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Posts tagged ‘Feminism’

A Room of One’s Own…..

My February’s selection for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge was, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I know I have mentioned this previously, but here is one author who actually intimidates me and as a result, I have not read one of the foremost, literary geniuses of 20th century! Back in 2016, I finally mustered up the courage to read To The Lighthouse which blew me away and I vowed to read more of Ms. Woolf’s works but it took me two more years to finally get to her writing again and this time as I went with one her most sought after non-fiction writings!

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I am not sure how other folks have written a synopsis of this amazing work, which says so much and yet cannot be captured in a 4 line summary! The essay kicks off as Ms. Woolf explores the subject on which she has been asked to provide a lecture on – Woman in Fiction! She asks what the title in itself means – women and what they like? Women and fiction they write or the fiction that is written about them or how all these three elements are intrinsically linked to each other! From here on, she goes to explore the writings by men on women and why women have not left money for their daughters to help them find a room of their own where they pursue their art? She draws out parallel’s in form of fictive sister of William Shakespeare who despite being equally imaginative and gifted may not have ever had a chance like her brother because of financial and social limitations which would have either driven her to an early death or confined her to the borderlines of society condemned as a mad woman! She then moves on to examine the history of Women writing from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen to Bronte Sisters to George Sand and her own contemporaries like Rebecca West who are often cast as undesirable beings because of their abilities and intellect! She show how small this history is and yet how one generation of women are indebted to her previous generation for the relative creative freedom, that she has received, because of the efforts of her predecessor! She also visits the fact that men authors often neglect the relationship between two women themselves unless it is in relation to a man! She closes her essay with asking more women to take up writing so that they are able to bequeath a better inheritance on their daughters than the one they received themselves!

To begin with, once again, I am not sure why I waited for ages, literally, to read this work. It would have been great to have appreciated the brilliance of the prose and deep and sometimes disquieting thoughts of this book much sooner than 2018! Anyhow, I am glad I finally did read this work and needless to say, have found so much to like about it! I know this has often be slotted under a feminist work, but I cannot help but think this is so much more. This book tells women, what they know but in way forcing them to see it in the glaring sunlight. It brings consciousness and awareness to women about their plight and the kind of legacy we have been handed down to what will hand down. What really stuck me is that while Ms. Woolf was very optimistic about the future of her daughter’s in a 100 years’ time; today, 100 years later, her essay is still relevant as ever. While we really do have more options, things have not changed much  – West was decried as an errant feminist because of her abilities. Today in our much evolved language a woman is called “bossy” if she displays initiative and ambition; while the very same qualities are applauded in man and shows him to be “hungry for success!” Goes to show the more things change, the more they remain the same. But more importantly, something that really spoke to me in contrast with other gender politics writing was its ending – there is no “down with men” war cry, but rather a strong push to women, to pull their lives up so that they can better their and their daughter’s lot!

100 years ago, Ms. Woolf exploded to give us so many things, and I know I will revisit again and again to take up one kernel and explore it end to end before moving on to another idea. One of best thought provoking books I have read in a very long time!

A big shout to Adam for hosting this great event, which finally giving a chance to read authors and books that I should have read long back and without this challenge would not have gotten to even now!

And Now For Some More Inspirations….

I have been planning to write this for a while, but there have been so many things to write about lately, this kind of got late, but I guess better late than never. This month’s The Classic Club Meme was provided by Ruth and is again one of those questions, that one has to write about those –

Which character from classic literature is most important or influential to you and why? Or which character do you most despise and why?

I could somehow never really despise a fictional character, maybe because I knew they were fictitious and my hope was and is that art here is stranger than reality and mankind is capable of far more goodness than despicable actions. Though to quote Jane Austen, “The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” But one cannot help but hope that good will triumph over evil and therefore I always remember characters who inspire me more than the ones I find despicable.

