As we heaved a sigh of relief that we will no longer be subjected to Prince Harry’s Vegas antics and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, celebrated author Hilary Mantel has caused a flutter by branding the wafer-thin Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton “a shop-window mannequin whose role is to breed”. There may be a hidden kernel of truth in her harsh comments but it’s time we realise that by dividing women into convenient categories, we do not do either women or feminism a favour.
If a woman marries a rich man, she automatically becomes a trophy wife or a gold digger. If she marries a ‘less successful man’, then she’s the bossy kind. If she falls for a married man, she’s a home wrecker. If she’s single, she’s lonely and sad. If she wears business suits to work, she’s too ‘masculine’ and if she wears dresses, she’s an attention seeker or simply a ‘cheerleader’— an adjective that was used to describe former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Ambitious women are cold and heartless and ambitious women with no children are completely ruthless. Homemakers with children are the ones who could not make it big. In each case, the dice is loaded against women.
It may be recalled that many considered Yahoo CEO Merrisa Mayer’s decision to return to work just two weeks after giving birth an unrealistic example for young women. Back home the media flayed actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for not shedding her post-pregnancy weight and hounded her and her family with questions regarding her professional comeback.
Unfortunately, these are a few stereotypical assessments that women, cutting across geographical boundaries, continue to face. More worryingly, women often subject other women to such assessments, as was the case with Booker-winning another Mantel.
But this does not end with women being judgmental about other women. There are many who refuse to take off the superwoman cape and thus give in to the pressure of being perfect and accomplished. So if you are woman, you are by ‘default’ a multi-tasker.
All this is something that has earned the word feminism negative connotations. Feminism is definitely a belief in equality between the genders. But at the same time it also believes in egalitarianism among women, be it working ones or stay-at-home ones, with children or without. Why can’t women be seen as imperfect? Why can’t women see themselves first as individuals?
Many (including women) say that women can’t have it all — a career, marriage and motherhood. If that’s the case, then let an individual call the shots about what she wants and how she wants it. Let the woman choose motherhood, a career or both. More importantly, let’s not question a woman’s strength of choice and in this case, let’s not doubt Kate Middleton’s.