Blog Archives

The Princess/ Professional Dichotomy

*Image via MicrosoftOffice

The woman who can’t decide if she wants to be the Nice Girl or the Business Skirt

There is a certain kind of woman that I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of, in the past decade. I found her right after I started working. This woman may hold down any job, from adwoman to pilot to salesgirl to journalist. She’s got the degrees, the skill set and even the resume. She’s confident, can speak the right jargon (in business situations) and lingo (in social situations). She may also have the other requisite paraphernalia for being a Superwoman, such as a cool hobby, an offbeat alternate career, a with-it social circle, a quirky love life and the mandatory ‘progressive’ outlook on gender equality.

On my first job, my company hired a bunch of people for a short-term assignment after an interview process. During the actual project, the woman in charge of managing a front desk was found combing her hair (at that very desk). When questioned about the whereabouts of certain materials that she was responsible for, she looked bewildered and said, “I don’t know”. My cutting (and in retrospect, harsh) reply was, “You have two hands, two legs & a head. Hopefully you have a brain too. You were hired to use all of them.”

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

There is the weaseling out of uncomfortable situations such as being pulled up for bad (or incomplete) work, by crying. You would think it’s easy to tell what kind of woman would break down if you pointed out a mistake on her report. But this is not the pretty, dainty princess sort. This is the toughie, ‘I can hold my own’ sort who ambushes you with an emotional response. It’s all the more difficult to handle such a situation because you never saw it coming. We deal with people along the equations that are set in place based on power dynamics & social roles. This particular situation means the woman abruptly changes all those, leaving you weaker to respond.

And finally there’s the kicker of turning to male support. Personally, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about having to ask a guy for help. I admit this may be an ego issue, since I’ve had to take offense so often against sexist remarks. But there’s nothing permissible about a professional who needs ‘rescuing’ on account of her gender.

Recently, I went on a short trip out of the city. The tour was organized by a young lady, who seemed full of bright ideas and budding talent. She’s a musician, who quit a corporate job to start a travel tours company with some friends. She was confident, articulate and enthusiastic. She was also charming, at ease with new people and seemed like she’d be able balance all the varying demands of these jobs well. The trip went completely off because of mismanagement of time and as it turned out, people. Each episode was dismissed with a smiling nonchalance. When things came to a head, she shrugged and said, “What can I do now? Just chill out yaar.” Shortly after, one of the male guests turned up to speak on her behalf. Thereafter, it was up to him to sort out the various glitches that had occurred because she had not done her job properly. Even if he did not have any problem with having to do this, he could not be held accountable for any issues that came up from the mismanagement or the superficial solutions that were offered. The lady in question quite literally shrugged it all off, putting it down to other people being difficult.

A number of situations like this have me saying, “I would never hire her!” which comes across as harsh & judgemental. But I am a certain kind of professional, the kind that thinks commitment to work & earning respect are gender-irrespective. If I demand equality in recruitment processes & in salaries, I don’t feel like I can ask for gender concessions while working. Besides being unfair, how can I expect any sort of respect if I do that?

Women like this weaken my stand, both within the professional setup (if they work with me) and for my gender. It’s hard enough to assess whether a woman is going to turn out this way. What’s even harder is the assumption that because I’m a woman, I should condone anything from another woman. There are the allegations of my sex being the proverbial crabs in a pot, not wanting other women to shine. Then there are accusations of being a bitch, as a boss or as a customer. And finally, there’s the assumption that I don’t truly believe in women’s liberation since supposedly, I don’t ‘support’ women in the workplace.

What I’m wondering is, when did equality end at rights and stop being about responsibility as well? I’m asking does the requirement of professionalism not apply to women, just because they’re women? And why at all should I have any respect for these women who’re just using feminism as a convenient excuse to write off sloppiness, laziness, irresponsibility and bad attitudes?

On the other side, I also have to admit that most women struggle with early-imposed notions of being ‘Nice’. At the most basic level, I think it’s important for every woman who goes out to work, to question what being a professional really means. I want to believe that it has nothing to do with popularity stakes and everything to do with getting the job done right.

Advertisements

Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

Chick Lit

My new literary obsession is Chick Lit. Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes keep me in chocolate-box mood while Meera Syal and Advaita Kala add the desi tadka. Why, even fellow-blogger/’I-know-this-girl-friend-acquaintance’ Compulsive Confessor flashes her characteristic grin at me from my bedside bookstack.

I found this rather interesting piece on the internet, describing Chick Lit:

“Chick lit” is a term used to denote genre fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties.

Now, I know I’m doing an about-face, especially after such rabid commmentary. I’m coming to this acceptance with much prior reluctance. I still have trouble accepting the term ‘chick’ to describe me or any woman I know. It’s degrading. However, I’m willing to lay down my shackles and admit that I’ve been reading (and enjoying) the genre called Chick Lit.

Chick Lit is the new Romance Novel. And it isn’t. As a genre it certainly is finding as much favour and spawning as many writers (and books) as the ubiquitous M&Bs. On the other hand, one may argue that romantic fiction was a genre built on common women’s fantasies while Chick Lit inter-twines what we consider our ideal life along with the proverbial gang-cribbing that each of us indulges in with our galpals over men, weight loss problems, career concerns and PMS.

Chick Lit, as most of the definitions state, is usually about twenty-something women, career-minded or not, married or not, successful or not. One thing they all are, is discontent with their lot. The careerwoman struggles with loneliness and jerky boyfriends, the beauty queen is slapped around and paraded as a sex toy/trophy partner and the housewife is wistful about missed opportunities. The Chick Lit heroine is Superwoman who survives on a steady dose of galpal advice, gay friends, alcohol-and-career swings and roller-coaster relationships. Friends are family, chocolate is the manna for all evils and the root of all evils can be summed up into one word – MEN.

