Today is International Women’s day. It’s also just another day for me – except I’m more tired than usual after a somewhat mentally exhausting day at work. There’s a lot of negative sentiments being expressed and while I personally don’t feel negative about having a women’s day, I don’t get what it’s supposed to mean.
For me personally, whenever there is a woman focused event, women leadership meetings about empowering women at work for example, I automatically feel like a victim. I don’t know if this is abnormal, but it’s how I feel. I begin to imagine what subversive interpretation to give to certain conversations I’ve had (with men), was my boss really not taking me seriously because I’m a woman? And I do not want to feel or think like a victim. The fact is, unless it’s really in your face, it’s hard to know. I have not experienced in my face discrimination at work. I don’t know how much I’m paid relative to my male peers. I do not have concrete data to tell if I’ve been a victim of lesser pay, lesser work, etc. compared to my male counterparts. How does one find out??? I do read that this problem is pretty rampant though and would like to see the data.
In my own journey, especially as I grow older, I have come to realize a few things about myself in the context of being a woman.
– Change first has to come from within. And for me, one of the most empowering changes was to stop seeking approval from others. It was a long and hard journey to get here, but it’s exhilarating to be here. For the longest time, I did not even realize that my self esteem depended so much on what others thought of me. How many times have you heard “feedback is a gift”? It’s a gift only when it’s genuine. Figuring out what’s genuine feedback and what’s noise is important. Now I’m in a place where I trust my inner voice more than any feedback I get. I was shit scared when I started though.
– Confidence – trusting myself has given me a lot of confidence. It feels like things happen when I trust myself which boosts confidence.
– On breaking the glass ceiling – there’s data on this. The proportion of women in senior management positions is much lower than men. There is probably a good bit of discrimination here. But there are other complexities. For instance, many women have children. Like me. My experience is that when you become a mother, you go through a huge physical and emotional change. Ambition and drive took a huge backseat because it was not the most important thing. This was despite having a hugely helpful spouse who did no less than me in terms of housework. Some moms might retain the drive to rise up the corporate ladder, but for me, it was not the priority. Rising in a typical corporate outfit takes a lot of effort and I just didn’t have the energy when my kids were little. But, this was entirely my choice and that’s important. It is still empowering when a woman gets to make a choice to put here career on a slower track. I think too many women beat themselves up to be perfect at home and at work. But something will give – again I come back to knowing yourself and understanding what is best for you.
– Hold others accountable to walk the talk. For all the lip service that’s given to women’s emancipation, some biases are deeply ingrained. My husband loves to cook and I travel a bit for work. You will not believe the number of veiled and not-so-veiled remarks I get, from women, on this fairly unconventional way of life. Initially it bothered me, now it does not. I now ask these people if they really believe in empowered women.
– On physical and emotional abuse (including rape) – This is when a woman is treated less than another human being and is not be able to defend herself. What are we doing to address this problem which is still rampant all over the world? How are we talking about this on Women’s day? As a woman, this is what I’m most sensitive to. Growing up in India, I, like probably many many girls, was subject to groping on the streets. This had a profound impact on my psyche – I felt powerless because I could not defend myself.
So in conclusion, I think that women’s empowerment should be self driven. I can’t remember who said it – you can’t be a victim if you don’t let yourself be one, no matter what anyone says or does. At the same time, we need to help each other out and do the right thing, even if it means fighting for it, when it comes to basic human rights.