Feminism: What happens to women who don't break the glass ceiling?
'I think I am a feminist.’ I would say this sheepishly to anyone who ever bothered to inquire where I stood in gender politics.
I am a woman, and naturally drawn to the cause of my gender. But what has baffled most inquirers is the ‘I think’ part.
Either you are one, or you are not, they argue.
If I have ever had doubts about my status as a feminist, it is because I have not broken any glass ceiling and my life choices cannot be deemed ‘unconventional’. Could I be a feminist if I have not ticked these boxes?
We all have a prism through which we view the world and our place in it. In my case, it is gender.
This awareness did not come to me when someone asked me to not do or say a few things because ‘good girls weren’t supposed to behave like this’.
It came about when I was glued into classics that I would later study in my literature course in college.
The women in these classics were impossibly romanticised. Jane Eyre was a figure of resilience. But why does she have to return to the man who has kept a monumental secret from her, my mind would wonder.
Sure, Elizabeth Bennet holds her own. But how do her prejudices vanish upon visiting the estate of the man she does not like?
Of course, Madame Bovary entered my life only in adulthood. The good thing about critical studies of these books, which are mandatory reading when you study literature in-depth, is that they call out these problems even as they acknowledge that these stories were products of their time.
Once you are infected with these ideals in the formative and impressionable years of your life, the problems start when we begin to apply some of these principles in real life, which has no room for either romance or utopia.
Many argue that we live at a time when no one frowns upon women who have divorced or have decided to remain financially independent after marriage. More women are to be found in leading roles in important walks of life.
Many corporates are consciously keeping gender constitution of teams in mind before they set out to hire. All these are great examples to follow.
But for many women, who are yet to become a Sheryl Sandberg or an Indra Nooyi, the challenge is to still operate in a system that does not automatically favour them.
This means carefully wording their problems so that they do not come across as being needy as opposed to their male counterparts. It also means lugging the responsibility of home as well as work, and being expected to shine in both domains.
It also means holding one’s own when their predecessors have been active participants in maintaining status quo.
Treading carefully and tactfully when stating the obvious shouldn’t have to seem like a challenge.
Such everywoman isn’t any less a feminist. She has found ‘a room of one’s own’, while ensuring she retains the key to its doors.