I remember vividly when I was told by a colleague at work some 3 years back in London that one of his friends cannot believe that they have hired me, a woman to do anti money laundering. “It’s too tough for a woman”, he commented. He wanted me to speak to his friend once to assure him that yes, I am not devoid of feminist genes. I later heard him comment on how Angela Merkel is actually a man trapped in the skin of a woman as she is too aggressive to be a lady. To provide some context here, I worked in a top bank’s posh private banking department and this colleague of mine is a Ph.D. degree holder.
As I heard this morning that Theresa May would be U.K.’s next Prime Minister, my thoughts went back to him. Wonder what he will make of her and Ms. Clinton who is touted to take charge of world’s most powerful nation?
Every so often I feel the taint associated with being an outspoken, working mother with opinions and I wonder what this change at leadership entails for me and many of my kind? How relevant it is for a country to have a woman on top when so many beneath are so agonized? Does it mean that politics is no more a domain exclusively for men? Does this imply more evolved societies and countries? Or are we simply over intellectualizing or is it really a giant leap forward for the womankind?
I welcome Theresa May, the second woman to do it in U.K. Taking over from an Eton educated boy, Ms. May has served as an accomplished Home Secretary for 6 years in what is popularly known as the ‘graveyard of political careers’.
Europe is already reigning high with Ms. Merkel spearheading Germany. She has consistently been ranked as one of the most dominant world leaders for all the right reasons. But what impact does it have on staunchly male dominated banking and financial sectors in U.K. and Europe? Or on mindset of colleagues like the ones I recently had?
Hailing from India, we have had our moment in both, Ms. Indira Gandhi who was our first woman Prime Minister and Ms. Pratibha Patil our first woman President. Our neighbors Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have all had a woman at the top. What did it change for us and them? We recently witnessed a torrent of sexist attacks on the perceived demotion of Ms. Irani at home besides the numerous gory tales of horror we hear. Our neighbors have not fared better with Bangladesh being reduced to a private battlefield of egos by Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina and the failure of Ms. Bhutto in Pakistan to put an end to archaic practice of hadiths is I am sure still fresh in the minds of many feminists.
Africa too has had its moment in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf but majority of African women remain caged in dogmas, violence and superstitions.
Even as a privileged Hillary Clinton hopefully prepares to take charge of America there are working mothers lobbying for paid maternity leave.
From South East Asia to Israel with the notable exception of Arab countries, Russia and many CIS nations, increasingly women are moving closer to taking that coveted position, but with every step forward we are falling back by a thousand steps more too.
So does this mean we should not hail these pioneers, not celebrate them, not get inspired by their stories, blame them for ills of generations, judge their flaws as flaws of a gender and not leadership, make them escape goats? No. Women charged with analysis of budgets and defense when people are afraid to assign mundane, average jobs like money laundering is worthy of applaud. It does not mean a revolution but it has a deep, psychological impact.
It is not easy contrary to what many may think, even for women like Hillary Clinton with her past experience, Angela Merkel with her astuteness and Theresa May with her Oxford degree to prove their worth while hawks are eagerly waiting to attack and take glee in their one weakness. So congratulations Ms. May for breaking one more stereotype, for representing hope, for sending out a strong signal to men who think that women achievers sleep their way through, for teaching your other women colleagues that motherhood has nothing to do with a woman’s competence.
Thanks to women like you today and your predecessor Ms. Thatcher yesterday, that tomorrow a young girl in some part of the world will have courage to tell her future husband without feeling an ounce of guilt for her burning ambition that “I will never be one of those women…Who stays silent and pretty on the arm of her husband. Or remote and alone in the kitchen – doing the washing up…Beyond all the cooking and the cleaning and the children. One’s life must mean more than that. I cannot die washing up a teacup!”
By Twisha Twisha