“A Woman Ahead Of Her Time” – What Does That Even Mean In Real Life Terms?

Posted: December 11, 2018

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Women who have lived ‘unconventional’ lives, are often called ‘crazy’. But the more of them that we have, the more they’re going to be understood. 

I was part of a recent discussion about the unconventional, untraditional strong women who push their boundaries, if not step across the line, being conveniently killed by the lack of authors’ imagination during the 19th century in India and across the globe. It was said that it wasn’t their time, meaning that the society wasn’t ready for them. It instantly cracked me up. I did not care about how these women characters were used as allegory for newly emerging nations. The joke was that, there’s a woman, who is not just ‘another’ conventionally accepted woman, born in a time ahead of hers and was killed, even in a book.

It made me wonder at the number of times I have felt helpless in my life. I am not extraordinary, I never wanted to be. If I recall correctly, then before turning into a teenager, I prayed to God to make me just as normal as any other girl of my age, someone who blends into a crowd. It now occurs to me that if at that age I ‘prayed’ to be normal, then things weren’t ‘normal’ for me already. I am glad that I do not remember the circumstances in which the prayer was uttered. Now I just have no idea what normal is.

“You’re different”

When people told me, “You’re different,” I took it as a compliment for a long time. However, over the years it frustrated me. All that I could think was, “Yes, I am different, now tell me what should I do about it?”

Usually there’d be no answer because I wouldn’t really ask it out loud. I’d just give a pretend polite smile to the speaker before changing the subject. Then, I met people who told me, “You are not wrong, but society isn’t ready for you.” Again, I took it as a compliment in the beginning, which eventually turned into frustration.

I concluded that being different is not a compliment. It clearly shows the state of rejection, or at least not-acceptance, that we live in. In fact, it began to seem as a convenient excuse for people who did not want to put effort into changing their surroundings.

Who is this ‘society’?

No, I am not angry at them, even though I used to be. One learns to live with it. I channelized my anger into explaining to people that we are the ones who form society. Society isn’t something beyond us; it’s not a third person that we keep referring to. If we begin to be ready for all kinds of women taking them out of the box that shouts conventional-traditional, then the society will begin to be ready too. If we are ready then so is the society.

So, when I heard that the time wasn’t ready for such a fierce power, I laughed. A century or more later, what has changed? What are these fierce, strong, powerful women doing? Sure. Many have realized that they do not need to belong or be possessed by someone. That’s amazing. But, it still does haunt me, should it be that difficult to be just another but unconventional woman? I don’t take being a strong, independent woman as a compliment anymore. It clearly states the accepted/general idea of women without considering the particular privileges that some have over many others.

“Born ahead of their times”??

Imagine the smug smile on my face when I heard Hannah Gadsby say to the crowd in Nanette, “You know, he [Vincent Van Gogh] was born ahead of his time. What a load of shit. Nobody is born ahead of their time. It’s impossible! Nobody’s born ahead of their time! Maybe preemie babies, but they catch up! Artists don’t invent zeitgeists! They respond to it. He was not ahead of his time … He wasn’t born ahead of his time. He couldn’t network. ‘Cause he was mental. He was… crazy. He had unstable energy.’”

Now, I do not know much about Van Gogh apart from the obvious. I didn’t bother to look him up on the internet after watching Nanette. I mean, let’s face it, there’s not much fun involved in stalking a dead-for-centuries guy. All I felt was whether or not a person is mentally ill, s/he begins to suffer because of as simple a statement as, “You’re born ahead of your time” or “the world isn’t ready for you”.

I get it that the words are supposed to be comforting, but when you think about it, they’re not. Because, all it makes me think is that perhaps I was meant for a 23rd century on this earth, or some other earth if parallel universes exist. But, here I am right now; what do I do with myself if not look for some kind of acceptance as a sane person?

A lack of representation

The death of all those 19th century female characters across the globe doesn’t surprise me. Was it the lack of authors’ imagination or lack of awareness of mental health? I’m pretty sure that most of those characters whose deaths were merely reported, must have committed suicide in their fictional world. Fighting your own battles, moving ahead alone and all is very romantic. Twenty-first century women are doing it, turning the romantic into reality. Yet, it is difficult to find a role model in one’s personal life.

I have been thinking about it for a while. Maybe being a single woman with no thoughts about a wedding in the near future wouldn’t have been so difficult if we had similar women in our personal lives. When I chart out the family tree in my head, every woman in my grandmother’s generation was married as a child. Everyone belonging to my mother’s generation was married at 21 or 22. By my current age, most of these women I know were already mothers, to more than one child. I have many people, women, who are okay and encourage my life decisions, but if I look around for practical example, I have none.

Could I become a ‘role model’?

As for my generation, I am the eldest female sibling in my family. I have been ‘allowed’ the freedom that no other woman in my family tree had. So, it sort of makes me an experiment. If I do well, I might become the role model to a couple of sisters who are too young to be bothered by such issues.

If I fail however, whatever that means, I might be another example of what a woman shouldn’t be or how a sense of freedom ruins a woman. Sometimes, it feels like an unspoken burden of simply being, similar to what my elder brother had once commented about being the perfect kid in the house.

The point is that we have to accept that we don’t have many role models in certain fields. We have to talk about it as one of those conversations that don’t fit the atmosphere of evening tea. We have got to accept the difference that’s taking place in our personal lives before more and more women suffer from mental illnesses. Because, we cannot romanticize the stones in Woolf’s pockets or the sunflowers in Van Gogh’s painting. We have a tendency to look at the good even in the worst of people once they are dead, we make everyone great.

But, wouldn’t it be something, if we accommodate and recognize them during their life time? Make them feel worthy?

We can at least try, can’t we?

Image source: a still from the movie Margarita with a Straw

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