For centuries, women have been seen as soft. More likely to cry than rage. But Indian women have begun to display a new attitude. And it’s tough!
You wouldn’t think that being a real estate agent would lead to a situation where one day you would receive a blow to the face. But that’s exactly what happened to Delhi resident Meenakshi Arya recently, when a tenant who refused to pay rent to his landlord gave her a split lip.
What’s also surprising is how Arya reacted to the situation. Rather than backing off (or perhaps bursting into tears), she approached it with a remarkable sense of aggression.
“I just made it a civil case and the issue was sorted out in a matter of days. Sometimes you have to be aggressive to sort out issues,” says Arya.
These days, whether it’s at the workplace, dealing with the hassles of public transport, behind the wheel, in the home – anywhere! – women are taking a new, and very unorthodox approach to problems and issues. Rather than avoid crises as they are usually supposed to do, they seem to revel in confronting them head-on, in a style that some would call aggressive, and – dare we say it? – even unwomanly. hit parade
Experts agree that the new Indian woman is displaying a very new attitude. But she isn’t alone in this. According to clinical psychologist Monica Kumar, society on the whole is getting impatient and angry.
“Women tend to get singled out for an aggressive attitude simply because they are a minority,” she explains. “It’s also a settling down phase for the new woman and society. We’ve always been a patriarchal society. But now that women are getting into powerful positions on all fronts, they are trying to make their presence felt. For a section that has been dominated for centuries, it’s not going to be easy to make their point, so they make it loud and clear.”
Clinical psychologist Dr S K Sharma of Ethos Clinic agrees that women today are getting more aggressive and in his words, rightly so. “This is an evolution, a healthy one, leading to a balance of power in society,” he says. “Since women today are fighting for a better life, they have to become aggressive. This is nature’s law of survival.”
But while the experts don’t seem to feel that assertive women are a ‘problem’, women who stand up and make themselves heard do confront quite a few problems.
Delhiite Arundhati Seigell, who works with a leading corporate house, says she has noticed how society reacts to the woman who wants to make a point.
“People want women to be responsive, enthusiastic and spirited, but get cynical when she tries to take an independent stance,” she says. “We like to say we are a liberal society, but urban India still expects women to not be as assertive or aggressive as men.”
However, Seigell adds, “I am of the firm belief that what a women needs is a strong personality trait of assertiveness, which is as important as intelligence. The tricky bit is that, if you are assertive, you are perceived as aggressive.” aggressive? assertive?
It is a fact that assertiveness in a woman is often mistaken for aggression. Says Dr Dherendra Kumar, clinical psychologist, Apollo Hospital, Faridabad, and head, Psy India Foundation, “Take for example, the corporate world; a lot of women in managerial roles have to make strong decisions. Now, because it’s a woman and not a man doing it, it’s seen as aggression. In reality, it’s the people around the woman who are reacting aggressively to her decisions. Society will take a while to get used to the new power equations.”
However, even aggression in a woman needn’t be about battering or harming others physically. Author Maud Lavin’s book, Push Comes to Shove, has specific case studies of women’s aggression as heard in pop music, seen in films and increasingly experienced in professional and private settings over the course of the last decade. She says that aggression isn’t necessarily about harming others and points out that women’s aggressive behaviour is often about staking claim to space and identity rather than creating conflict. Indeed, says Lavin, some forms of women’s aggression blur the lines between marking identity and entitlement. not a tough call
Not all women feel that walking the tightrope between being a woman and displaying assertiveness is such a tough call. Shivina Kumari, who works for the Piramal Group, says that when it comes to getting things done, she uses her woman’s skills to the best. However, she’s talking of her skills of talking, making decisions and communicating them effectively.
“I don’t believe in aggression,” explains Kumari, “I think a woman brings a new dimension to every job and that is what changes the whole dynamic. While it’s true that a lot of men are still battling with their mindsets about women in managerial roles, that doesn’t mean we have to be like men to get things done.” She adds, “I’ve never had to raise my voice, and yet the work gets done. I think if you use logic and are fair, there is no need for aggression.”
Theatre artist Heeba Shah agrees. “When we were in college we’d hear of feminism and some women were bordering on being men. But personally, I don’t think you need to be aggressive to get your point across,” she says. “Humour can also convey your thoughts. I think women have some really special qualities of being caring, compassionate, and perceptive.
We should combine these with some positive qualities of men.” Still, not everyone is on board with this. Freelance journalist Prerna R Iyer, who worked in Delhi for five years before she moved to Kolkata, says: “It’s about standing up for what you think is right. And sometimes if it takes a scream to be heard, so be it.”
It’s all in the head
Theatre and TV actor Lubna Salim, well known for playing the loving, simple character of Leela Bhabhi in Baa Bahoo Aur Baby, was really excited about her new role in Zee TV’s Mera Naam Karegi Roshan where she plays an out and out negative character. But very soon, Salim realised that playing such a character was impacting her own personality as well.
“Initially, I loved getting into the skin of this mean, scheming woman who is all out to ruin the family,” says Salim. “But since I was almost living the character 24/7, I didn’t even realise how it was slowly changing me. It made me feel strangely powerful and in control. Almost two and a half months later, I realised that I was talking in the same aggressive rude tone to everyone around me.”
Salim’s belated realisation resulted in an immediate change of character. “Thankfully, the reactions to my behaviour rang alarm bells and I realised that I’d forgotten to separate my real and reel characters,” she says. “I learnt a lot from this change in me.”