Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Versatile Women

In a recent conversation with J, I learned some cultural norms of middle school. Girls are either taken seriously or not by their peers (male and female) based on how they present themselves. If she looks like she spends most weekends at the mall shopping cute outfits and an hour in front of the mirror each morning she is not taken seriously. Those are the signs of a bimbo. To that end, when invited to a party a serious girl can't stray too far from her native image. 

I challenged this assumption strongly and asked J why a girl who wants to be taken seriously cannot be versatile. There is a time and place to project a geek image and one in which to demonstrate social adeptness. Being in your comfort zone and around people just like you is easy for anyone - it takes no effort and as such there are no rewards. It is much harder to get comfortable outside that familiar ecosystem. 

When I was growing up in India, I recall "Satarupa" (one having a  hundred beautiful forms) women were held in high esteem. I have been lucky to know a few. Mrs S was in her fifties when I was in middle school. She had degrees from Princeton and Yale. Had traveled the wold, taught in universities, been in senior executive roles outside academia and was the mother of three grown up kids. She was invited to our school to talk to girls about career, work life balance and being a woman in a man's world. 

There was no minimizing or glossing over the challenges she had faced but she was positive about her experiences. You could tell she did not hate men in any way. She talked about forging partnerships with them and not being adversarial - learning to stand your ground but not losing your femininity in the process. She showed up in a sari like any other woman her age that we knew. 

Being girls we noticed her excellent taste and the light touch with the make-up and jewelry. She looked wonderful for her age and radiated confidence. She delivered a speech that rivals anything I have heard to this day. She shared her passion for baking and how she took lessons from pastry chefs in different countries where she had lived and worked. The importance of family rituals, celebrating festivals came up. She talked about how they did things in her home - there was nothing there we could not relate to. Our stay at home mothers did exactly what she did. 

Then there were some pictures of her over the years, as a student, newly wed, young mother, milestones in her career and so on that she shared. Old grainy images we saw through a projector that transformed our thinking about what it means to be a woman. Mrs S was indeed "Satarupa" and if her life thus far was any indication it had served her exceptionally well. It is a meeting I valued then and treasure to this day. There was no girl in that auditorium that did not want to be like Mrs S - in essence even if we could not replicate her life.

1 comment:

Ananva said...

It is good to have role models like the lady you describe. It allows us to explore different avenues in life and yet stay grounded!