Things I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self
I live in India, a country where 500,000 female children get murdered each year before they are even born, where a girl is raped every fifteen minutes, where 20 women die every day due to harassment over insufficient dowry. These are disturbing statistics, but even more disturbing is the fact that the numbers keep rising each year.
As an Indian woman, I am aware that my life is a blessing. That I could have “almost died” a few hundred times in my life, but I didn’t.
I am fortunate that I have the voice and the freedom to achieve everything I did. That I live to tell this story — to recount these three hard truths I wish I could turn back time and say to my 17-year-old self.
Had she known what I do now, she might have taken less for granted and worked harder towards establishing herself. She would have been stronger, less prone to looking for meaningless pastimes to fill the void in her heart.
Had she known what I do now, my 17-year-old self would have moved mountains with her words and brought the patriarchal society crumbling down with her poems.
But, she didn’t.
I do, and I want to make sure no 17-year-old girl ever faces the same problems as I did. Here are three truths about being a woman I wish all my sisters would know.
1. You Stand on the Shoulders of Women Before You
You think your mother is annoying, that she never understands you. But if you had to live the life she did, you would have probably given up years ago.
My mother was raised as the youngest sibling among four children, by a single mother whose husband died when my mother was barely two.
Raising four children on your own in the 1960s and 70s in a country like India must have been incredibly hard. But my grandmother did it. She not only raised all four of her children to be established doctors and engineers but also made them kind, compassionate adults who leave an impact on all the lives they touch.
Growing up, my mother never had toys or the time and luxury to pursue hobbies. All she did was study hard and help out in the household chores. It was ingrained into her from a young age that the only ticket out of a life of misery and poverty is education, and she gave everything she had to this dream.
The life that I have today would not have been possible without the sacrifices my mother and grandmother made. And the women before that — the incredibly brave and resilient ladies who held their own in a world designed to bring women down. Who must have faced a thousand hurdles, but kept pushing on because they believed hope is more powerful than despair.
Every woman is in this world stands on the mountain of sacrifices made by the women before her. The light she can see in the future is fueled by the blood, sweat, and tears of the ones who fought battles in the past.
Our struggles are shared in our collective history. Let us make a conscious effort to understand the enormity of this and cherish it every moment of our lives.
2. You Would Be Representing Your Gender
When I started my day-job, a male colleague started working with me. For the sake of convenience, let’s call him Ajay.
Ajay and I have a similar educational background and handle equal responsibilities. However, if he makes a mistake, the seniors at work will chide him and say, “Ajay is so careless.”
If I were to make the same mistake, they would roll their eyes and remark, “Women are so careless.”
When I first heard such artless comments passed off as “jokes”, I was shocked. But with time, I have learned that such massive generalisations are common in a workplace dominated by men.
When a man makes a mistake, it is his individual failing. But, if a woman makes the same mistake, it is the failure of her gender.
“Women don’t add any value to the company.”
“Women are not professional.”
“We can’t let women handle too much responsibility, as she will get married one day and quit her job.”
No wonder it is said that women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves, to show everyone around them that they are quite as capable as their male colleagues.
Such casually misogynistic comments are designed to cut women less slack, to demonize them for the errors they make, and to make them realise at each step that they are in a position a man would probably handle better.
As women, we cannot let such comments bring our morale down. We have to fight and keep proving our mettle until all such disapproving voices are silenced. Only our talent and sheer force of will can bring that about.
3. You Will Be Dismissed if You Are Good-Looking
There is a saying in Assamese, my first language, that goes — “Horinar mangkhyoe boiri”. Translated, this means that the flesh of a deer is its biggest enemy as it is hunted and killed for something that is an intricate part of its being.
External beauty can be a blessing as well as a curse. I faced the negative aspects of it for the first time in my life when I was in the final year of college. In the circle of my closest friends, a male friend, Suraj, and I had landed the same company in the round of campus placements.
While everyone congratulated him and praised his interview skills, I felt a little left out. When I pointed out that I too had achieved the same and asked why they weren’t as excited for me, another friend looked at me and said, “Because we always knew you would get this job.”
I was taken aback at this. Was he complimenting my intelligence? Curious, I asked him what he meant.
“You are good-looking,” he said with a shrug. “Who would refuse you a position in their company?”
I found this so rude, I had to blink back tears. In a moment, all the hours of hard work and dedicated interview preparation flashed in my mind, and I cringed at how easily he had dismissed all that based on my looks.
As I grew older, I realised that this prejudice is more common in the world than many would like to admit. As a good-looking woman, you might have talent and ideas powerful enough to change the world, but most men would dismiss them all, and only give you credit for your looks.
It hurts, especially when it is implied that your achievements are not because you worked for them, but because of an external factor not even in your control.
I wish my 17-year-old self knew and accepted this, so she wouldn’t be so hurt each time men tried to undermine her successes. As women, there is little we can do to change the mind of people who think along these lines.
But, as a quote by The Buddha suggests-
“When people are rude to you, they reveal who they are, not who you are. Don’t take it personally. Be silent.”
We cannot control what others think of us. But, we can decide how we let it affect us. I have grown a thick skin now — resistant to such meaningless comments, and I know I could have saved myself a lot of hurt had I learned this lesson in my teenage years.
Yes, every day is a struggle.
But every day is also a glorious, unabashed celebration of all that I am and all that I will be.
Every day is a reminder that I could be almost murdered, but still, here I stand, proud and strong and fiercely chasing my dreams.
And I know, because of everything I have done and continue doing, I will make the lives of the women that come after me easier.
If that is not a reason to keep pushing on despite the hardships, I don’t know what is.