What do women who have all the basic, and even more, want? When the world around them seems perfect, what is it that the “have it alls” want from the world around them.
I was recently invited to a dinner at an extended family’s house. After spending more than an hour in front of the mirror, trying to figure out “appropriate” clothing for the occasion, I finally made it on time. And as I greeted everyone and set my eyes (and hands) on the mouth watering snacks, a strange feeling suddenly hit me. I realised It was guilt. Soon, I found myself walking towards the kitchen to help the host. As if I had to earn my share of food. As I reached the kitchen, I awkwardly tried to help. I didn’t know what was it that I could do. Maybe I could help them set the dishes? Or maybe I could just carry the snacks outside for everyone? Or should I just stand close to them and mark my presence there.
“Please have a seat in the dining area, don’t worry, I can handle here,” said the lady who was hosting the dinner. I felt relieved but still could’t get myself to leave the kitchen. I looked in the dining area, the guests, most of whom were the husbands and the middle aged men, were engaged in carefree conversations. The snacks were being served to them and they continued to enjoy the party. I finally came to the dining area and picked up another plate of snacks. This time, I was more relaxed since I had done my primary duties of trying to help the host. It was a fun evening overall, and nothing unusual happened. That is how most of the parties go. Yet, as I got back home, a thought lingered on. Why did I feel guilty of enjoying a simple meal in a party where I was a guest? And then I went back in time and recalled many other similar events in my life. I realised that I couldn’t think of a single family gathering where I didn’t feel awkward about just sitting and relaxing. Why did I feel guilty?
And I then thought about other guests. And realised almost every woman at the gathering came to the kitchen one or the other time to help. Is it because women are conditioned this way? The more I thought about this, the more it agitated me. Why do I feel the need to prove that how perfectly I can manage a household in spite of having a full time career, why do I have to over compensate for my lack of cooking capabilities. And no matter how much I achieve professionally, why do I feel like a failure at times when I see a messy house?
I spoke to a few other women and they shared similar experiences. I wanted to go deeper and asked several women what exactly do they seek in life? What makes them happy? I asked my house help and she said that she wants to open her beauty parlour one day, another girl shared how she wanted to complete higher education and that will make her truly happy. Someone shared they wanted better job opportunities for women.
And then I thought about other women who already have these basics. Women who are educated, who have a job, who have financial stability. Women who already have it all that their lesser privileged counter parts crave. What do the “have it alls” want?
Gunjan Arora, Bengaluru based woman working in an MNC shared how patriarchy is at the base of every issue women face. “What actually needs to be done today is uprooting of patriarchy,” Arora said.
“On the face of it, women like us have everything we should be thankful for. Underprivileged women yearn for a life like ours. But on daily basis the subtle humiliation we face, the unequal treatment, being taken for grated, being judged, being put in a mould. Isn’t all of this the result of deep roots of patriarchy?”
She further added, “When you repeatedly face these things, material privileges lose their charm. Women have always faced all of this and much more. It is just that it is not going down well with our generation.”
Mumbai based Pooja Sharma, holding a senior position in a famous MNC resonated with Gunjan’s thoughts. “Even after 16 hours of a work day, I am still the primary care giver of the family. The expectations to look after the house and the children are always there from the women and not from the men,” she said.
Kiran Manral, proclaimed author, shared how in spite of being educated, independent, she still seeks safety. “Women should be able to feel safe wherever they are. I am now in my 50s and I still don’t feel safe. Women are constantly made to feel unsafe in every space, whether they are out on the roads, whether they are in their own homes, whether it is in the cyberspace. If there is one thing I wish women could have is a sense of safety,” she shared.
She mentioned how women are at the receiving end of casual remarks on their bodies, their lifestyle and that affects their core personalities.
“It never ends, we are not tall enough, we are not fair enough, we are not pretty enough, this ‘not enough’ keeps going on. But I think that this generation is slowly overcoming it,” she added.
Suneeta Rao, singer, reflected upon the importance of giving women power to choose. “Give them the option to be empowered and letting them choose irrespective of their societal structure,” Rao said. She also emphasised how women can prepare the next generation in a way that they don’t have to suffer. Also how one has to ask for their rights. “If you don’t ask, no one will give,” she said.
There is a lot of unlearning we have to do to create a world we can call ours. When I think about the number of times I see empowered women doubting their own capabilities, being too harsh on themselves, and choosing a path others decided for them, it makes me wonder how many generations it will take to unlearn the conditioning? And when I look at the other side, women happily adjusting to a certain societal structure and truly being happy, is it this sense of societal validation that they want? The question remains unanswered for me.
I know a few women, living in a comfortable home with loving family, financial stability, and good health. Yet, “I could have achieved so much if I was given an opportunity.” is a common narrative that they share. And from the outside, it’s not that they were denied opportunities. But, it is those unsaid rules, that passive backlash women face, the everyday subtle aggression they witness in their own homes that makes them “settle down” and control their dreams. They condition their minds in a way that makes them believe this is the best they could get. But when women are unburdened from this societal baggage, it is then they truly shine.
When you look deeper and go beyond the layer of “having it all”, you realise it is the basic sense of respect and the freedom to just be without being questioned or judged that every woman desires. It’s the simple things that take the most amount of effort to change.