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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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Stupid Women

What do you call someone who keeps falling for the same trick? Stupid. What do you call someone who does it so often they don’t have a choice? A stupid woman.

Painting oneself into a corner – that’s an art perfected by my gender.

Freedom at 30

For the first time ever,
in my conscious memory,
none of my dreams
or things that I look forward to
in the future with anticipation
have anything to do with a man.

Isn’t that something? Even if it did take me three decades to get to it.
It was so worth it.

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A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

The Garden Of Eden Within

I spent a few hours at the salon this week. Ostensibly for a haircut but I ended up getting my feet, face and self pampered as well. I came out feeling…the way I very occasionally have felt in the company of a good friend or (even more occasionally) a boyfriend. I felt cherished and cared for.

I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of my ‘I’m really just a tomboy in the girl’s room’ mentality. The parlour is an on-schedule visit for me most times with all kinds of things to be taken care of with a side-whine of “If I was a guy, I’d never have to worry about all this!!” I barely have time to fit in all the things that need to be done into my schedule.

Yesterday was different. Owing to the fact that I did have a lot of time and had made a conscious decision to not rush through things, I just sat back and let myself be taken care of. First came the hair-styling with my wonderful mind-reader of a stylist. A trim with a hair-colouring, he pronounced and proceeded to silver-foil my tresses. While I was waiting, I got a pedicure and foot massage in the bargain. That done, he shampooed and massaged my head. Everyone knows (or should know) that few things make a woman feel as wonderfully cared for as a luxuriant shampoo in warm water; better yet if done by a man. There is something special about having large, otherwise rough hands touching your sensitive scalp so gently. Even if it your hairdresser and not your boyfriend or husband. The pedicure was actually done by a lady but ah…who can resist a foot massage?

I won’t get into further details of what else got done but suffice to say, I left a good 4 hours later (with a hefty bill of course). I realised a few things. Firstly, I really indulge myself so little. I have to force myself to enjoy things ‘just because’ without my mind jumping to an immediate cost-benefit analysis. Secondly, I realised why women love visiting beauty parlours. It is a well-known fact that women crave the feeling of being cherished and appreciated and we look for it in all our relationships. It is probably a less acknowledged fact that most of us don’t receive as much of it as we would like or indeed, need.

A beauty parlour is the physical equivalent of a therapist. The latter is someone you pay to listen to you while the former is where you pay to be pampered. Even if the best things in life are free, they’re not available easily. So with our newfound economic power, who’s to stop us from buying the next best substitutes that money can indeed, buy?

~O~O~O~O~O~

On another note, I also went shopping today. A chance remark from a friend also got me thinking. He said,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear any footwear other than sneakers.

And yet, I know I have a shoe-drawer full of sandals, kitten heels, mules, slippers and block heels. But I just haven’t been making the effort lately. Drowned in practicality and pretty much just barely keeping my head above the water, I have been pulling on my sneakers and rushing out with little attention to my looks. My make-up drawer lies neglected, my dresses and skirts from an earlier shopaholic phase haven’t seen daylight in ages.

It may seem shallow to think that my femininity lies in dolling up, shopping till I drop and spending hours at the spa. It isn’t entirely that. It is the attitude that drives it. The desire to look and feel good physically. With no little modesty, I already look and feel good mentally. That is to say, I can hold my own in a conversation, I have ‘personality’ (which in some circles isn’t exactly a compliment but sucks to that crowd, I make my own rules. I have attitude as well.)

My vanity is what has been missing. It hasn’t cost me anything, externally. Quite truthfully, I have been getting my usual share of compliments and male interest coming my way. But it is something within, something invisible to other people. I think it is the idea of doing something for myself, of wanting something just because I do, without having to explain myself to any group of people, without having to fit into a norm of intelligence and practicality. It is that realization that I’m as intelligent, worthy, successful, respectable and admirable as I’d ever want to be or to prove. And now it’s time to spend time just doing things that make me feel good. Not for a reason but just because.

Suddenly I have a whole new understanding of why beauty lies within. It’s got nothing to do with how other people see you. It has everything to do with how you see yourself. The Garden of Eden within you, how do you cherish and nurture it?

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A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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