Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’
Awww, did this remind you of a story you read as a little girl? The story of an innocent girl who was tortured by her step mother for being beautiful and fair. What a trash it was! A story, which showed that women are capable of only being fair and/or envious, jealous, competitive and revengeful; women who need knights in shinning armors to save and protect them. Now let’s reflect upon Cinderella, Rapunzel or any other fairytale that you read as a child. It teaches young girls only one thing — survival of the ‘perfect’!
In a patriarchal society, women are pushed into an insane race, which starts as soon as we open our eyes. Our complexion, eye color, hair length, weight, number of suitors, age when we get married, education, culinary skills, number of sons we bear and how successful those sons have been, become our introduction. Without even realizing, we start this competition with every woman we come across. We grow up accustomed to tearing down other women with our mean comments and questions. We are socially programmed to strive for perfection and got-it-all-togetherness.
Unfortunately, eye rolling, whispers, cutting other women down with words, shaming each other for the choices made, gossip, betrayal, insecurity, envy and jealousy defines a female gathering most of the times. Whom should we blame?
Patriarchy, capitalism, socio-cultural norms, meagre set of resources for women or just the feeling of ‘I am better’ than other women. I believe it is a combination of all, which should and must change as we step into 2020. I am no saint, I have my competitive, jealous moments as well but I make an intentional effort to avoid these negative feelings by celebrating other women’s achievements and supporting their choices. If, as a woman, I have to make a list of ways in which we can support other women, I can narrow it down to eight steps.
Once you start working on your self-worth and realize its importance you might learn how not to attack other women for their choices. This idea of self-love has been very complicated for me. I always thought that the line between self-love and selfishness is very blurred; however, gradually, I have realized self-love can be as simple as staying away from toxic people, learning to say no and protecting your dignity. An easier formula to improve your self-worth is that when you are confused regarding a decision, do what you would do if your best friend would have been in the same situation. Know that you are worthy of your love and care, before anyone else.
Mind Your Language
The way we embolden women and how we phrase this encouragement matters a lot. As women, we have been minimizing each other without even knowing it. We hardly call a girl intelligent; our usual descriptor for a girl will always be pretty, lovely or cute. If you Google ‘descriptors for men,’ you discover the following list: strong, athletic, tall, big, handsome, tough, hero, commanding, aggressive, hard-working, dependable, etc. A similar Google search for women produces the following list: accommodating, adorable, affectionate, agreeable, attentive, attractive, gorgeous, fragile, forgiving, provocative, ravishing, reserved, sacrificing, etc. When you’re encouraging a fellow female, try to use language that sounds and feels powerful. Instead of using, “You have an amazing personality,” use, “You are a sensible, strong, goal-oriented, focused and driven individual who can achieve anything with your hard work.”
Be Body Positive
Unfortunately, a woman derives most of her insecurity from how she looks. Be it media, global beauty industry or our local fairness creams advertisement, we are told to fall into a particular mold to be ‘pretty and desirable’. In our minds anything that is not ‘tall, slim and fair’ is not worth it. I understand that changing the mindset of the society overnight is impossible, however, let’s not grill each other by body shaming. Asking someone how much they weigh, why don’t they lose weight, why don’t they go for a laser treatment for facial hair or recommending any desi totka for fairness is insensitive. Next time, you have that urge to share a lemon water miracle, just stop yourself!
Aim for Progressive Conversations
A female gathering does not have to be a discussion about branded clothes and match-making only. We as women are very intelligent, we need to understand that we have the ability to discuss politics, sports and world history as well. Reading and knowing about the world is very important if you want to have better conversations. Our conversations can be experience-based rather than materialistic. We can break the myths and avoid stereotyping once we learn to have positive conversations. A good way to bolster women is to support their voices. If a man is speaking over/mansplaining a colleague or family member, stop them and tell them that you’d like to hear the rest of what she has to say or let her finish first. This encourages women to be vocal and unafraid.
When you’re encouraging a fellow female, try to use language that sounds and feels powerful. Instead of using, “You have an amazing personality,” use, “You are a sensible, strong, goal-oriented, focused and driven individual who can achieve anything with your hard work.”
Team Up at Home
A major change in a girl’s life is when she gets married and leaves her own house. She becomes part of another family where other females are already striving to be perfect. This competition then turns into family politics and usually ends up breaking the family. I feel that all the women who share a household can be a great support for each other if they stop competing and become a team. For me, what really helped in dealing with these changes was avoiding comparisons because they say comparison is the thief of joy.
Support Female Entrepreneurs
Few years ago a friend of mine started a small scale catering business. I remember our friends used to ask her for massive discounts. One friend, in particular, pushed her to share a recipe, which was on the menu. We as women, should learn to support other women when they start a new venture. Do not ask for discounts and write positive reviews! Share the information in your circle so she might get more clients. Encourage and support her even if you do not buy anything from her. Intentionally, buy from businesses run by women to support them.
Defend Their Choices
When my son was four months old, I decided to quit working full time. I remember a very close friend of mine told me that I was supporting a culture where a woman’s ability to raise children is given more importance than her career. Initially, I doubted the choice I had made. However, gradually I realized that I liked staying at home more than working full time. Similarly, if a woman wants to continue working after a baby that is her choice. Let her be. We often comment and criticize the choices women make just for the sake of doing it. Covering herself, wearing what she likes, colors that suit her age, her parenting style, all become a social discussion. This again feeds into that vicious cycle of negativity, which women have to survive.
Women are working in every industry in Pakistan. Whether she is a CEO at a multinational company or a teacher at a primary school in a village, she leaves her home after facing some resistance. Support these working women by being better colleagues. Understand their family dynamics and know that a little support from you will make it easier for her to continue her career. Also ensure that every woman around you is in a safe space.
Support Women at Work
Recently, I worked with an organization, which supported small scale, low budget schools. As part of my job, I met many women from different parts of Pakistan. Initially, I was not able to step out of my privileged state of mind where we have been raised in a relatively open-minded community in the capital city. I was unable to understand why they can’t travel to Islamabad alone, why they are not allowed by their family to stay out overnight and so on. My moment of realization was when one of the teachers told me that she walks for 30 minutes and changes two vans to reach the school. I realized the hard work these women are putting in to study, work and change the society.
Women are working in every industry in Pakistan. Whether she is a CEO at a multinational company or a teacher at a primary school in a village, she leaves her home after facing some resistance. Support these working women by being better colleagues. Understand their family dynamics and know that a little support from you will make it easier for her to continue her career. Also ensure that every woman around you is in a safe space. Listen to her when she says she needs support against harassment. Say a big loud ‘NO’ to blaming the victim.
As women, we are in this together and it is time we start supporting each other instead of silently holding each other back. We should love, empower, encourage and educate, one another. All of us can achieve our goals and spread our wings without downsizing others. We can support each other in making big decisions and rolling with them. Remember, ‘Women Together are Women Stronger!’ HH
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