An assignment on an article on things that women should be able to do but don`t, Michelle Obama`s interview, and a meeting with a Bangladeshi woman who, in spite of sad circumstances, still lives a courageous life. Finally something clicks in me and I feel I may have something worthwhile to say for this assignment.
The list of things that women should be able to do (but generally don`t) is pretty long and impressive. Change a flat tire, learn reverse parallel parking, understand money and learn to do finances, change a light bulb, know exactly what to ask for when buying a mobile/computer or any other gadget, etc. On the feelings front it`s about managing their emotions, making decisions when emotionally stable… the list can go on and on.
Most of these tasks are considered to be difficult for women to do. This is not about women`s lib, or equal rights, or about women trying to act unnecessarily Tarzan. It`s about taking a deeper look at why we women just take a back seat and act dumb about things we can handle perfectly well. Societal pressures, lack of opportunities, extremely strict parental control, media stereotyping…all of this does contribute to creating patterns of mental block and we slide into learned modes of helplessness before we even realize what`s happening. Are mental blocks the end of story then? And are we women doomed to a life which will never know the joy of reverse parallel parking a car?
A talk with Bano, a Bangladeshi woman, sheds some light on the subject. Bano talks about life handing her more curve balls than her due share. Her father died when she was still a young child and her mother brought her up with great difficulty. Married at nine and a mother at 16, she came to Pakistan in 1965 in search of her errant husband and found him married to someone else. So here she was, 18 years old, speaking only Bangla, abandoned in a strange country. Phew! Her life story doesn`t exactly paint a pretty picture, yet Bano has learned many skills that make her invaluable to her employers. After deciding to stick around in Pakistan, she started work as a maid and now helps her employer in managing the administrative details of the business. Plus she does all sorts of things around the house — mechanical and electrical work, plumbing, driving, dealing with government officials; she is a Jack (or should we say Jill) of all trades and master of many as well. How does she do it, all this `man work`?
“Firstly, I love to explore and have fun while doing it and secondly, I just follow the electrician and the plumber and ask a lot of questions. My attitude is that I can learn anything and when the opportunity presents itself, I dive into it.” `Try everything` is her motto. “I don`t really care if I fail and so, by the third or fourth attempt, I have got a pretty good hang of things.” So what stops other women from having this kind of attitude? Bano thinks it`s fear of how they will look in society. The can-do attitude (himmat she calls it) is something that can be developed if it`s not there.
However, most women will probably whine and let the fear factor get so great that they start depending on others. “If you think of yourself as weak then you will automatically never get that thing right and you leave the task half-way.” (This from a woman who, I doubt, has ever set eyes on a self-help book.) She is thankful to God and says, in typical Bangla-style Urdu, that she relies only on God, “mujhay mohtaji nahin pasand.”
Like Bano, others can develop the `himmat` too and tackle the list of things that women should be able to do. But the word `should` to me is a turn-off. I think it`s about what women (or men for that matter) want to do but don`t because of their own inner blocks. That is a sad life. I take help from Michelle Obama here on Women`s Choices. She says in a recent Time interview, `Find your space. Find your spot. Wear what you love. Choose the careers that may have meaning to you, because there`s always somebody who will say, “I wouldn`t have worn that colour,` or `Why didn`t you work at that job?` But if you`re comfortable in the choice and it resonates with you, then all the other stuff — it`s just conversation. People have the right to have conversations. But I think that`s one thing we as women sometimes do — we don`t make choices that have meaning to us. And then, when those things fall apart, you have to have yourself to fall back on.
Hence, in the final analysis, an easy life is not promised to anyone. Some situations and people will continue to make sure that our walk in this world is littered with thorns. While that is not in our control, the attitude to live with dignity is. Mental blocks — although mental — are pretty real. However, as J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author) famously said, you have to put an expiry date on how long you will blame your parents for living a bad life, I think we need to put an expiry date on how long we will let our mental blocks keep us in prisons of helplessness. And Bano`s example shows us that it has nothing to do with being born with a golden spoon and everything to do with the attitude we choose.