I had recently moved to Pune due to a job change. Though the city was not entirely new to me, having lived here in my teens, I was coming back after almost 15 years. As I was taking up residence on the outskirts of the city in a place called Hinjewadi which consists largely of IT crowd, I expected the crowd to be liberal, easy going and a typical metropolitan life.
As I was settling down and getting through the various teething troubles, one thing that really made my day was a friendly neighbour. Tanishka is a middle aged single woman who is my neighbour. A fiesty woman who jogs every morning, has a smile on her face 24*7, works in an IT company as a senior HR, has a host of friends, works hard and parties harder. She was the one who knocked our door and introduced herself, offered us a cup of tea and some sandwiches. We were thankful to get access to her kitchen as we had to cook meals for my baby till our house was set.
Tanishka belongs to West Bengal, she had been living away from family for many years. She loves her job and independence. She is ever ready to lend a helping hand to people. She loves making friends. I was really glad to have met such a wonderful person.
A few days later I got acquainted with some other moms when I took my daughter to the park to play. As were busy chit chatting, Tanishka jumped out of her car. She looked chic in her cold shoulder top and printed skirt. I loved this girl for her attitude and the way she loved to dress up. It was nice seeing someone who loved to dress up, just like me. I heard a few sniggers and hushed whispers. Tanishka was accompanied by Karan her good friend whom she had introduced to me in the past. As they waved me good bye and walked to the building, the whispers and mocking laugh grew louder. I feigned ignorance and asked the ladies what is this about. I was shocked to hear their words. “Oh that girl, she’s not a good one. She must be 35, still single and she keeps having boys at home. Look at the short skirts and dresses she wears, to attract men. No shame at all. Once I saw her at the pub having beer with some girls and boys. Such people are a shame to society” I was boiling with rage, how can they just label her based on the choices she make- her clothes, what she drinks, her status, her friends. Its absolutely ridiculous. The worst part is these are women- young, educated moms who make tall claims about being liberal and modern. With such a narrow thinking- I wondered how liberal they are. There is no point arguing with fools , I told them that she’s a good person and has been very helpful to me and my family. What she does in her personal life, her choices don’t really matter to me. Its her private matter. With that I walked away resolving to maintain distance from the “liberal” women. It made me ponder though – how skewed our mentality is when it comes to women. A woman who chooses to defy the norms set by society is bound to be labelled as bad. The good or bad is defined by factors like your marital status, your dress, the company you keep, do you drink/smoke. While men tend to go scott free, women have to face the penalty- the penalty of living their life on their own terms.
This incident also brought to my mind my own dilemma with “fitting in ” and how I choose to defy the norms and live by my choice.It was my first day in the new office. For the past 7 years I had worked for a top I bank. I loved dressing up and my style of dressing is usually one piece dresses and skirts. I have an overflowing wardrobe full of them. As I was enthusiastically buying more dresses in the excitement of joining a new place, my mom cautioned me. You probably need to wait and watch how the environment is in the new office. I was moving to another I bank in a big city but given the nature of work which involves daily interaction with 3rd party vendors, my place of work was going to be the 3rd party office and not my own company. This is an IT company and the culture, dress code etc is very different as compared to an I Bank. I hadn’t really thought much about it but I felt a bit uncomfortable at the thought of being the only one dressed differently compared to the herd. Finally it was time to join. I dressed up in my usual style and being the first day I had taken extra care to look professional. When I walked into the gate and looked around I was the only one dressed like that. It was a casual dress code in the host of IT companies in the campus. Almost everyone were in jeans and tee and some of the women in Kurtis.
Per the rules of the I bank, although we worked in the client location, we were expected to adhere to the dress code of our company which is strict formals from Monday to Thursday. I could feel people looking at me, I choose to look ahead and walk. It did make me a bit uncomfortable however I choose to ignore it and focus on meeting my new colleagues and my manager. By the end of the day, a few more stares followed but they mattered less. By the time I had called it a day and come home, I had made up my mind. I wasn’t going to alter my entire wardrobe and give up on things I like just to “fit in” and be a part of the herd. I have a distinct identity and I have strong preferences when it comes to dressing up. People may stare at me, they may whisper things behind my back but should that mean I change myself just to silence them? So I continued dressing up as per my likes, its been a year now. Nothing much has changed on the campus but rather than looking elsewhere I stare right back at the people who stare at me. A young girl recently told me that she likes the way I carry myself, she wishes she could dress up like me but is not comfortable with the crowd around. I told her its her choice- what she chooses to wear is upto her, it shouldn’t be influenced by what people think.
This may sound like a small incident – whats the big deal in wearing something different but I strongly feel that by exercising my choice, I feel more liberated, happy and confident. The invisibles shackles of society which bind us and coerce us to confirm to a rigid and illogical “code of conduct” have been broken by me. Though a tiny step, it symbolises freedom- freedom of choice. Just like Tanishka who chooses to live her life, her way, oblivious to what others think.
These incidents and women standing up for themselves make me hopeful of a better world for the future generation- a world where my daughter can live her life on her terms and is not labelled as good or bad because she chooses to not follow the herd. What a beautiful world that would be!
(Image source luerzersarchive.com)
This post is part of the #FeministMondays series (previously called #IAmAFeminist series) hosted by Nabanita.
Linking this post to #MondayMusings hosted by Corinne.
Linking up with #MG