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Every year we speak on women’s ’empowerment’, but are our conversations really helping women to take back their power?
I am the sort who generally lets all international special days pass lamely. However, this International Women’s Day got me in a bind recently, after I impulsively agreed for a virtual discussion online.
I didn’t think coming up with a few thoughts on ‘Women Empowerment’ would be hard, but as I considered the topic further, I began to feel intimidated. Because somewhere during my self-deliberations, I realized that whatever the world around me expected to hear was not precisely what I had in my mind.
My views weren’t echoing the voices around me. I didn’t have many ideas about ‘feminism’ per se. I didn’t think like what the firebrand votaries of feminism thought. There was an incongruence, which I knew would be glaring, and, in all probability, raise the hackles of at least a few, if I were to speak my thoughts.
Questions like – Who is a modern woman, how do you think women can be empowered, what must women do to better their lot etc. are not easy for me to answer.
Let me explain.
It took a while for me to first realize that we have moved out of the ‘women’s liberation’ phase and have now entered the empowerment space. No one talks about ‘women’s lib’ nowadays as they did a few years ago. Which is great because it means we are now liberated. Hallelujah. Raise a toast.
Now, my predicament was this. I don’t know how the liberation movement is different from the empowerment movement. Or are they one and the same? Without even knowing the basics, what the heck was I going to speak at the virtual meeting?
Before I am condemned as insensitive and an ignoramus, I want to clarify that I am all for the idea of women having a happy, fulfilling, and peaceful life, and why wouldn’t I be? I am a woman, after all, and I want every other woman in the world to be bestowed with happiness of every kind. But what confuses me are the jargons. Liberation, empowerment, feminism, freedom, breaking the glass ceilings, equality etc.
They have been flying all around me like frisbees for a long while now, and somewhere in my deep recesses, I believe they are mere platitudes than anything solid or substantial. They are amorphous concepts in my head.
I am conscious of the fact that millions of women go through unmentionable torture in the world day after day, and it pains me to no end, but ask me how I can help them, and I haven’t the slightest idea except by saying an ardent prayer. Allow me my honesty. I don’t want to pretend to be a warrior who can slay all the demons in one murderous stroke.
We live in a world where to be heard and seen is more important than to be found acting effectively. We say things that we don’t often mean, project ourselves as something that we just aren’t, we play the charades, posture and please the galleries, because doing otherwise will make us irrelevant to the times. It will make us antiquated, and so, even when we may secretly think differently, we subscribe to the popular rhetoric and play it safe.
So, does it mean I don’t endorse the idea of empowerment? Of course, I do. With every cell in my body and every realm of my spirit.
I strongly feel that every human being on this planet should be empowered to lead a jolly good life. It is non-negotiable in our list of needs. But I have questions about the definitions of terms that claim to manifest happiness for women. Freedom. Emancipation. Empowerment.
Pray tell me, what are they?
Audacity and belligerence? Throwing caution to the winds?
Being an unbridled badass? Leading a life with gay abandon?
Creating new female avatars that challenge biological patterns and laws of natural selection?
Defying everything that our past has prescribed?
This is what I hear everywhere: women must be ‘allowed’ to do what they please without fetters of any sort. That and that alone is freedom. It is here that my views get a bit divergent.
Freedom is not doing things as one pleases and demanding immunity from harm. Freedom is, not having the desire to do things that may bring one to harm.
Freedom is not being obsessed about tilting the apple cart. Freedom is being at peace with oneself, in the circumstances that naturally exist.
Empowerment isn’t being fixated about invading male bastions. Empowerment is to have the capacity to make informed decisions about one’s life and the courage to act upon it. It is not calling for men to supplicate to women’s demands; it is about each woman finding the strength to take stock of her life and know what will improve her physically, mentally, and spiritually. And once she knows it, drawing the inner strength to act in her own favour.
A woman who is abused must find the nerve to walk out of the relationship and build a life of her own. I know many such women and they are empowered not in comparison with the other gender, but on their own.
A woman who is consistently exploited must resolve and do what it takes to get out of the manipulative set-up and charter a new course in her life. This, to me, is power.
On the other hand, a woman who is happy to be a homemaker or even the one who stays in an unhappy marriage for her own reasons is making her own choice to be there. Support them the best you can in their choice, but otherwise leave them alone. Forcing them to do something never works.
Empowerment, to me, is not fancy grandstanding and glorification of womens’ virtues. It is making each woman realize that her life is in her hands and that she has the power to decide what is good for her. And no one other than the individual woman has the right to decide what is good for her.
No one outside of her can empower her. At best, what the external influences can do it make her aware that her freedom rests within her and all she has to do is to draw upon her innate resources, and provide her with the support for her to do that. She must determine what is important for her and what kind of life she wants to lead, and eliminate all forces that stops her from leading that life.
What we on the other side of the fence can do is give them the emotional support to make that crucial decision. And if our social involvement and influence is extensive, provide them the means to find their moorings again.
While doing that, the women must also know full well that not everything that they desire, and dream can come to fruition. Life doesn’t take well to our orders, no matter how badly we will want it to. Some amount of practical sense over blinding zeal will help us here to actually make a difference. Life is not our slave and it will not bow to us. Period.
Everything else that you and I will speak, no matter how vociferously, are mere gibberish if the women who are victimized do not take the firm decision to not fritter away their lives.
The sooner we steer our debates and discussions around this fact and don’t limit our talks to who should do the dishes and the diapers, or go ballistic about clothes, make-up, night-outs, promiscuousness, and reckless self-importance, the better life will be for millions of women who silently nurse their bruises in their own shadows. What these women need is a prop to leap out of their pits and not nauseating propaganda.
I rest my case.
Published here first.
Image source: a still from the film The Great Indian Kitchen
Asha Iyer Kumar is an author, life-writing coach, active blogger, and youth motivational speaker
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