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A Professional Woman

A fortnight ago, a friend and I parted ways. He came to me, looking for comforting, for sympathy. I gave him instead, honesty. Words were exchanged and the friendship is now a thing of the past. The thing is, I never offered comfort or sympathy, only outright, unvarnished honesty. We’ve spoken of it. He’s pointed it out as my character trait; I haven’t denied it. Yet, he expected it of me. Because I’m a woman.

Last week another friend and I had an argument, one that’s been brewing like dark clouds for awhile. The storm finally broke when he said,

“Women are more considerate than men.”

I replied.

“No, they are not.”

He insisted. It made me as angry as if he had told me my place was in the kitchen. I argued that he wasn’t a woman, I was. He replied with that perfect blend of dismissive condescension and polite acid,

“You…are a different specimen.”

I was angry then, but I am not, now. Both these men have been raised to believe that men are bad people and women and kind, gentle, long-suffering victims. They’ve each tried, very hard, to not be that personification of their gender. They are polite, courteous and nice – to women who are gentle, kind and nice. They play a part and they play it well, especially around women who play their parts in the same play. How are they to react to a woman who refuses to say her lines on cue?

A Professional Woman

*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being a woman is a job, it would seem. It requires conformity to certain customs, delivery of some expected things and a certain kind of etiquette. It is not enough to have a uterus that bleeds every month. That’s only the graduate degree. To truly be a woman, one must perform in relationships, outward presentation and inside one’s head. I’m quite terrible at it and I get told so, often. I’m too flashy (modesty befits a lady), too opinionated (women are supposed to be peacemakers, not troublemakers), too outspoken (yes, this is a thing, haven’t you heard of diplomacy? Learn some.)

D minus on the job of being a woman.

I’ve grown up hearing versions of this my whole life. I was a tomboy through school and college, a fact that people who know me now find hard to believe. My style and my vanity are recent acquisitions, like grown-up shoes that I started wearing well into my 20s. Life has just been easier for me, that way. But these, like apparel, are superficial and come off easily. Who I am under that, hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be treated a certain way, because I am a woman. Because, the price to be paid is that I have to behave a certain way for being a woman. What’s wrong, I’ve been asked, in being nice or considerate? Nothing at all. Except, I’d like to do it because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And by the same token, I would like people to be nice or considerate to me, because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And I would like to reserve the right to sympathy for those I believe deserve it, rather than having to distribute it for free ‘because I’m a woman‘.

Men like the two I’ve spoken of, come back with the refrain of not being nice or considerate to women like me, because as I lay it out, ‘they don’t want to be’. Fair enough, I say. Except, is their consideration and their politeness subject to a cold formula of adherence to a certain behaviour? If you are only nice to people who follow rules that you uphold, then you’re not really being nice, you’re being transactional. People pay you with their conformity for your good treatment of them. How is that different from a bribe or protection money?

I would like to be respected for my actions and my ideas, not for my body plumbing. As commonsensical as this thought sounds to me, it comes across as rebellious, disrespectful and needlessly selfish (all names I’ve been called). And because there is more of people who think this than there is me (I’m only one), I find myself having to compromise. I don a pretty outfit, I smile at my camera and post the picture online and I dimple my thanks when people show me how much they Like me, for that smile. I’m learning to be a Professional Woman.

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A serious look at things

I set up this blog with posts that were supposed to be serious observations on gender equations and stereotypes. I seem to have gotten side-tracked into frivolous male-bashing and women’s magazine-style posts. I’m glad these have been entertaining to those of you who’ve read so far, but I’m afraid I’m digressing. I’m not a performing monkey and my thoughts are not meant to provoke party discussions.

