“Happy Woman’s Day!” comes the cheerful greeting my way. I reciprocate wholeheartedly. And then I pause to think. So what am I being happy about? What are we celebrating? Is being a woman an achievement? I did not choose to be a woman. I just happened to be one.
This day, I noticed that people are divided into two. There are the ones who “diss” this hoopla, citing it as excessive commercialization and call the concept a fad. The argument (and a good one at that) being that why would women need one day to celebrate as their own, when the overall situation for the female gender worldwide is not very heartening as the statistics tell us.
Then there are the other ones who “dig” it wholeheartedly and try to defend its origin and purpose, making the same argument, really. That given the grim situation of women’s rights in most parts of the world, this day serves as a symbol for spreading awareness, and bringing focus on women’s issues. This is true to an extent. Scan the media this day and you get reminders of the disgraceful statistics related to female foeticide, infant mortality, women’s rights violations, rampant sexual harassment and violence against women, in India and globally, even today, in the second decade of the twenty first century.
But this day is special in a way for me, because, last year, it inspired me to write a tribute to my grandmother. The reactions on that post, and the exchange of thoughts and ideas were very encouraging, so I started on this journey of self expression. I got over my initial hesitation and I now share what comes to the mind be it poems or posts with friends and family.
I wrote about how my grandmother, a unique and courageous woman ahead of her times, defied stereotypes and made a significant difference to many lives and to the society. The trajectory of her life may have been different if she did not have a father who continued her education in spite of drawing flak. Or, if it wasn’t for her husband, a proponent of the progressive thought, passionate about bringing a social change. There may have been many such change agents, or catalysts in her life that enabled her to be different and to make a difference in a rigid and unforgiving social era.
We live in a country famous for its patriarchy, with cultures that insist that women must comply with its rigid norms and fit into the stereotype, much more than its expectation of a similar compliance by men.
Nevertheless, life is much easier for me as a woman today than what may have been for the women of my grandmother’s or my mother’s generation. For example, where completing matriculation was a great struggle for my grandmother, getting a degree in medicine a swim against the current for my mother, a decent professional education and a working career is a normal course of life for me. I would like to believe that sky would be the limit for my daughter when she grows up, explores her abilities, hones her skills and chases her dreams in this world.
Have you seen and experienced a change over the past three or four decades? Thanks to the women and men who challenged the regressive ways and traditions of the yester years. These are people who either were rebels themselves, or acted as catalysts and change agents that brought the progressive thought into traditional patriarchal families.
There are men and women in our lives who at different points in time have enabled us to make choices that changed the course of life for us, for the better. These include both – people branded as hardliner feminists, or others who were just normal people going about their lives, within the prescribed social framework. I want to celebrate all such enablers, as a part of celebration of me a woman.
It is a parent, or a sibling, who drove home the principle of self reliance and independence, and an assurance that it is okay to question the norm if you believe it is unfair.
A husband, a partner, who makes a strong team, who supports you in your endeavors, and does not hesitate to take on responsibilities traditionally attributed to you because of your gender, enabling you to fulfill your aspirations, and himself defying the stereotypical role that others have come to expect.
A teacher, a mentor, or a friend, who enables you to get out of your comfort zone, to discover your abilities, who demonstrated that you can chase your dreams, that there is a world out there, waiting to be discovered.
A family, a kaleidoscope of people and personalities, with their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies, but are nevertheless there, in your time of need, like a safety net that you can fall into.
Or even strangers, or acquaintances, people, whose lives inspired you, motivated you to do something beyond the conventional.
Bit by bit, over the last few decades, a handful of such mavericks did make a difference. They may have been criticized at that time, or even reprimanded for their radical thought. But the cumulative effect of that is the fact that I feel much liberated as compared to the generations of women before my time.
I may be sounding over optimistic, and we do have a really long way to go. But education, socio economic changes and globalization demands that we get out of our patriarchal mindsets, and embrace the change, for the future and happiness of our children, and for our own happiness too.
Have you taken that step to pursue your dream beyond the conventional? Have you identified the enablers in your life?