Don’t get me wrong, I have been blessed with the contacts of countless women who have inspired me, lifted me up and have done so many right things for me and for many other women. I do not have any problem with any of them, nor with the silent observer women we often encounter, the ones I have many a problem with are those who can’t keep their disparaging thoughts and opinions of others to themselves, especially about their own peers. Because for every 1 woman empowering the collective womanhood directly or indirectly, there would be 10 (possibly more?) who would drag us down into throes of misery, directly or indirectly.
In this society, given the presence of overarching patriarchy across the world, we, en masse, are not easy on women. Sadly, there are enough women as men responsible for this inequality of our world. Agreed, it is still a man’s world out there, but if only we women are kind to each other, perhaps half the battle could be won. But that’s not how it works today. Women compete against one another needlessly, spread hate and gossip about other women, and do everything possible to pull one another down, and then get angry when sometimes they can’t pull some of us down to their levels, no matter how hard they try. Many such women have rattled my core, whenever they have tried to make me feel inadequate across many levels, especially for holding on to certain beliefs and values. Interestingly, many of these women masquerade themselves as friends and well-wishers for we are often told that whatever they say and do are seemingly done out of “care and concern”.
The first time I remember encountering women/ girls like that was when I was 19 years old and at my lowest point in my life. A depressed soul chose to end his life when I ended my toxic relationship with him, and the only reason he ended his life, however sad that might be, was because he was depressed and not because of anything else. More on this here. But you know what I was told, that too, over and over again? That I was the reason for his death and it’s not just me, my mother is responsible too, for she wasn’t around enough. My mother was apparently too busy going off to work, that she did not have time to care for me and that made me do what I did. So basically, I was at fault for his terminal decision, and my mother who was hardly connected to this person was also at fault. I still remember those faces that collectively nodded in agreement when this opinion was stated loudly for everyone to hear- obviously without any consideration to my feelings and without any knowledge of what really happened – all of them, no prizes for guessing, were female faces! That day, and during the days that followed, I remained quiet and let them dole out one ridiculous opinion after another, as they targeted the most vulnerable person around, which was me. But I no longer have to be one such person, for I think I am empowered enough to recall this incident, and several such without feeling sad or remorseful about what I was once really thought of.
There was no dearth of unsolicited advice that came my way when I was in Chennai, the cherry on the cake of them came just after my engagement was broken, and when I was nursing a painful heartbreak. I was told by a “well-wisher” that I should just move on and get married to the next guy I find, because my clock is ticking, and I should have children soon. So, no matter what my mental state of mind is, I should quickly get married just to pro-create? I was told this when I was 25 years old. I hope I do not encounter that well-wisher today, for she would be traumatized by seeing me “still” be single and child-free. I am sure she would go like…
A few years back, an elderly, well-dressed, couple visited me at my workplace during my lunch break. They were parents of a prospective groom, Dad found on one of the matrimony websites. They fell in love with me in the very first sight, because I seemed to possess the qualities they desired in a woman they wanted their son to get married to. Those qualities were no brainer ones, like possessing “fair” skin (how is it a quality, I still fail to understand), fluency in English (duh!), ability to cook well (plus the willingness to cook non-veg for their meat loving son), “traditional looking” (I was dressed in salwar kameez that day, so they assumed I am traditional, lol) and several such not so deep stuff. When a compliment is offered over and over again, it stops sounding like one, isn’t it? Especially if it’s on something as shallow as the lightness of my skin color. While I am grateful for the genes that make my skin tone acceptable by society’s norms, I am well aware that I did nothing on my part to aquire this skin color, nor do I take great pride in it. It’s not like an exam I passed or a project I won out of sheer will or hard work, which I could gloat over when complimented about. Anyway, this couple that were besotted by me (my skin tone and cooking skills rather), were terribly put off when I mentioned that I do not believe in offering dowry to get married. That lady then went on to tease me about how disappointed she is and generously remarked “It’s alright, but do take care of the marriage expenses”, she added with an all-knowing, entitled smile. I was clearly taken aback, but by that point, I wanted to have some fun, so I said, “Sure Aunty, I could afford my own wedding, just tell me what all you want for the wedding….Aunty?”. Watching her mouth gape open upon hearing this, I was tempted to burst out laughing, but I did not (damn I should have, anyway I had decided to have fun!). She took a moment to gather her composure and advised me not to waste my savings on the wedding and suggested (it was more of a demand really) that my dad sponsor the entire wedding. So, within half an hour of meeting me, she already assumed I am going to marry her son, cook delicious non-vegetarian food for him, AND give away all my savings to her family? Time for a nice slow clap.
