About a week ago, I heard the most shocking thing ever and what made it worse, was the fact that it came from someone I respect greatly. It was during a teaching. He had deviated a bit and was talking about how certain social facts of one’s life could define the course of their lives. I couldn’t have agreed more until he said ‘being born a woman is a disadvantage’!
When I heard this, my first reaction was, as you would assume; you said what!!!! Who says something like that? Of course that isn’t true and even if it was, you don’t say it out loud, especially not coming from a man! I felt so offended that I wanted to shout out; hey, wait! Haven’t you heard of all the women in the world who are doing so great? All the women who can contend, withstand and even win the men in their respective professions? Haven’t you heard about Hilary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Sonia Gandhi, Angela Merkel, Dilma Rousseff, Christine Lagarde, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles, Geun-hye Park, to mention just a few? These are women whose names ring a bell wherever and whenever. They are not just among the Forbes world 100 most powerful women; they are in a fact among the 100 most powerful people. Let’s bring it back home a bit; there is Ngozi Iweala Okonji (Great woman, both within and outside Nigeria) and Chimamanda Adichie (Again, globally known and appreciated for her works in and out of literature). How then can someone say that being born a woman is a disadvantage? And so, I ranted and raved in my head.
After I had finally exhausted myself doing just that, I started really thinking about it. Trying my best to put sentiments aside, dissect it as much as I could and see if I could find any truth to it. I debated for a couple of days. I kept reminding myself of all these women and more, who are world pacesetters; who define and control trends; and who control the economies of nations. I told myself, these are women who have succeeded despite all odds. And then, it dawned on me; they succeeded ‘despite all odds’.
By design (I was going to say ‘societal design’, but didn’t want to be too controversial), the place of a woman has been predefined as a care-giver and taker. She is viewed as the weaker sex and it automatically means that there are places, professions, achievements that she isn’t presumably designed for. Although, we can argue and say that the world has become more flexible and receptive towards professional women. The truth remains that women have to try twice as hard to achieve power and fame in what is still described as a “man’s world” by most.
It is almost like the world in its quest of accepting women to places of power and fame, have become sort of patronizing. You find a Forbes list for ‘powerful women’ but none for men. To me, that is like saying that the presence of powerful men is a given. In sports, professional lawn tennis for example, women play best of threes while men play best of fives. It seems like no matter how hard women try, they are most often than not, playing second-fiddle even when they are leading.
However, the fact is that for every one woman you find in place of power, there are at least 10 equivalent men doing same powerful things. One can argue that the biology of life and societal demands, already gives the man a fairer chance of ruling as against the woman. The primary role of a woman as viewed by society (modern or not), is still within the family unit (after all she is the one who will have to carry and nurse the child, if there is one). So to be more than just a care-giver (a wife and a mother), she would have to work harder. She would have to learn how to juggle what is her primary responsibility and anything else she chooses to be. We can even go a step further and say that present day society now demands that a woman be all these and more. You are expected to be a mother, a wife and still have an independent career (One wonders why we still need animated superheroes when they truly live among us). And when she decides she isn’t superhuman and chooses power over either a husband or kids or even both, she is branded negatively and if I dare say, especially by women.
Again, bringing it back home, although the societal role of a woman has become more flexible and there are a lot of women in places of position and power; a woman is still largely appreciated by her looks, maternal instincts and care-giving abilities. A woman (again by societal references) still needs a man in her life to be truly respected. There are different expressions for unmarried women having a bad day that generally suggest the lack of a man in her life still defines her (at less, in the eyes of people). The ultimate question is still ‘how well does she complement the man?’ I remember years ago someone said to me that a woman’s life doesn’t really begin until she gets married. He wasn’t being rude (even though I was offended), but was just pointing out the fact that a woman’s independent decisions and priorities more or less takes the back seat when she gets married and even worse (or better, depending on perspective), when she starts having children. Take for example, Victoria Beckham (whom I greatly respect, so no criticism intended). She has relocated at less twice due to of her husband’s career. At a point, she lived in Los Angeles with her husband and four kids, but ran her business out of London; this to me, is really ‘juggling glass balls’ (as she herself puts it). She has described herself as a ‘mother, wife, and designer’ and I am pretty sure they come in that order. However, she has made a great success out of career (Hence my respect) but it has been against all odds.
Bottom line, I am a woman; I am career-minded but would also want to have a family someday. This apparently means that for me to be both, to achieve both and leave my name on the sands of time, I would have to beat all odds which obviously, are twice that of a man’s.
So yes, although being a woman has its high points; when you really think about it, it can also be said that being born as one is a disadvantage.
Having said that, I still say, I love being a woman and wouldn’t trade it for anything (on the good days)