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Devi, Diva or She-Devil by Sudha Menon draws on the experiences of successful Indian women to inspire and guide today’s career women.
What are you willing to give up to get what you want?
This is the question that kept coming back to me as I read Sudha Menon’s Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The Smart Career Woman’s Survival Guide, which is full of stories of women who have followed their dreams and achieved what they set out to do.
Ambition, leadership, career goals, professionalism — even in 2017, our society treats these as dirty words when they’re associated with women. And yet, some women defy stereotypes, battle all odds, and keep scaling heights and shattering glass ceilings with aplomb. But how do they do it? Do they have a magic escalator to the top? Or do they struggle with the same kinds of daily battles that the rest of us do?
The issues that plague a professional woman are much more complex than can be expressed in mere words. But Sudha Menon’s book strives to do just that. It has stories, anecdotes and experiences drawn from women in various fields, including household names like boxer M.C. Mary Kom, actor Lilette Dubey, choreographer and producer Farah Khan, food writer Karen Anand, and several other successful women from the corporate and business world. The book can be a handy companion — and will make a good gift — for today’s woman in her efforts to navigate the murky waters of a male-dominated world.
The book is split into several chapters, each one dealing with an aspect of a professional woman’s life – including recognizing ambition, following passions, dealing with mother’s guilt, defying misogyny and patriarchy, surviving negativity, handling failure, and so on.
There are several “a-ha” moments, and I’m sure mine will be different from yours. For instance, one major such point for me was when the author says, on the subject of ambition, “. . . the admission of their ambition was almost a liberating experience for career women”. The author goes on to say that women who are open about their ambition are likely to be taken more seriously. It is but logical, and I had never thought about it.
An observation I made in the book is that many of the women interviewed say that they owe their success and achievement to the support of their husbands. In fact, Unilever’s Leena Nair even says that “a woman’s choice of a spouse or partner could possibly be the most important factor in deciding the direction in which her career heads”. It is slightly dispiriting that this still remains the case. We do have a long way to go.
Also telling is the entire chapter on dealing with mother’s guilt. As Farah Khan says, “The moment a child comes out of you, a guilt chip enters your heart and there’s nothing you can do about it”. And this is the reason where many women who might have gone on to do other things with their lives, falter. Once again, another road on which we have a long way to go.
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Some statements and opinion in the book teeter on the brink of looking down upon homemakers, or on women who choose not to go after ‘loftier’ pursuits. For instance, Monisha Girotra, a banker, after speaking about her inability to be a good hostess, says, “I’d rather be a working mother who is a role model for her daughter”. I am uncomfortable with such statements as they perpetuate certain beliefs and stereotypes. Can a successful homemaker not be a role model for her daughter? On the other hand, the author, who speaks about the guilt of not being there for her daughter whenever she needed her, says, “I would rather she grow up and look upon me as a role model than be an unhappy mom trapped at home”. This latter statement expresses the same sentiment, but in a way that makes more sense, and is also fair to the woman who wants to be a homemaker and is fulfilled that way.
In the responses and stories of all the women, be it in their initial struggles, or bouncing back from failures, the lesson that comes across is that there is no substitute to pure grit and determination and hard work. Another invaluable asset, which is almost an armour, is a devil-may-care attitude, which I think is essential for a woman to break barriers in this world.
At the end of the day, all that women want to be is fulfilled and content — not devis, not divas, and definitely not she-devils, but the stress of doing it all and having it all can take its toll on the strongest of us. As the author says in her introduction, there is no standard formula to deal with this stress, and we all evolve our own ways to deal with the situation, but we can take pointers and inspirations from those who have already been there, done that. And that is where this book comes in.
Returning to the question – what are you willing to give up to get what you want — you’ll see what the women in this book gave up, and what they refused to let go of, and why. And where their decisions led them. And perhaps it will give you some answers that you’re looking for.
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Shruthi Rao is a writer and editor.
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