I wonder which self-respecting woman would ever want to get married into that family, for I sure did not want to from the word go. After the meet, I sent her a text about an upcoming, long US project, which may mean that I may have to let go of the amazing opportunity to be her DIL. She couldn’t let it go as easily though, she called Dad and offered some unsolicited advice on how he and Mom should be around me next time I am meeting a prospective future family, for they should control me from saying stupid things to prospective in laws, stupid things like not offering dowry, but offering to blow up my savings on my wedding instead.
Talking of unsolicited advice my Dad has received on virtue of me being me, last week another prospective groom went through my blog and complained to his mother on how I came across as too independent and hence may not be “family-oriented”. And guess what that mother, who was very much angered by me based on what her son said, did? She called Dad and spoke in length on what a bad father he has been, educating his daughter too much and encouraging her perspectives on equal partnership. “Who does such atrocious things to their own children?”, she wondered out loud. She even went on to suggest I take down my blog so that I do not piss off other potential matches, the way I pissed her off. Fat chance Aunty!
Being seemingly empowered, clearly doesn’t insulate me from several such “well-wishers”, especially women well- wishers who “lovingly” watch out for me and would only want “good things” for me. Recently I had guests over, who stayed with me for a week. It was a family of 4 – a husband, his wife, their toddler and another son. These are friends (now ex-friends because of obvious reasons) I have known for some years, who know me and have read my blog and most of the posts in here. Yet, that did not stop that lady from taunting me at every opportunity and rolling her eye at my paintings and self-made artworks I have adorned my home with. She just loved to find fault with everything about me and my home (my dear new home 😦 ) – my bed that gave her a back-ache, the sound of cooker that woke her family up early morning at 8 am, my eating habits that was badly influencing her sons’, my loud voice that was waking her little baby up from his mid-day naps, me not stocking up on groceries, and me claiming my room to be sacrosanct, and so on and on to the point that it started to get very stressful. During several such moments, I used to wonder, if my home was actually hers and if I was the one being the unwanted guest, for she kept claiming how this was her home and she also made it so (allowing kids into my room when I wasn’t around, making a big mess of my kitchen and what not), and yes all the while taunting me over and over again. And no matter what I allowed, or the lengths I went to make them feel comfortable, I fell short on several counts. And the icing on the cake were the unsolicited advice she offered, some of which came as moral science lessons hinting how wrong my life’s choices have been and how unhappy my parents would be because of me. I still wonder, when I look back at that week, how I managed to not flare up at them, at her, and not speak my mind out. The best part, however, about this incident is, when I later pointed out how I was hurt by many of her taunts, I was put down for not knowing to differentiate between an observation and a taunt / complaint. Not one apology came my way, instead all I received was admonition on how I was wrong here and wrong there.
Clearly unsolicited advices just doesn’t crop up from random women, or women hardly known, its most poisonous fangs emerge from super close circles. Those are the ones which catches us unawares, makes us speechless, and leaves behind some tough to heal, deep scars.
My maternal aunt used to tell me, often, that I studied too much for my own good, because of which I am unmarried beyond my prime years.
One of the girls I went to college with and who I imagined to be a good friend, randomly said one day, that I will regret my life choices when I get old and have no husband or children to take care of me.