Yesterday I watched ‘Namaste London’. There’s a scene in the movie where the heroine, bulldozed into an arranged marriage ritual, deliberately dresses and behaves ‘down’ so that the guy rejects her. I couldn’t only identify with that, I actually remembered that, having done something not so different myself once. The same girl, a little later, meets a guy who tries to analyse the sugar consumption of the family to determine their compatibility. Did that scene seem completely OTT trying to be funny to anyone? Not to me, I’ve lived through that experience as well. The guy in question, on our first (and only!) meeting wanted to know what my “agenda for this discussion” was. He was mortally offended when informed that I didn’t have one and took great effort to remind me that I was an MBA and hence should have learnt to put my education to use in my life.

It just isn’t funny anymore. So much so-called liberation later, a woman in 2007 still has to manipulate the situation so that the rejection happens from the guy’s side. The mouthpiece still lies very much at the man’s end even if the reins of power (from behind the scenes) can lie with a woman.

How many of you women have asked a man out? And men, how many of you have been asked out by a woman…and actually accepted…and gone on to have something concrete with her? I asked a guy out many years back. We had common friends, kept meeting at parties and it was obvious he was interested. So I suggested a time and place. We did go out, though he seemed rather quiet (and not at all like his erstwhile loquacious self). He didn’t ask me out again and a common friend later told me that I had ‘scared him off’. I’ve never asked a man out after that. When I spot a guy who interests me, I make him ask me out. It isn’t all that difficult, in fact its often so easy its boring even. But what irritates me is that the archaic ritual of a man making the first move still holds true.

Do I come across as a man-hater still? I can’t hate an entire section of the population. What I do hate is being chained down. It would seem like all my education and effort…they’ve all been attempts to groom me to be a ‘good catch’ in the marriage market. So instead of pursuing my longtime dream of studying art, I ended up with a very respectable MBA degree and a job that sounds good enough. But hasn’t anyone realised….you give a human being opportunity, then you’re giving them the desire to take it as well. Give a person a voice and you’ve given him (or her) the need to speak too. Its possible that I may have been willing to set aside whatever I was doing to build my life around a man, had I just continued along in my natural path. But now, having been forcibly pulled into doing something I didn’t even want, realising that I could do pretty well at it and having tasted the heady lure of economic independence and freedom, is it fair to expect me to be able to give it up?

My family and friends tell me that my expectations are too high and that’s the reason I’m not married as yet. Maybe so. But really, can a marriage survive for long without respect? And how am I supposed to respect a person who can only be happy as long as I make him the center of my universe and bury my ambitions, my dreams and my individuality? Can such a person be expected to be strong enough to carry the burden of my happiness? I think not. A person who is weak enough to feel threatened by my successes will never be able to be happy in my company, let alone make me happy. That’s not man-hating, it is simply an objective, if not weary, observation of men and women today.

In defence of my objectivity, I must say that I also have some sharp, if not unpleasant observations to make about women today. Women are dangerous to say the very least. Most of us may still be bound by social restrictions but none of us carry the chains of emotional bondage anymore. A few women like me might be impatient enough, wanting total equality now and here but most women are wise enough to see the situation for what it is and manipulate it accordingly to their advantage. You can call me a cynic but I’m not the one spewing venom about gold-diggers, bitchy bosses and the loss of respect for the marriage instution. The definition of a successful woman today continues to be the same as it has been for generations. She isn’t the richest or the one with the most impressive job. She is the one who keeps her world together. Boyfriend, husband, parents, in-laws, friends, colleagues (junior, peer and superior)….she seems to be adapting to everyone and yet, they’re all twisted about her little finger. This is the power of womenhood unleashed in its most potent form, not tempered with the sweetness of love, not restrained by the holds of values, not bounded by the committments of emotional attachment. Every single ‘successful woman’ I’ve known is inherently cold-blooded and power-hungry. The ones who have held onto even a shrapnel of emotion, bear it as a weakness. After all, the world still calls a woman with a personality of her own…some very unsavoury names.

Still, I want to believe that the world is changing (albeit too slowly for my impatient self!). This post was reassuring. Maybe men and women will respect each other enough some day not to play games with each other. I only hope I’m around to see it.

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