I know I have talked about this in the past and that too several times, but one cannot help but talk about this again and again, because the character is such. No character has had a more significant or profound impact on me than Atticus Finch. When Ms. Lee wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she knew what she was writing about; for here was a character who was actually asked to stand up for the values that he professed – honor, integrity, truth, equality, and justice.  There are so many times when in our lives we stand at those crossroads, where there are really two paths – one that is simple and easier to take and the other which has more hardships that one can count, but it is also the path that defines who you are. Atticus Finch is a beacon of light and inspiration for all us who have or will be at such junctures; if you don’t speak up when you should and do not act to what you profess , well then you are not what you are who you think you are! And like I said before Mr. Finch taught at a very young age and Thank God, I learnt this lesson early, that unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

But when you read so much, there are other characters who stand tall and inspire you and while I can write a whole 100 page of them, neither time nor cyber space memory will allow me such liberties, so U restrict myself to only three –

Mrs. March, Jo March and Beth March – Yes I know they are three characters and no they are not “the three” but I club them in one category because they are progeny of one book, the seminal bible of all independent young women Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”.  To begin with Mrs. March, who I think is often overlooked among the glamour or aura or squabbling of her four daughters.  We forget that here is a gentlewoman who is no longer in the comfortable circumstances she was originally born or married to, yet she tries her best to single handedly bring up four,  albeit difficult daughters, manage a household with diminishing funds, and yet instil joy and faith among all. It requires a lot of courage, what I call quiet courage to face the world everyday alone bravely. She is first single mother of modern literature and by far the most intelligent, kind and strongest of them all. Jo March I think almost all of us relate to while growing up, fierce in temper, independent of thought, extremely intelligent and emotional to the T….she is as human as one can get. Most importantly, in the lines of Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett, she refuses to marry for the sake of convenience and though Laurie is much better candidate than Mr. Collins, the logic is the same – marriage for equality and companionship and most importantly love and not for material or other escapist gains. Call me idealistic, call me foolish (in the light of recent events, trust me foolishness is a strong emotion I feel these days!) however marriage should be because of love and for no other reason. Jo March, in the lines of Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse, stands as one of the first feminist of modern literature. Beth March I realize I bore much more affinity to as I grew older and re-read “Little Women” and though I cannot profess to 1/10th of her goodness, nor do I have her gentleness, shyness or lack of character flaws, I do find a lot of joy in the simple domesticity of lives, where there is such joy in doing things for others that your own self does not matter.

Larry from The Razor’s Edge is yet another character who inspires me; he convinces me that there is more to life than acquiring a house, a car and a million dollars. While money is important and necessary in today’s life, one cannot be a slave to it and one has to find one’s identity and belief to really enjoy  and find meaning in life and that no money, no wealth can provide as was evident with Isabel’s meaningless wealth and her uncle’s lonely death.

The one final character who inspires precisely because, like all human beings I struggle to achieve and become a better individual and at times even succumb to the softer options is Andrew Manson from The Citadel by A.J. Cronin .  The book starts off with an idealistic Dr. Andrew Manson who is eager to help the people of small Scottish mining town and is sensitive enough to understand their wretched conditions and wants to elevate them. His research and subsequent success takes him away from his original plans of helping the less fortunate and follow a life of luxury and only a tragedy makes him realize what is truly more important. He returns to his plans of helping others and overlook the immediate selfish gains. This struggle to leave behind softer options for a greater good and its ultimate triumph is something that makes me go on day after day when all things that are more lucrative in short terms is also mundane and mind numbing and temporary and drives focus on what is truly important.

 

Ladies Choice…

I just finished reading a New Yorker article by Laura Hemphill, Why Women Should Skip Business School.  On my very first reading of the article, it left me bristling and the feminist inside me, that rarely comes out, (Feminism and Post Feminism is all very passé! ) kind of exploded.  Ms. Hemphill, herself a survivor of mad-bad world of Wall Street and now an author (She has written a book on a young woman’s survival in the financial world called Buying In – “In” seems to be in; remember Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg!) makes some sweeping assumptions. Though she backs it up with enough data sources, one cannot help but get irritated with the constant chorus of the article – business school is extremely expensive and women don’t make much of it since they by mid 30s, they have a home life to address. Therefore cost benefit analysis shows that women should in fact use the two years to advance in their career instead of opting for Business School.

