I was born to my lovely parents, many moons ago, kicking and screaming, my face and body covered in the blood and juices of my mother’s internals, attached to the umbilical cord that nourished me and allowed me to breathe. 5 months to the day, my young cousin gave birth to her daughter and her husband, to-be-father captured the entire birthing on video. Yes, thanks to the ubiquitous video and the ‘selfies’ and the ‘photograph and click’ obsession generation that we’ve become, we won’t spare anything. But this time around this obsession filled me with jaw-dropping awe when I saw it. The whole idea, my God, the whole process of life being formed and nourished and then given birth to is a miracle. Oh my God! Yes, it’s a miracle. I know I won’t ever be a mother and never experience that part of this miracle called life, and it pains me and fills me with a je ne sais quoi emotion, but that video of the birth of my beautiful niece brought home the fact that Life is a miracle. Period.
Today when I watch this 5 month-old niece, I’m not thinking of her gender, believe you me. I treat her as a beautiful baby. A baby who, sooner rather than later, will anyway be told, be made to feel, realise, understand and many a times be made to feel guilty or ashamed of being born a woman. Do I want that for her? Of course not, for crying out loud. But it’s something that human life on this gorgeous planet, has always struggled with. The man-woman dialogue. (And if you watch this NASA’s flickr stream and don’t go OMG and feel a sense of awe, then I guess you’re from another planet, can’t help you here, sorry).
I’ll be honest, I have never for the life of me understood this man-woman struggle. I am so grateful and lucky, so fabulously lucky to have been born in a family that raised me as a person. Read my lips – p-e-r-s-o-n. I don’t recollect ever, ever, being compared to a boy. Being told that I was in someway, any way, less or more because of my gender. I was never ever told that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted because my genitalia was different or that I was physically not as strong as a boy. I was never ever made to feel any different to the boys in the household. Never ever. I am blessed and I realise that now.
But the guilt trip began not within the family, it started outside of it. You know, the first time I actually felt a little awkward and perhaps the seeds of guilt were sown was when I reached puberty and started developing breasts. (Before you think I have an obsession of talking about human’s private parts, no I don’t, I’m a healthy, normal woman and it has taken me many decades not to squirm when talking about breasts, so there). I remember one of the girls in the neighbourhood, the “childhood” friends that I used to hang out with, actually poked me in the breast and went all “giggle giggle”. I guess it was innocuous or just plain curiosity that kids that age are battling with. She was in fact older than me and hadn’t yet reached puberty. I was in the throes of awkward womanhood. And I guess from there on, it was all downhill. I remember being suffused with the guilt of having a body that was blooming. The shame of having a body that was growing was painful. And to have this brought home by my very own ‘tribe’ had me thinking, ‘why me?’ Life started assuming different hues. It was the beginning of self-doubt (which plagues me even today after decades). And the end of revelling in the miracle and innocence of being human and a person. Gender became an ‘issue’ (and in my case it started with someone from my own gender) and life was perhaps never the same ever again.
The ‘need’ that was inculcated to live up to a certain ideal of what constituted the beauty paradigm continues to haunt me even today. Of course, we grow up, of course we ‘evolve’, of course we make our own rules and of course we strut our stuff and feel confident that we’ve arrived. But somewhere deep down we’re still looking for approval from the men and the women. Do I look okay?
The whole “beauty business” has been propagated by women and encashed by men. Very early on in life you learn that perhaps the ultimate goal of the woman is to be attractive to men, gain their attention, stir up their commitment and bask in security. It’s a cave-woman survival mode, that has its genesis in the “we got biceps, you got graceful arms” attitude. As soon as you learn that you are a woman, which in itself is a natural part of being human, and forget that you are a person, you begin to live in a ‘perception vs reality’ world. The manipulation of how the world views you – image, perception, beauty, achievement, worth – and the drumrolls of the business of being a woman begins. Ta daaah!
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we stop treating each other as people, real people with blood-pumping hearts and emotions that are steeped in our humanity’s soul? When and why do we transcend the boundaries of being real people to gender and start climbing down the spiral of the man-woman debate? For me it started when that friend of mine poked me in the breast and giggled. Like it was my fault and what a shame!! I have had to answer questions by HR managers at job interviews, “so are you planning to get married?” and I’ve had to fight the subtle, below-the-radar nudge-nudge, ‘she’s available’ tag all the time. Yes, I’ve had trouble being a woman, as have all the millions who came before us. But I’ve also had trouble with women and their mindsets. And I do believe that women are women’s worst enemies. Men? They’re easy – cook them a meal, feed their fragile egos, make them feel that they’re cave-men meant to protect us and without their scrawny butts we’d be dead meat, and they’d be eating out of your palms.
I have trouble because:
a) the young carefree girl sitting pillion on a fancy bike in her tight jeans hugging the guy doesn’t ever stop to raise her perfectly arched eyebrows if he jumps a traffic light, or decides to bribe a copy in case he’s caught.
b) the young girl-friend never stops pushing her boy friend to keep up with the Joneses and spend on indulgences which give exactly 5 minutes of satisfaction (as long as there are others who go “ooh” and “aah”, life is good).
c) the young wife enters into the institution of marriage with the idea that she could get a divorce in 6 months and get a fat alimony (especially if the man she’s marrying is a poor besotted rich sod).
d) the young mother never ever pulls her son into the kitchen asking him to give her a hand at cooking. It’s somehow natural to call out for your daughter.
e) the wife of many years looks the other way at her husband’s transgressions and moral decrepitude as long as he is her security blanket.
I firmly believe that we shape the world. If we have been vested with the power to birth human beings, it means we have the baton to conduct the orchestra called ‘life’, where life is a composite of attitude, mindset, emotional balance, fairplay and being right and being just. We shape the people we give birth to. So if we can bring up our children as ‘balanced people’ with a world-view that is inclusive and just and fair, we make a better world.
I don’t want my gorgeous 5-month old niece to have the albatross of being a woman dog her all her life. She needs to be a confident, self-assured, comfortable in her own skin, happy to be born, PERSON FIRST. Then comes everything else.
So hey, when we blithely send out “happy women’s day” greetings I honestly don’t feel a thing. Why’re we being so Hallmarky about it? Why aren’t we breaking that defined-by-someone-else and blindly-being-followed-by-everyone-else line of thought? Have you stopped to really think what it means? And by wishing me, aren’t you bringing my gender to the fore more starkly than ever before?
It’s time to change our thought. 21st century, Gen Y (or is it Gen Z), social media mavens, Miley Cyrus twerks, Lady Gaga meaty fashion, Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg notwithstanding, we need to move on. Let’s just celebrate being human. Gimme a hi-five!