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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Why when a woman looks in the mirror, she should always seek the best version of herself.
What defines a woman? And what defines a woman’s identity? If a woman asks this to the famous wall-mounted mirror on the wall, I suspect she may get a multi-layered version of herself as an answer.
A layered image – created by the many roles dictated by society and obscured by the many versions of herself created in her head by cultural patriarchal influences. But, which is the fairest of all?
It is a difficult and unpleasant question to answer, if you ever dare to ask one. A person’s identity is defined by different factors – the genes, social and cultural upbringing, education, and the list goes on. It gets even more interesting to see how a woman’s identity is evolved.
We idolise people who sacrifice and when it comes to women, we expect it to be second nature. An exalted woman, who sacrifices her career for the sake of her family is a common narration in popular media. It is inscribed in a woman’s thinking and we unconsciously normalise it. Such narration puts woman’s sacrifices on a high pedestal. Considering we are a society that gives importance to family and its values, this does not sound out of the ordinary even in the current times.
It is an emotional pitfall women normally fall into. I love my kids unconditionally and that’s the purest and truest form of love I ever experienced. But does that love define me and who I am? What’s the balancing point between your aspirations and your conventional roles?
To be precise, what’s the sweet spot between your dreams and your family? For women, it always turns out to be a balancing act where you ‘lean in’ on to one side, while the other one goes for a toss. Why is it that only women have to face this choice?
If you pick the family you would be an ideal one but if you pick a career, you most likely get a delinquent tag. Even the women who choose to pursue their career, have to put an enormous amount of effort to be superwomen who pull off both the roles, effortlessly.
Mostly it is the self-effacement honed by decades of social conditioning that makes women a relationship-honouring person. It takes a lot of effort and perseverance for women to break free from such norms. And it would be wrong to say all women have a similar predicament.
You may find many women who are ensconced comfortably in a patriarchal social setup, and this is a considerable percentage of women. The world might really be missing the hidden talents they have or the unfound geniuses in them. We may never know. They may refuse to see this downside of it especially when their choices are venerated by society.
The problem with unnecessary sacrifices may force women to be unauthentic with smothered dreams over a course of time. They may fuse their dreams into their partner’s or children’s dreams. And they start playing the second fiddle to achieve their goals. Such pseudo-dreams are not theirs, and by the time they realise this, it is too late.
Recently I watched the movie ‘Thappad’ that tried to change this common narrative. The movie talks about an inadvertent slap and how it clears the mirror to reveal a woman’s identity. It shows how women from different social and economic classes deal with domestic abuse in various forms.
They try to live with these kinds of abuse and one realisation changes their lives. In the movie, the slap was the point where the protagonist realised her individuality. It helped her realise how her dreams and aspirations squashed under that of her partner’s.
Just the way women are conditioned to think a certain way, some men are also socially conditioned to think in a certain way. Because of which they think they are entitled to such an act of physical or mental aggression on the other sex. Many men don’t realize the difference in environments a woman and a man are brought up and conditioned in society.
In Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, she invents a fictional character Judith. Judith is Shakespeare’s equally talented imaginary twin sister, to explain this disparity. And Judith never gained the same fame and recognition that her brother did simply because she was a woman.
When we flip through the pages of history listing the scientists, mathematicians, and prominent personalities, we should spare a moment for all the neglected women genius’. Those who lost a place on the list just because they were born the ‘fairer’ sex.
When a person stands for women’s equality, they silently acknowledge the individuality and unrecognised abilities of their mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers. They acknowledge that these abilities and talents would’ve evolved and bloomed differently in a different era and time.
Education can make great headway in reducing social inequality. It helps women create an identity of her own and broaden her thinking. And also helps to have a definite knowledge of her own preferences and dislikes.
A family is an important unit in society, so is self-respect and individual freedom. If women in a family do not have the freedom for self-expression and personal destiny, they become an unhealthy pocket in society. It certainly will not pave the way for an ideal society. Over the course of time, the position of women has improved in the society. Education and awareness can greatly accelerate such change.
Often, it is tough for a woman to have some time for herself and pursue her passion. Many women suffer from a kind of double consciousness – the need to stay true to yourself or to the image created by the patriarchal notions.
Hopefully, as time passes, women will feel less guilty of having their own interests to pursue and dreams to fulfil. While talking about women and their personal time, it would be interesting to do a check to quantify the personal time a woman gets.
Finkbeiner test (named after the science journalist Ann Finkbeiner) is a checklist to help science journalists avoid gender bias in articles about a woman in science. It would also be interesting to apply the basis of Finkbeiner test on the conversations we have in our daily life. I have omitted a few and clubbed a few to suit the context of this article.
Let’s try to quantify the personal time woman have based on the conversations they have. Here are the things you should exclude when you count the number of conversations women have about their personal interests: anything referring to her husband’s job or achievements. Or her referring to how she is bringing up her kids. And if she alludes to the fact that she is a woman and about her struggles/achievements as a woman in any field.
When a woman applies this checklist to track her conversations, you can see the range of personal interests she has other than what her role demands.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” – A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
In a money-driven society, it is inevitable that money defines power balance in society. Women earned the right to keep their own money legally towards the start of the 19th century in many western countries.
The actual effects of this law would have taken decades to trickle down to the poorest classes of society. Though we started late, there has been steady progress in terms of woman’s involvement in the economy. Financial freedom will increase the confidence of a woman to pursue her own interest.
For most of us, woman empowerment means breaking the glass ceiling. The thing about glass cages is that it makes you believe you own the sky. Only when you take flight will you get to know about the glass barrier which lies between you and your dreams. That realisation is the pivotal moment when a woman realises her real standing. This self-realisation is the first important aspect when it comes to woman empowerment.
‘Mirrors are necessary to all violent and heroic action’. – A room of One’s own, Virginia Woolf
The UN website outlines, gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Half the population of the world are women and to realize the potential of this sidelined sector, each and every woman must discover her true potential.
When a woman looks in the mirror, she should always seek the best and the best version of herself. And when you know your identity and acknowledge your self-respect, you will always see the ‘Best-of-all’ version in the mirror.
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Pexels
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