The neighbour aunty I have known for the last 7 years body shames me everytime she meets me these days and wonders out loud, who would marry me now that I have put on so much of weight.
I get it, it’s tough to please everyone, especially those holding on to some really strong belief systems. But why do some women by default want to put other women down? Is it to show one upmanship? If so, one upmanship over what? What’s the need for the unhelpful, unsolicited advice and opinions, as though they are leading a picture-perfect life? And who decides what is right and what is wrong anyway? And most importantly why target other women? I am sure they target men too, but I am sure putting women down is easier, for women are easier targets. I just hope it won’t remain that way for long!
Women today are relatively more privileged for we have the voice that was denied to our counterparts from previous generations. And this is the outcome of hard work and persistence of several radical women and men from many of our previous generations. But you know, when constantly targeted (and taunted), some women might just give in and even be allowed to be dragged down and God forbid, they may soon start to normalize being taunted and may even become one of the taunters themselves. Every time that happens, we are collectively taking a huge step back and it’s not like we have reached the pinnacle of glory for women to be able to afford such step backs. We still have a long way to go and God only knows how much longer it’s going to take to get there.
So all you unsolicited opinion and advice giving aunties, no matter how young or old you are, please remember this the next time you are tempted to taunt another woman or about to pass an opinion or comment on something she is doing which is not going to validate her existence. Do bite your tongue or control your temptations (or do both), and spare that woman, just let her be. This would be a great favor you would be doing, not just to her but to the entire womankind, directly or indirectly!
I agree, women are hardest on other women (and themselves). I watch a lot of criminal court cases–and if a woman is the defendant in a murder case, they pray for more MEN on the jury than women!
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts Zelda and thank you for stopping by 🙂
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You dodged a bullet, Renu! I am glad that you are bold & intelligent to know make choices that are good/work for you. Your parents did an amazing job in raising you ❤🤗 and you have doing a brilliant job in being the unapologetic fierce and fabulous woman that you❤
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Thank you so much for such kind words and wishes dear Rekha ❤️ happy and honoured to be friends with a great soul like you ❤️
Very well written Renuka and thanks to my wife who has helped me understand a lot of these things from a different lens. We have not talked much during college days, but great to see your resilience and the fight you are putting up. Inspite of what a few others may say, I am sure your parents are proud of you and I am proud to say that we both studied at the same college. All the best to the good work you are doing . Keep writing and doing inspiring stuff.
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Thank you very much Lijosh for your kind words and generous compliments.
Of late Independent women, married or unmarried are easy targets for those unable to digest that a woman can indeed live an independent life. Independence in any form – financial or emotional coming from a woman is very alarming for many people. The primary reason behind their passing unsolicited comments is their own insecurities. In multiple households women are stepping out to make a life of their own for the first time ever. The change we would like to see will happen, but might not happen during our lifetime. It might take another generation perhaps. I personally have been body shamed by my own mil before and after my marriage. I’ve learnt how to ignore such people and their comments and have lived 10 successful years with her own son 🙂 . I wouldn’t sugar coat and say it was easy. I had my own share of breakdowns, periods of depression and hopelessness. But what I’ve learnt is to choose and fight battles that matter.
With support from my parents and my soulmate I could sail through. What I’ve realized is that these insecure people need our empathy and not the other way round. It helps both ways. 1. It helps us deal with the situation 2. Maintain our own mental sanity as well. Personally I’m a super sarcastic person and giving back in a sarcastic yet subtle way has helped me sail through. The next time your neighbour aunty body shames you ask her to cook healthy meals for you (for a fee of course) if she wants to be part of the solution. I’m sure her mouth will be zipped for ever.
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Thank you Vahini for not just taking your time out to read my super long blog, but also comment in detail your perspective of unsolicited opinions women get from all places. I concur with all of your points, I am learning to choose my battles, I am better than before, but I am working on getting even better, especially on the giving back front. Hope I do so soon 🙂 I will also try to be more empathetic with such opinion givers going forward. Thank you for stopping by 🤗