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A Powerful Woman Thinks Like A Woman

I’ve been enjoying the later seasons of Mad Men as the characters really come into their own and the various sub-plots develop. A lot of the time I’m startled by how 1960s New York sounds like Mumbai in 2013.

Joan Holloway in tight red blouse - Fashion of...

Joan Holloway in tight red blouse – Fashion of Mad Men (Photo credit: Deirdre Boyer)

In Season 4, an episode titled ‘The Summer Man’ shows Joey, a young
freelancer being blatantly rude to and harassing Joan Holloway, the senior office manager. His attitude is dismissive to the point of describing her to her face as ‘dressing like you want to be raped’. He also draws a pornographic cartoon of her and tacks it to her office window.

When one reads about, hears about or even sees something like this in a fictitious setting, the natural reaction is shock and horror. If it’s in a show like Mad Men, it usually gets put down to the timeframe and/or the western culture. And finally, by calling the particular propagator a few names, it gets pegged as abnormal behaviour.

The trouble is, this is not abnormal behaviour, it’s not specific to that time frame or that geography. This is the reality, here and now. Rather memorably, on my first day at b-school, the professor (an M.Tech. from I.I.T.) strode up to me seated in the first row and said,

“Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home learning to make chappatis?”

The predominantly male class laughed and the professor made some loyal fans that day. For the rest of the term, my questions were sidelined at best and turned into jokes, by the professor. I got my back at the end of the semester when I fought to take on a project that according to the professor, ‘involved a lot of maths so only engineers would be able to handle it’. I was the only non-engineer and the only woman in the group. After two weeks of being pushed around by the rest of the team, on the day before the presentation, I threw up my hands and declared that I was resigning from the team. Since I had done the bulk of the work, including the mathematical analysis, charting and the Powerpoint, the team came down on its knees. I delivered the entire presentation the next day and got a good grade (for the entire group, of course).

This sadly, has not been a stray incident but the first of several episodes where I’ve had to fight or tolerate extremely bad behaviour, as a woman professional. And as with the incident above, my approach has been to take it on like a war, fortify my defenses and attack.

What interested me about the Mad Men episode was what Peggy Olsen, a character I relate to greatly as I see my own professional journey charted out in hers, does. She is torn between the acceptance and camaraderie she enjoys from Joey & his cronies, as part of the creative team. But she also resents Joey’s harassment of Joan and the misogynistic attitude that she knows underlies it. She tries warning him and when he doesn’t listen, she takes it up to Don Draper. Don’s advice to her to is to not get him involved as it will make her look like a tattle-tale, but fire Joey, if she wants. She does just that and reports this to Joan, feeling proud and vindicated. Joan’s reply, as always, is surprising (if not cutting) but insightful.

And I learn a lesson that perhaps Peggy learns at the end of this episode too. In the bloody, dirty war between the sexes, should you accept the advice of the enemy, even if that particular one is an ally? Or does it make more sense to follow the counsel of one of your own, who leads and proves their mettle? To put it a little less dramatically, in a problem created by a man for a woman, does it make more sense to solve it by thinking like a man or a woman? Joan like a few wise women, has perfected the art of being a woman, always a woman and still keeping her independence and her dignity in a man’s world.

Unfortunately, in a society governed by rules created to pander to men, our behaviour as leaders, as power wielders are learnt from those who wielded them before us – men. I would love to have a Joan Holloway in my life, someone a little older, wiser and who has fought the battles I fight, before and with far more dignity and grace than I do. Sadly, I don’t have any real female role models. And it’s a doubly nerve-wracking realization that I may be just such a role model to younger women.

Ultimately it boils down to a simple truth. To be a powerful woman, you have to be a woman, not a man. And you can only learn to be a powerful woman, from a powerful woman, not a powerful man. And in a place devoid of such teachers, learning must happen with all its mistakes and far slower than I’d like.

I feel like a character in someone else’s coming-of-age story

….the kind about a young man discovering himself, his faith, his relationship to his environment and where he fits in. The sort of story where his thinking is turned upside down when he meets a certain woman (usually older or bohemian or both). I feel like that woman.

This woman surfaces in several instances of pop culture. She’s a bit of Mrs.Robinson (The Graduate) with a touch of Joan Harris (Mad Men). She’s also Penelope or a somewhat older Aphrodite. She’s independent, wiser, more mature. She challenges his notions. She intrigues him and she leaves him cold too. She understands him better than most people in his life do. And then she doesn’t seem to care at all. He gives her his secrets and she sets them aside, carefully but disinterestedly like she’s seen so many like them before. Because I have.

