Vedashree Khambete Sharma
I Am Woman, Let Me Be
It's that time of the year again, when brands start injecting the words 'she', 'her' and 'woman' to make truly heinous portmanteau words. And that's only one of the things I hate about Women's Day.
A day where women are told how strong, how brave, how beautiful, how resilient they are, over and over again. The general public praises their multitasking skills, their parenting skills, their "ability to juggle their job and their family". It's enough validation to last a year and perhaps that's the point. We appreciated you for one whole day, no? Now, stop being greedy and asking for respect every single day of the year.
Then, there are the stories of inspirational women, plastered all over every newspaper and website you care to look at. This superwoman returned to work just fifteen days after her baby was born, in the middle of the pandemic! This illiterate mother of two, started her own business with no prior training and is now the CEO of a Fortune 500 company! This 28-year-old woman just became the mayor of a mid-sized town! Somehow, hidden in the subtext I see the words: if they can achieve greatness, why can't you? If they can battle all odds, why can't you? Aren't you all strong, brave, resilient, like we've been telling you all along?
And it always reminds me of the Ugly Duckling Story.
Now, first off, that is one messed up fucking tale. Depending on the version you read, the ugly duckling is either simply bullied and ostracised by the other ducklings, its parents and other barnyard animals. Or, also ostracised by a cat and a dog belonging to an old lady who offers it shelter, and oh, right, attacked and nearly killed by the farmer's son. We have a Marathi song about the Ugly Duckling and it always makes me tear up. Because it talks about the ugly duckling's loneliness and sorrow. See, the duckling's main issue wasn't that others found it ugly. I mean, that was bad enough. But what was worse was the social isolation, the abandonment, the suffering-yet-having-nobody-to-confide-in bit. All, because it didn't look like, act like a regular duckling. Because it didn't conform to the narrative. So the ugly duckling's joy at discovering that it's a majestic swan, isn't because it is suddenly beautiful. It was always beautiful - it's a goddamned swan. The joy came from the acceptance it finds amongst its fellow swans. From realising who it really is, and realising that who it really is, is enough to make the duckling be loved and accepted.
What does this have to do with women, with Women's Day? Chill, man, I'm getting to it.
It's the fact that we women, maybe we are all ugly ducklings, in that maybe we aren't ducklings in the first place. Maybe we are not all brave. Maybe, some of us suck at multitasking. Or find the challenges of working while raising a child deeply overwhelming. Or are tired of applying seventeen skincare products everyday to look human. Maybe we don't all conform to the Great And Powerful Woman image corporates tell us we resemble every 8th of March (while giving us 10% off on a fairness cream). And maybe that's okay. If you don't want to keep working because you're bone tired, if you're ready to quit makeup and let yourself go, if you crumple into tears in the face of adversity: THAT SHOULD BE OKAY.
Because yes, women are strong and brave and resilient and beautiful. But that shit takes a lot out of you. Especially if you do it all your life. And we should be allowed to be otherwise. We should be allowed to vegetate and replenish and change over time, without being judged. Women whose only success is getting through another day alive, deserve just as much respect as women who are on Forbes Best 40 Under 40 lists. Who you are - brave or not, resilient or not, beautiful or not, strong or not - is enough, for you to be respected and appreciated all year round. At least, it should be.
Perhaps saying this makes me a bad feminist. But the way I see it, simply existing as an Indian woman is smashing the patriarchy. In a culture that hates girls so much it kills them at birth, being alive as a woman itself is an act of sheer defiance. We are defiant in every breath with take. So yeah, I think it's okay if we take a break from being a goddamned force of nature, every now and then. In the parlance of children these days, if the crown gets a little heavy, Queen, it's cool, take it off for a while. It'll wait for you to feel strong again. And it'll shine just as brightly when you put it back on your head.