My first reaction is that she is being extremely narrow in her views; though Finance is a man’s world and there are enough horror stories of women in struggling to gain a footing in this field (that is a whole new post!) there are plenty of women who make it and stay on the top. ( Irene Dorner of HSBC, Edit Cooper of Goldman Sachs, Lara Warner from Credit Suisse etc). While I agree with her that unlike Law and Medicine, a degree from business school is not a pre-requisite to succeed in finance or related industries, one cannot deny that advance knowledge of matter will only help and not hinder. Finally in the era of communication and social responsibility, there are many women who are going full steam in their careers while successfully managing their home lives.

Now after writing all of this, I have to step back and think – I have been working in the financial industry for over 9 years now and have moved from the entry-level to now mid management and have seen how gender opportunities evolve. Though I work for one of the most gender sensitive and sincere organizations, I have loads of friends who belong from this industry of both genders and I have seen the highs and lows of their careers and I have seen how the gender role not consciously but sub consciously seems to affect career choices. Your employer has to do nothing, you will do it yourself!

I have a friend who works in hard-core retail finance – she is one the smartest women I know and her understanding of Analytics and Six Sigma leaves industry gurus gasping for breath. Yet recently, she gave up on a very lucrative career advancement opportunity and instead settled on a relative low-key role because she had a 1-year-old daughter to bring up. She was candid enough to tell me that for the next 7 odd years, i.e. until her daughter is 8 years old or so and her dependency on her mother reduces, my friend will sit tight on the wilderness of career advancement and bide her time out.  She has a husband who is at a lucrative position but travels constantly and therefore she is completely fine with her low-key role where she get a decent remuneration and but most importantly gives her flexible timings and working hours. Career Advancement will come later, much later.  Yet another friend, again very successful and very driven recently declined moving to a new organization that was offering her a better position, a much better pay and benefits because she discovered that she was pregnant. She told me that while her though her current employer did not value her work as much as others, and she had been time and again ignored for promotions, one cannot deny that after working for so long with them she has built up a comfort level and they will be more accommodating of her leaves and other personal needs during the next 9 months than a new organization where she still has to build up her credibility. True, she has to put her advancement on hold for good two years, but at 31, she said her personal life takes priority. These are all examples of women in the fast paced financial industry – even in the more “softer” industries like Art, such choices are being made daily. My sister, a double MFA from University of Boston in Literature and Fine Arts, worked for 8 years in one of the leading Museums where she used to head the Art Restoration department. After my niece was born, she took a complete hiatus from career for good 9 years – true she made that choice willingly and she wanted my niece to have a good home life and not go through some of the downward effects of having a full-time working mother, which my sister and I had ( I never felt there was any downside of having a working mother, but she contends that some of our life choices would have been more thought through if we had more face time with our very kind but always short on time parents). However today when my niece is 12 and quite capable of managing herself, my sister did not go back to the Art field which she loved but instead settled for a teaching job at a Private School since it gave her more time at home and with her daughter.

All of this makes me think that maybe, just may be Ms. Hemphill has a point. She may be right when she states “isn’t the most important thing for a woman to work as hard as she can and advance as far as possible while she’s still in her twenties and her life is as uncomplicated as it’s going to get? That way, by the time she’s a decade or so along, she’ll have more savings, more job experience, and more bargaining power—all of which translate into more options.”  Again I do not want to make sweeping assumptions and there are different stokes for different folks, but there seems to be a significant population of women who attest to the fact that sooner the women get started in their business careers, the better it is.

Does this mean that this is a reinforcement of traditional gender roles?  The man of the house earns the bread and the lady manages the home and hearth? I do not think so; I think this is an over-simplification of the matter. Today most men are equal partners in household chores and managing home front than ever before – these men cook, clean and babysit without qualms and don’t have any inhibition on how these exercises my dint their machismo.  In a nut shell, they are cool with it! The women on the other hand make conscious choices to put their home life ahead of careers.  At the end of the day, they choose to have a baby and bring him/her up, but it was and is their choice. This in itself shows a lot of empowerment and the self-belief to design their destiny. True, it might entail a career step back for a couple of years, but then these women are happy with their decisions.

Last Word – The woman should make her choice that enables her to lead complete and fulfilling lives instead of going  – Shit! I wish…Business School or no Business School!

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