“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it.”Unknown
It’s that time of the year when we celebrate womanhood. Why do we need to dedicate a special day for this and not do it all year round, every day? This is not a personal question, it’s one that many successful men and even women ask. There are those who consider the acknowledgement of such tokens as a field day for marketing executives. There are some who consider messages on these days to be cliched and borderline insulting when one talks of the strength, ability and sheer grace of women. There is a third set who takes to congratulating the men who support women.
For many years, I struggled with what women’s day meant to me. There was no gender bias in my upbringing and personally, there is little I consider weak about us women. We can be independent, confident, self-achievers, believers, caregivers, mothers, daughters, flag bearers, leaders, workers, drivers, investors, managers, lovers, bodybuilders, doctors, cleaners and whatever else it is that we desire. Big or small, right or wrong, busy or free, in a team or alone, but never weak.
For a long time, this belief that women are not weak led me to ignore token days like today. It felt like the numerous ways of congratulating women all got crammed into one day, an endless supply of meaningless souvenirs rather than genuine merit badges celebrating the stronger sex.
Why we need Women’s Day
More recently, with age (!) and maturity, maybe a bit of wisdom, I’m beginning to recognise why it is so important to hold up the International Women’s Day flag even higher. While some of us are finding our feet and putting them down firmly to stamp our identity, there are several women out there who still wear society’s label of being ‘weaker’ for many a knotty reason. Each story is different and yet the basic belief underneath it all is the same.
After several conversations with women of different backgrounds, that belief to me has become clearer than ever before. It’s the belief that our needs come second, our needs come later, our needs come last. What’s become even more glaring is that I embody, embrace and implement this belief every day in my life too. Nothing wrong with being a caretaker, putting others’ needs ahead of your own. However, even when things get tough, exhausting and unbearable, we (unintended broad-brush generalisation) refuse to take a step back, relax and put our needs upfront; I know I have been guilty of this more times than I care to recall. When the mental and physical exhaustion comes back again and again and again, over days, weeks, months and years there can be one of two outcomes. Women either give in, accept and become an unrecognisable quieter, more timid version of themselves. Or they fight back and become an unrecognisable vociferous, more contentious version of themselves. One is a version that is easier to accept for the rest – family, friends and society; the other gets criticised and judged.
Understand that neither version is who she really is. It is after several bouts of strength, of courage in silence and in speaking up, that this new version gets carved. It’s neither perfect nor flawed, it’s the outcome of carrying unlimited demands on her shoulders, until one day the pressure bursts and the broth either spills out burning others or you find there is nothing left because it’s all dried up already.
I don’t say this to garner sympathy for women, neither is it being said to point a finger at those around her who blindly and perhaps, unknowingly watch the transformation into this unrecognisable self. This is just how centuries of deep-seated societal gender norms show up in modern times where opportunities and challenges push us to our extremes. It is in these modern times, that I believe, celebrating Women’s Day with a genuine intent of recognising not just her strength and grace but more so every woman’s identity as an individual, should be a priority.
Beyond the banners, the webinars and the panel discussions lies the hope that women will recognise the compelling need to embrace their independent identity, carved separately from the labels she gets thanks to the family she is born into or the one she creates. An identity carved only as a symbol of her ability, professional or personal, as an individual.
Embracing who you are
There are also those women who have figured out a middle path, doing as much as she has the strength to, not pushing herself out of whack each time. She has found her identity and feeds it every day.
This ‘balanced’ woman will sleep in the middle of a working day because she was out for a late-night celebration. She will not berate herself for forgetting the kids’ school snack because she binge-watched ‘Emily in Paris’ and woke up late, even though parenting is her chosen primary responsibility. She will laugh heartily, spill her soup and dance solo at a table where the other women look at her disapprovingly for breaking social norms. She will go for an intercity drive alone without informing others because she can.
If you stay around for a while, you realise that she does this just enough to allow herself a peak, a flash of her most unencumbered, limitless self. She does this just enough so that she can be back in time to ensure the tasks in the office are completed, the school fees and bills are paid, meals are served, the clothes are washed and ironed and the house is clean. After all, she still considers herself the caretaker.
This woman tries to embrace her several identities, she is every woman; all the while desiring and searching for clarity on her singular self, who is she really meant to be? While I admire this balanced woman, I really envy the kind who shun all of it and boldly step up to say, I’m NOT every woman. I am not your caretaker. I am me. I believe in myself, I stand up for myself, I achieve for me, I love for me and I don’t make any excuses for me. These are the women who are leading the way, creating a path for younger women, older women, shy women, aggressive women, homemakers, office goers and all the rest of us out there. I believe it’s a path that truly does not differentiate in gender and just supports ability. It’s a path that lets you reach the spot you identify with the most, be it at home or in the office, be it in marriage or in grand solitude; at this spot, through this path, you reach who you are meant to be. If you are meant to be a caretaker, you do that to the best of your ability. If you are meant to be a traveller, you do that to the best of your ability. At no point are you trying to give more than your capacity towards what you don’t identify with, only to find out when it’s too late that you’re burnt out. How can you get there on this path, where these women are showing up every day, guiding us through a display of their most courageous and unconventional ways?
You ask for help.
What you cannot complete yourself, is what you ask help for, without any shame or guilt or fear of being judged.
It is not as simple as it reads, because what if you are asking for too much, what if others realise that you are putting your needs first, what if you are judged for not caring enough to do everything yourself. Perhaps all of this will happen or not, it depends on the people you are surrounded by, your friends and family. You cannot be responsible for others’ reactions, you must work for the change if you desire it. If you want that broth in the pressure cooker (remember the one above, which blew up) to be tasty and wholesome not spilt out or dried up, you need to ask for help.
I count my blessing every day and try to shed one thin layer at a time of that ingrained, skin permeating sense of (gender-based) duty which always takes me away from myself and always puts others first. Now, I ask for help. I wonder, does this sound too greedy, egotistical, self-centred, weak? Well, at least, these thoughts occur to me on Women’s Day, when everybody is celebrating and appreciating, the unique identities women all over the world, are carving out for themselves, every day.
“You get in life, what you have the courage to ask for.”Oprah Winfrey
Happy Women’s Day!
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