During various moments in my life I have been described as the following: brassy, bossy, collaborative, funny, plump, voluptuous, sweet, bitch, intelligent, naive, rapacious, laid back, arrogant, humble, tigress, galumphy (made-up word, but just sound it out. It’s self explanatory), self-righteous, intense, narcissistic, transcendent, maternal, mean, evolved (I know, I shook my head on that one as well) elegant, pushy, skinny as a worm (exact words, a few years ago, ahem), innocent, sharp, intellectual, obsessive, cold, passionate, compassionate, discompassionate, friendly, warm, manipulative, freak, wise, sane, hysterical, psychotic, peaceful, loving, loyal, aggressive, diva (where in God’s name would someone get that idea?) self aware, unconscious, meaning well, liar, brutally honest, helpful, self absorbed, petty, bitter, trusting, immature, vivacious, be-witching, just a plain witch, ugly, beautiful (On the metro north train this guy comes up to me and says: I am sure you hear this all the time, but you are so beautiful. My reaction was odd. I was terrified and expected him to stab me soon after and sell my kidneys to an unsuspecting couple in Sao Paulo. He did not and just walked away, without a thank you from me. I never saw him again. I am sure he had just forgotten to put his contacts on that day. I should have said, “all the time?? The last time was…well I don’t even remember a last time), glamorous, plain, sexy, washed up (This is funny as I don’t even think I have actually taken the plunge yet), loser, no talent, complex, subtle, blatant, tactless, sensitive, simplistic, brilliant, rebel, contentious, old-fashioned, exceedingly Bengali, Westernised, and last, but not least, overrated.
At some point or another, I was ALL these things. Every last one of them. At some point or another I fervently believed myself to be all these things. A secret: the bad stuff is always easier to believe and when you hear it day in and day out, well, this is your reality.
Women have no other choice but to be layered and so many things at one time. Even our bodies are specifically designed to be both independent entities and condominium complexes, complete with swimming pool, for other humans nine months at a time. Yet, there are people in the world who actually do not believe a woman’s body belongs to her; they believe that her uterus defines her.
I believe that the act of giving birth does not define you as a woman, but the nurturing, molding and caring of another individual does. In other words, being hung up on having a baby when you might not be able to after you have exhausted all possibilities and your coffers, might steer you right on to that pesky samsara wheel of suffering I mentioned in an earlier article. This is of course easy for me to say, as I already have a kid and I fully understand that ache to be a mother in the traditional sense. I always knew I wanted to be a mother and if fate had allowed it, I would have liked to have been a mother at least three times over. Alas, that is not in the cards for me (at this time) and so I see now that there are so many other things that make me peculiarly woman. Namely, my rich, emotional life.
It is International Woman’s Day as I write this and I know that many women around the world could not care less or simply do not know about it. They are trying hard to keep from drowning in their own despair, knee deep in diapers and dashed hopes, wondering if and when they will ever get it right. Or they want to be knee deep in diapers and stretch marks because they have a uterus and feel that it should earn its keep since it gives us such headaches regularly and motherhood eludes them day after, heartbreaking day.
Then of course there are the body issues. Today, a friend of mine, a woman, who is a poet and what can only be defined as a deep thinker said to me–I paraphrase and I want you to imagine a slightly cockney accent– “I am beginning to think that many women want to be skinny because they want to make themselves so small so as not to be a bother to the male ego. Invisible if you will. So skinny that they go right down the drain.”
I felt this was a profound notion and one that never occurred to me. I think it is true that women want to look a certain way for their men, to be desirable, and attractive, but I also think that to distill it down to that is too simple. I think it is also true that each new generation of male is moving further and further away from deciding for himself what is beautiful for a woman and what is not. The media is making the decision for them and they are going along with it.
There must be something to the smallness of a woman’s frame, and ideally, opinions, that eases a man’s sneaking suspicion that he might not be needed. A self-sufficient woman is threatening but a clingy woman is cloying. My friend and I went on to cogitate on the fact that whenever a woman expresses sentiments such as these, she is immediately labeled by some as a bitter person. Because apparently a woman cannot be critical of men without being bitter as who in their right mind would not prefer the company of men? Only venomous harridans, that’s who.