Is she a friend? A lover? A mentor? A mistake? A life challenge? She’s a bit of everything and when she leaves, she’s that woman.

In the recent years, I’ve been around a lot of younger men, dated a few. There is a pattern. As I get older, I find I’m getting to be more of me – tougher, more independent, more assertive and (it is hoped) wiser. It is that, precisely that which draws a certain kind of young man.

I don’t know if I like it. The attention is flattering with its sweet awe, its charming regard. But it is so much like taming a wild horse without making it dependent on you. I don’t want to be a babysitter any more. My mother hen days are over and behind me (for good, I hope). No man has been worth thus far and I’ve come to believe no man ever will be. After having been maternal for the most part of my life and visualizing a future of playing mommy I find I’m having to, even wanting to let that go. Curious feeling this, consciously letting go of something that once defined you. I figure I’ve to learn to care differently. Then I realize I’m already doing it and it feels like I just shed a hundred years of burden. It was there all along. I really, truly don’t give a damn. I can care because I feel like being generous and not because I just helplessly do.

I want to lead, I want to initiate and I want to drive forward. But I no longer want to carry, to nurture or to take responsibility for someone else. The romance is kicks and that’s all it is; not a season pass to timed commitment. The men are lovely too. I don’t feel like fighting much now. Their opinions really count for so little and matter even less in the grand scheme of things. I will and am living my life of my own sweet will, regardless of them.

How does this work in a relationship? Just like it does for every man, I suppose. I let go of my imposed femininity with much difficulty. It’s a coming of age for me too then.

A Mad Woman

Watching ‘Mad Men’ brings up a thought that’s often just lying below the surface:

Why DO we put up with men?

The Rejected (Mad Men)

The Rejected (Mad Men) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’re horrible.

XXFactored Feb&Mar2011: Sex Charts, Mad Men & Causes Gone Wrong

I didn’t post an XXFactored update in February because the month was so busy that I barely had the time to scout for links. Other people however, did share links and I really wanted to showcase them. While on this, allow me a brief crib about the new Facebook page format. It shows the page admin’s links on the main page but other members links in a tiny box. Not cool, I say. It totally kills the spirit of community that link-sharing used to do.

Now on to the links.

  • Someone’s idea of what happens to people of either gender when they fail their exams. It sparked off a heated debate. (via Lakshmi Jagad)
  • HOWL-a-rious! ‘- 14 Realities of Romantic Relationships in chart form‘ (via Cracked)
  • In memory of a remarkable woman and a talented musician laid to waste – ‘I’m Every Woman
  • I’m sure a whole lot of us will be silently thanking the makers for this handy tool! – ‘5 Signs You’ve Been Stalking Your Ex Online Too Much‘ (via How About We)
  • Harsh, hard-hitting….dare I say…true? The undeniably justified cause of gay rights, seems to have become no more than a free ride of attention and entertainment for those so privileged.  ‘The Queer Movement is dead; Long Live the Queer Movement!‘ (via DNA Newspaper, link courtesy Dhamini Ratnam)
  • A hilarious set of charts – check out the ones mapping people who use Twitter daily versus others. – ‘10 Charts about Sex‘ (via OkCupid)
  • Why Indian Men are still boys‘ (via Tehelka, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • No, Catcalling is not a compliment and here’s why’ (via Hello Giggles, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
  • If this 60s show has sparked off your fancy, here’s a look at some of the female stereotypes of the time by how Don Draper sees them. ‘4 Types Of Women Don Draper has Dated.‘ (via YourTango)

  • What Your Favorite Mad Men Lady Says About You‘ (via TheGloss)
  • This is totally off the edge – ‘Marketing Xenosexuality: Women & the Sex Robot taboo?‘ (via Future of Sex, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • “Lighten up” can be the most passive-aggressive chauvinistic phrase ever! ‘The Million Little Barbs of Lighten Up!‘ (via BuzzFeed)
  • Where Have All The Young Men Gone?‘ (via HR Blogs, links courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
  • This is true of any movement – rabidity only works against you in the long run. ‘How Pro-Lifers made me a Pro-Choice Activist.‘ (via TheGloss)
  • 5 Warnings to go with 5 Types of Men who make great husbands‘ (via From Outside The Mall, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)

You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to The XX Factor Facebook Page.

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