it is in words. A clear thought process can unnerve/impress/win the most difficult of negotiators at work and at home.
WHAT’s IN IT FOR ME – This question reeks of selfishness. So what? All men I know, think like this. Women, I believe, are not naturally programmed to think like this. It seems crude and so un-womanlike. But it is important to think in a manner where we come to level where we can atleast cut back some losses because gaining or making a profit it far away. It is a difficult philosophy to apply at home ( I do not think I can ever do that even at my selfish best) but it can definitely be applied at work.
It is okay to be mean ( in a professional way) and stand up for something that we feel is important. There is no shame in negotiating for a higher salary or a higher position. Men do this all the time. They behave like children during appraisal time – threatening to leave, sulking, and murmuring under their breath. Nobody points fingers at them and calls that aggressive, demented and unprofessional.
Also, if it is professional of a man to say he wants to leave early because he has a tennis class to attend, it is completely okay for a woman to say that we would be a few minutes late to an early morning meeting because we have to drop our children to school. We have to rid ourselves of this unnecessary shame we associate with asking for something that truly is ours.
It took me a great deal of thinking and over-thinking before I could pen down this post. There is a huge danger that I will judged, laughed at, for being a feminist. I am yet not comfortable thinking about myself as one. Rather I feel, I would think of myself as an individual standing up for myself and trying to lead a fulfilled life because I have a right to do it as much as anybody else. It is imperative to change my outlook in life because my daughter is soaking up everything that she observes about being that woman-figure – the mom, the wife, the friend, the daughter and the sister. In future, she would take up most of those roles (if she likes) and I would want her to have the confidence to lead a fulfilled life by asking these two important questions that women should ask themselves throughout their lives.