Bosses, colleagues, friends, lovers, ex-boyfriends, flings, husbands of friends, partner’s buddies, friends’ partners, gardeners, milkmen, grumpy old men, uncles, teachers, fathers, cheery grocers, lecherous neighbors….men in every possible shape, size and relationship are examined back and forth. It is the Chick Lit’ter’s favorite hobby – Men.

If the Indian versions are different, it is only in that they’re usually set in Mumbai/Delhi instead of London/New York. The protagonists gorge on chicken tikkas and grab their capuccinos from Barista instead of M&S or Starbucks. Their mothers want to see them ‘well-settled’ instead of ‘settled down’. The men are just as committment-phobic, the careers just as unsatisfying, their bosses are just as demanding, their married neighbors consider them just as flighty and sluttish and their credit card bills are equally long.

Why do I like the genre so much? Simple. Because it is about me. That’s my life, my friends, my mistakes and my victories that are getting written about. Every page brings a, “Don’t I know it!”, an “Aha! You got ‘im there, girl!” and a “Bullshit, I heard the same thing from my second boyfriend when he was cheating on me.” It’s almost like having a new set of friends with every book.

You might even say it’s the modern, literary woman’s Soap Opera in a book format. If the women of yore wanted fantasy to keep them entertained, at least this I can say for my generation – we’re thriving on reality…or some warped version of it. Who needs a perfect fairytale when our own messed-up, vodka-spiked, overstressed lives are so much more interesting?

Chick Lit is empowering in a very strange way. It tells me that other women are having a hell of it too. That having a zero social life at twenty, in favour of slogging away at work was not a mistake. That getting married at twenty-three would not have spelt ‘happily ever after’ either. That my smug married, whiz-in-the-kitchen housewife friend acts superior to me but also thinks I’m living the glamourous, carefree life she only reads about in magazines.

It tells me that it’s okay to not feel diva-like at all times, to nurse worries over weight gain and cellulite. That it’s even okay to worry more about these than a missed deadline. That bad temper, unreasonableness and pukey-head-feeling are permissible once a month.

Chick Lit tells me life isn’t perfect (yes, I know someone said that long ago but catch me listening?). I mean look at the titles – The Undomestic Goddess, Life isn’t all Hahaheehee, Shopaholic, Almost Single. It also tells me that each of us is figuring out a new way of perfect. And who knows? Maybe Perfect will be the way I do it – My perfect!

Superwoman

I am the only kid on the tree in pigtails
I am rejection & peer pressure superimposed on intelligence & expectations
I am the daughter who will one day be the ‘man of the house’

I am the big attitude-no boyfriends Alanis Morisette of the peer group
I am the feminist preaching to ‘the boys’ in between hanging out with them.
I am the second lead in an ‘all-male’ rock band.

I am the token female candidate in a job selection group discussion
I am one of two women at a client meeting, six months later
I am the slender figure balancing a laptop, files and a mobile phone and refusing a seat on the bus.

I am a solitary memo marked “Dear Madam” atop of a pile of “Dear Sir” notes
I am one who knows which detergent brand sells highest but not which cleans best
I am a woman who hates cooking and is proud of the fact

I am the one publications write about when they describe the new work ethic
I am the inspiration for a new wave of soap operas and talk shows
I am the author of a scathing article on fairness creams

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

I am a social butterfly, the party animal, the cool lady who always leaves alone
I am a modern day Cinderella looking for a perfect foot to fit her shoe…and none ever do
I am the last of my friends to get married but mine is the grandest wedding of all

I am an overflowing inbox of memos, bills and ads after my 2-day honeymoon
I am the ‘expert cook in 10 days’ since I am always the best
I am the 5 am alarm for the milkman, the 10 am board meeting, the working lunch and the home cooked gourmet dinner on my first anniversary

I am a romantic SMS keyed in surreptitiously at a meeting
I am two daily planners to be co-ordinated for any family function
I am performance anxiety, loneliness, guilt, fear and ambition all masquerading as PMS

I am the ‘equal half’ of a DINK
I am the face that receives a slap for being better
And only sometimes, am I the fist that hits back

I am the luggage with a tag from every single metro in the world
I am the signature on the exclusive gold card
I am a posh address that is more a museum than a home

I am the employee code on a maternity leave application tacked to the bottom of a report
I am the voice on a conference call from home to 2 countries
I am the emergency Ceasarean operation due to hypertension

I am the lovely lady at the end of the day while my mom is mom to my kids too
I am the signature on a delivery receipt for a dollhouse and an encyclopedia set
And on a resignation letter that speaks of ‘time for family’ and not a word about sacrifices

I am music lessons, art classes, camps, sports teams and tuitions after school
I am the good manners, language fluency, social etiquette and grades all at 7
I am the hands that dress the star of the show in a kindergarten play
As also the signature on a report card that says “Shows aptitude for figures. Is very quiet and withdrawn”
I am the mother of a brilliant, talented 3-foot stressed know-it-all
….…..the wife of a resentful, guilt-wracked escapist
…….…the lover of a ‘new-age’ sensitive weakling
and the owner of a picture perfect 40 going on 25 face

I am the compartmentalized fragments of what was born a human being
And lives as ..and will one day die as…..Superwoman

—————————————————————————————————-

A version of this post appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

%d bloggers like this: