Heroine or Victim?

I have started this blog many times this year and some how never finished it...but there's no time like the present right? So here goes, my latest epiphany: :)Nora Ephron's (May 19th, 1941 - June 26th, 2012) demise has definitely had a lasting impact on me this year. Just like how it is with all other legends, I sought out & read the most about her life after her passing than while she was alive...

But she's kind of been part of my life for a very long time... like for many other women one way or the other, through her legendary movies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie & Julia and so on...

At this point I have to specifically call out to the male readers about the fact that, all of the aforementioned movies were branded "chick flicks" and are some of the greatest of this genre. But for those men who've never given these movies a chance precisely for this stereotype, I vouch that these movies are quite amazing and can be watched and appreciated by ALL of us - they are that good!

However, there is no denying that in all of Nora's movies and books, women were always the central subjects and were quite interesting & intriguing at that.

This is what made her and her work so personally influential for me - given that I am a HUGE proponent of women's rights, feminism and it's role in today's world.

So I got quite solemn and thoughtful when I heard the news about her passing...

But like Mr. Steve Jobs so rightly put it: "Death is the destiny we all share"...so Nora Ephron is no exception.

So I decided that the least I could do for someone I dearly admired on the year of her demise, was to write about her personality, her life, her life's lessons and legacy.

To give a very brief introduction about her life: She started out simple, was content being in love, getting married and to bear children.

Then of course, as always life throws things at us when we all least expect it. For Nora this came as the affair her husband was having with her good friend!

Well, maybe in hindsight she would have thought this was a great thing that happened to her; because it resulted in her first career break - the book 'Heartburn' and the movie that followed it which then led to her grand entry in to Hollywood.

The rest of her career is history.

She did a wonderful job raising her children and also found the love of her life and married again.

A few years before her passing, she was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia which resulted in a fatal pneumonia that eventually took her life in June 2012.

She did not divulge her condition even to some of her very close friends due to the fear of instilling  sympathy for her, during the last memorable years with them.

To say she was a strong fighter till her last breath is an understatement!

However, the more I read and thought about her, her personal life and struggles struck me the most. What happened to her very early on in her marriage was pretty sad, unthinkable and unbearable...  but how many women (definitely not excluding me here!), choose to stop treating ourselves as the biggest victims of the universe and stop asking "Oh, Why Me??!!" and actually go about to make a difference?

I specifically call out the women folk with regard to this incident just because of all the eons of playing second fiddle to the "bread-winners", of what the society still deems and expects of us and, of how we ourselves choose to go about our emotional selves because of all this. And based on how we are genetically wired, we do tend to fall under this "victim" category more often than most of our male counter-parts. No matter how hard this is to accept, let's face it: IT IS TRUE.

I got to then thinking, what might break and devastate some women, is exactly what MAKES some women to define and re-write their destinies.

This got me thinking about my own state of mind on this topic:

When I call myself a feminist, I do so with pride and automatically expect this from all women - no exceptions.

But as I grow older (and hopefully wiser ;)) I feel like even this "way of thinking" is the gift my parents chose to give me when they raised me to think with my head and be an independent, self sufficient woman. And not a lot of women were/are this fortunate & blessed.

Let's face the dire truth that faces us every day: We live in a male-dominated society at large. Anyone who disagrees, is either lying, in denial or is just wishfully thinking the opposite.

Having said that, there are definitely degrees of variation to this statement in various societies.

They can range from snide remarks in the break room at work, to severe forms of torture starting with female infanticide in some remote, ignorant parts of the world.

This is why my heart always goes out to these women like Nora, who a midst all this strive their best to change this - one baby step at a time.

Then I started thinking about this in another light, which lead to this 2 part question: i) How do men treat women? and ii) How do women treat each other?

Now the first question is actually more easy to stereo-type, explain and understand.

The second question however is more complicated and does not seize to amaze, intrigue, even make me smile all at the same time!

I don't mean any disrespect to any one particular set of people. I am just writing what always comes to my mind when I see certain things so starkly among many women - whether in a remote, uneducated village in the third world or a very 'forward thinking', glitzy city in the first world.

The main observation has been:

Clearly men have their "guy friends" they hang out, talk to, exchange ideas and socialize with. Most importantly, they make time for this "networking" right from the days of our grand-fathers', fathers' to men folk in this generation too. So much so that there is a term for this in the United States: "Old boys network". How come there is no such thing as "Old gals network"?

Now I know if I said this a midst a bunch of different types of women from different societies, lifestyles etc. I'll hear a lot of backlash which can be summed as follows:

1) Women are more inclined to "caring" and "embracing" their home and family before anything else. This mainly includes their children, husband and parents.

2) Fathers are wired to be different than Mothers.

3) Being a mom, wife and daughter is like having 3 full-time jobs.

And my personal favorite:

4) Women just don't have any time for friends or a social life! :)

I am not in any way being cynical, snide or un-empathetic.

I get it, simply because I am one of them!

But I also cannot hide the mere fact that these are all excuses which eventually turn out to be a huge disadvantage to our lives and mental well-being in the long run.

A lot of women (including my mother) ask "What disadvantage?, We've lead a content life of having served our family".

While this sounds very noble, I am very saddened by this and more so disheartened when I see the same attitude in the present generation of middle-aged women too!

Let's take a typical scenario: A woman, married with 2 kids, a job and parents/in-laws to cater to.

What happens to her "personal" life during and after this time?

During this time, while she might be crazy busy juggling so many aspects of her day, she does not take a minute to nourish her personal side, by talking to her girl friends about her day, venting out her deepest, darkest miseries (no matter how trivial or huge), learning something new she'd always wanted to etc. So guess what happens after all this craziness comes to an end, when the kids leave home to follow their dreams, the parents/in-laws age or pass away, and she gets close to retiring?

She struggles to make sense out of her life...she has no best friend(s), no life, just A LOT of time and pent up feelings.

Now, some people may call their husbands their best friend and that's great! - but the need for a girl friend for every woman is just inevitable and that's natural for most women.

I am not making this dramatic or blowing this out of proportion. I have strong evidence based on encounters with women who exactly fit this bill and have lived a life I've described here.

And don't get me wrong, these women who work to make their best for themselves and their families are miracle workers, I have no idea how they can do all this and wake up everyday to do it all over again!

But that is precisely why they need to have a life of their own, pursue hobbies, interests - outside the husband, the kids and work.

Now, this is the typical situation for women when everything goes per plan, life is normal and there are no big blows between their 30s - 40s.

But if on top of all this there are life's unexpected curve balls to face like my protagonist Nora - all hell is bound to break loose. And given how much little 'time-out' women take for their own selves, they struggle to deal with the smallest difficulties without the support of wonderful girl friends, and end up as a result with a miserable life and make bad, impulsive choices they eventually regret.

Fortunately, some women (I've even had the privilege of meeting some of these women in my life) foresee this and learn these lessons fast and early on in life and live a powerful, productive, "non-victimized" life.

I am striving to get there every day...and hopefully our generation and the future girl children will live a life that my dear most Nora envisioned for us and them...and she says so to all of us women:

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

If that's not a rule to live by, I don't know what is?

Where are "The Amazons"?

To say 2011 was an eventful year for the Arab nations is the under-statement of the century! With all the latest news and media craze about the Libyan dictator's demise, got me thinking about that poor lad Muhammad Bouazizi and how one young man's tragic end had to  be the tipping point to one of the world's greatest revolutions!

Am pretty sure he is rolling over in his grave with so many chain events that have been triggered... but sadly only after something so drastic as his self immolation.

This is one of THE biggest historical events that I have witnessed as an adult and got me thinking about so many different  things...

One thing that I have been mulling over... especially given how the entire zeal & passion of these revolutions are single handedly spread by the youth population of all these repressed countries: What would I do if it were up to me?

It is beyond my comprehension how I would react if I had to stand in front of ruthless authority and deadly weapons and fight a bloody war...because I'll be honest here: I am just too afraid.

Images of Corporal Upham from Speilberg's "Saving Private Ryan" keeps popping in to my head... because of how much I can relate to that character (People who still have not seen that masterpiece movie, please do so ASAP!).

Then I got thinking, does this have anything to do with being a woman?

I was surprised and a little bit ashamed, because this is the first reason that came to my mind... am I justified?

If you think about it, the reference to women being the "weaker sex" (mostly it only indicates physical weakness - I hope!) gets ingrained in all our minds even as a child and I am guessing this is true in most if not all societies.

The signs are there at varying degrees in different societies for sure, but it is just there everywhere: From girls shown playing with Barbies and boys with GI Joes, women in washing machine & kitchen ads while men racing cars or riding fearlessly on their Harley Davidsons.

I am not saying girl's don't like Barbies or that men are forced to race cars because they have to, but it is the symbolism it carries that struck out so explicitly.

So are these images, signs, beliefs all a fact or is it another age old myth we are all just told to believe?

So I started reading up about Women in War, and guess what??! It was unbelievable how much evidence there was in history about how actively women warriors have performed side by side with men!

For instance, I read about this legendary woman Queen Bouticca - She was the Queen of a British tribe who led the uprising of the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

As a matter of fact there is a great bronze statue of the Queen with her daughters in a war charriot  next to the West Minister Bridge and Houses of Parliament in London

Not to mention the famous Amazons - The Amazons are credited with helping the Trojans against the Greeks in the Trojan War.

One very important point to be duly noted -There were so many such examples not just among the western world but also the Arab world!

A community with all this repression and "special" treatment, especially towards their women have had some of the most courageous women waging their wars!

One of them was Queen Samsi: She rebelled against Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III by refusing tribute and perhaps by giving aid to Damascus for an unsuccessful fight against Assyria.

So, women like Neda Agha Soltan during the recent Tehran protests  were not just outliers, but were part and parcel of so many brave wars that were fought for basic human rights and democracy.

So coming back to my original point, "weaker sex" cannot be used and believed without keeping in mind that actual (physical & mental) training is the key.

This could be applicable to both men and women. In fact we have probably deteriorated these past centuries given how we have coined terms like the "weaker sex" for our future generations, while women warriors in history have proven us all wrong - time and again.

 Makes me wonder... if something as big as fighting a bloody war is only a matter of training and mental acumen, then we (women especially) are just limiting ourselves because of how ingrained these concepts have become in our lives, is it not?

If so, with our own Amazonian training what else is out there that we want and long to achieve ... but have just chosen NOT to pursue because of generations of conditioning?

Hunters and Gatherers

Being a working woman, off late I have had one question constantly nagging me... Today the world as a whole has progressed quite a bit... compared to let's say two hundred years ago. Even in countries with some of the lowest percentage of literacy women are getting educated and are striving to make a living on their own (at varying levels and degrees ofcourse)

All this said, why is statistics still showing women as a minority in leading roles (CEOs, COOs, CTOs, entrepreneurs) ?

This is true even in some of the most progressive European countries like Sweden, Norway etc where it is even reported that their population is dimishing because women have put forth their career as the most important aspect of their lives and don't see any need to procreate or let anything else come in the way!

Is there a difference between what women have to offer versus men when it comes to a position with power, control and loads of accountability?

If so, what is it?

This is where some of the theories of how men and women have evolved over so many hundreds of years makes sense.

During the primitive age theory of evolution describes men to have been 'hunters' who actually got out, fought unfriendly environmental (and many other kinds of) battles to bring back all that is needed to support his 'dependents'

On the other hand women were said to be 'gatherers' or 'nurturers' who were known to survive with their social skills of negotiating with other women and nurturing the household by effectively utilizing the resources given to them by their 'bread-winner'

How is this relevant today? Well, I think all these centuries of evolution is noteworthy but as human beings we do carry on all the goods and bads of the past and take a while (or never) to shirk off all that is not so relevant today as they were during the cave days! 

I say this because how else can we explain that even in the poorest of nations people have started thinking about and acknowledging the power of women in the work force and still women are also struggling to crack the glass ceiling? 

Even in the United States where a woman stood for presidency in 2009, just 50 years ago women could not even vote!

 So one thing that stands out is, are women unintentionally undermining their true potential?

Men are taught to work,survive and compete like there is no tomorrow right from they are born.

For women (in some cultures) working and/or being financially independent is optional.

Is there a constant reminder and satisfaction that we have already come so far ahead compared to our moms and grandmoms  that anything beyond this is just bonus?

Another thing that seems plausible is women are wired a particular way (probably from all the age old conditioning), one stark example is how women perceive things like schedule, accountability, hard work and so forth at work.

By perception I mean women are known to be extremely meticulous, diligent, emotional beings. This causes to take a lot of things too personally at work... and at the end of the day are women working more 'hard' than 'smart'?

Don't get me wrong, some of these traits like how attentive and disciplined women are can be their biggest strengths when compared to their male counterparts... however are we bogged down by this rather than making it a resource that works to our advantage?

There is another disturbing factor that may be a contributor... I have always heard people mention the term 'old boys network' how come there is never a mention of an 'old gals network'?

I am personally experiencing (and probably guilty of) the following claim: As women grow older, why are their relationships with other women so complicated? I mean men have brutal fights, they are petty and can experience relationship fall-outs with other men for the silliest of things ... but somehow it is very sad to quote that complications seem to be more commonly occuring between women friends, roommates, collegues, relatives...

Is there a fundamental problem here about how women choose to treat and respect other women? If this can be turned around this may work like a charm professionally when women have a network, when women support and act on the progress of other women like a lot of men do. If women can let go of minor things and befriend other women outside of their man or kids... imagine how much relief our moms would have had in their 20s if they had women friends they could trust when life was a lot more claustrophobic than today?

These theories have nothing to do with the 'conscious' choices some women make about wanting a big family, wanting to 'be there' for their children when they most need them... all these explanations are not pointing to evidence that women can't play a powerful role in their professions because of wanting a quality family life also... men want that too and they somehow manage to achieve both!

The theory of evolution also leads to the belief that because of years of honing people and social skills women are excellent judges of character, have some amazing vision and pragmatism when men struggle...

Maybe this will just take time... we are talking of about 21 centuries of conditioning, it's all not going to vanish in to thin air!

Just that is it not disheartening to see women with so much potential still not being able to bring all that with full force and not just dent but actually break that darn glass ceiling?