I grew up with extreme privilege. No, I wasn’t born into a family of billionaires, but I had something invaluable – I grew up in a family of incredibly strong women.
My grandmother, who ‘married’ for love in the 1940s was the original ‘badass’, she wore sleeveless blouses and drover her own car in the 1950s, a time when most conservative Tamil Brahmin women wouldn’t so much as step out of their homes or kitchens without several disapproving looks. She enjoyed a glass a wine, with juxtaposed with her weekly visits to the ‘Amman Kovil in T.Nagar. She travelled the world alone (yes, alone) with a group of feisty ladies and brought me goodies back from places I had never heard of. She lived her life on her terms, and quite candidly told me to as well. “Work hard and look out for yourself, because nobody else will.”
My mother was born into a conservative Tamil family, with fabulously progressive views. Despite somewhat humble roots, all 4 of her sisters are incredibly successful professionals and women who make ‘leaning in’ and strength effortless.
My oldest aunt, was traversing the globe like a juggernaut in a saree, when she was all of 21. Long before the time of cellphones or internet, she was simultaneously getting her PhD, while conducting field work in Australia.
My second aunt, jostled her way up to becoming one of India’s foremost academics. With her petit frame, she confronted a misogynic world head-on and established herself as a force to reckon with. She built some of India’s most respected education institutions with her dedication and strategic thinking and she did it all while raising a child and taking care of her family.
My third aunt, a whiz with numbers, plays the stock market in a way that most bankers would shudder and she decided to do it on the fly, just for fun.
My mother, continues to inspire me every day. Married at 18, she went back to get her MBA when I was 4 . I still remember her marketing thesis on ‘deodorants’, her long-study sessions and incredible time-management, all while constantly trying to shush an extremely attention-hungry, belligerent child.
My youngest aunt, a charted account, gourmet cook, patron of the arts is one of the smartest but also strongest people I know. Any curve ball life throws at her, she knocks it out of the park. No biggie!
And so, yes – I had the extreme, incredible privilege of growing up with women who inspire me EVERY SINGLE DAY. I had the privilege of my parents, never ‘wanting a male heir’. I had the privilege of never being told “I was a girl and hence had to focus on making round chapattis and not math’. I had the privilege of living alone in several cities, making mistakes and learning to think for myself. I had the privilege of standing on the backs of 2 generations of incredible women who paved the way for me to become an independent strong women. This is a nod to all my incredible grandmother, aunts, cousins and friends, who have quietly, powerfully and consistently kicked sexism on it’s ugly rear-end.
Very often, we take this privilege for granted. Not every woman has a family who leads by example. Everyday women are forced ‘to marry, because they cannot live alone’. Women are forced to give up their careers ‘because they need to take care of their husbands’. Women are forced to conform to ridiculous gender norms, which devalue their mind, body and soul.
It is not about being rich or poor, conservative or modern, old or young – STOP! Just STOP attaching a woman’s value to her body or her personal life.Going back to my own life, I am neither fair nor tall – both of which were pointed out to be multiple times in respect to ‘finding a good (read successful) husband.’
Let us stop believing and propagating that our body shape, color and waistline determines our value. Stop telling young girls that they need to ‘find a man to take care of them’ but instead make it abundantly clear that they should take care of themselves. Stop believing that women are weak and powerless and constantly need a man’s protection. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a man to validate your thoughts and decisions.
I find it ridiculous that we still need a day to ‘celebrate’ women, it equates us to a string of Christmas lights, which shine on your front porch for a week but it tucked away in some dusty attic for the rest of the year. So start today, tell the women around you that they are gorgeous, talented and incredible. That they are better than what the world makes them out to be and they should never settle for anything else than what they deserve.
That to me is privilege, the kind every woman, every where in the world, can have right now. The kind of privilege, which supersedes wealth and education. The kind of privilege, which only we as strong women, can generate and build for ourselves and our future generations.
3 years ago… when my father passed away, I had people come up to my mother and tell her it was sad that she doesn’t have a son to take care of her. Despite her grief, I remember my mother looking almost confused at the comment “I have my daughter for company’ she said “ but why does anyone have to take-care of me. I have after-all been taking care of myself and my family for over 30 years.”