Last week both men and women flooded the social media space with Women’s Day messages in support and appreciation of one half of the world. I usually stand neutral on the relevance of such a day especially when the wounds of our collective failure and helplessness in protecting crime against our women are so fresh in the memory. But if nothing else, it was interesting to encounter some fresh perspectives midst the noise of the old cliches that float around the same time every year. Among my favorite ones, was the message “Women are not their relationships” as an attack on one such cliche that goes around every year- “They are cute daughters, loving mothers, sisters, wives etc. Love/Respect Women” (or something similar) I was also reading Chetan Bhagat’s message/advice to women which I found thoughtful and refreshing in parts. However, in all of the points he touched in his note, what really irked and even disturbed me a little was his observation that women are much harder on other women- that we constantly judge, undermine, compete with, distrust our own kind which is our undoing. In other words, where bromance gets celebrated in one movie/sitcom after another, and ‘bro-codes’ are serious business and while men are sharing fart jokes over beer, we are in a corner bitching about the skinnier woman who managed to cut the queue at the bar. Are we really guilty as charged? The answer is a yes and a no. At least for the most of us.
If this was a thought I had considered around my early twenties, the answer could have been a resounding YES. The journey from girl to woman is imbued with insecurities where we were constantly competing over body shapes/weight, boys, clothes and what have you. We were not entirely pleased if someone was better dressed than us at the school party and may have bonded over something as vicious as gossip, or poking fun at that odd, be-spectacled girl. We judged that girl on the street, the skirted woman at the club and we sometimes judged and competed with our best friend.
Women can also be extremely harsh on their kind in the relationships that come with the baggage and suffix of ‘in-law’. There is really no relationship more strained in its energy and vibe than that shared between the two women in any man’s life despite Freud’s attempt to de-mystify the equation in his fancy Oedipus syndrome. Without saying much, I think the onus of changing lies with us, as the current generation D-I-L (daughters-in-law) and most importantly the next generation of M-I-L(mothers in law) ( I know a lot of you women are shaking your heads to that = not going to happen!)
Popular culture also has its share of the blame to take. When on one hand it has glorified and celebrated the love between the boys, even coining a term for the plethora of movies that have been made to capture this ‘bromance’ – Shawshank Redemption, Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na milegi dobara, I Love You, Man, Pyaar Ka Punchnama…Phew!On the other hand, it has largely ignored the relevance of the friendship among women-kind assuming that it they are few and far-in between. Maybe some like Stepmom dealt with it in a relevant way but other than that the void in this non-existent genre persists.
In my experience I have learnt that women genuinely bond post their quarter-life and it only grows stronger from there. (The ‘we’ here stands for the women I know of, people who have been my partners in the journey from girl to women friends and co-workers) This could be attributed to a gamut of reasons. Most women to have settled down with a partner post-25 and don’t see other women as competition as such (unless they are plagued by some kind of neurosis). But apart from that, I see females bond in later life mostly because of the realization of the real-world challenges that are unique to their kind. We acknowledge, identify with and thus empathize with the bitter-sweet experiences that await us on the other side of womanhood – marriage, childbirth, in-laws, career and a million other responsibilities that take our attention away from girlhood. Now before we start judging women over their weight, we leave room for possibilities of thyroid and other such realities that we have come to understand through personal experiences. We applaud women who can carry a skirt like a dream after rearing a couple of children. We mentally smile and nod at women who move past failed marriages without blaming themselves or letting others’ blame consume their individuality. We now begin to see the extra-ordinariness in the ordinary women we meet and interact with each day. We listen to their stories and offer advice through our martinis and don’t snicker when they aren’t looking. Because life is no longer about the color of the bridal outfit to be worn at the dream wedding, but about making the partner share some domestic responsibility while keeping marital peace.
And yes, we still notice and scrutinize women as they walk into the room – right from their hair to the shoes, the watch or the earrings Sometime to the detail of noting if the nail paint on their toes matches that on their fingernails (because mine seldom does). Because that is what women do. But I do it out of appreciation most of the time now, out of respect as there is nothing more refreshing than a put-together woman who doesn’t use ‘having a family’ as an excuse for looking shabby. Beautiful, successful women are no longer threats, they are inspirations. Because we know, how very tough it is to be both.
And as far as the competition goes, we all compete- Women and Men, because evolution has wired us to be that way. Men may not be judgmental of each other when it comes to clothes or the size of their paunches but they compete over the cars they drive, paychecks they take home or the hotness of the women they managed to marry/date.
In essence, some of us are here, loving and looking our for each other, if only someone will make a movie to convey that.
On a slightly different note, I leave you with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk on Why we have too few women leaders. It was passed along to me by one of the women leaders in my organization, to say- I see promise in you.
Again, why isn’t there a female word for ‘bromance’?