In the palette of my baby cousin, a small battle was once fought. An orange with a blue undertone and a vivid purple lay next to each other. Her intention was to paint an evening sky, but as they may have it, colors have their own way of working things out. And so she mixed them fervently – in – slow – motion – and I watched. As the battle subsided, now there was only a milder purple with a red undertone – No orange! Had purple won? Could she paint the evening sky all purple? She looked at me. I sheepishly shrugged my shoulders. A purple-with-a-red-undertone sky? Would that even be a sky? What does it mean to be a sky? What does it mean to be the proper purple at the right place? More importantly, what does it mean to be orange at all times? These questions stayed with me.
Philip is a deep thinker. He asks difficult questions. To himself. His wiser self then responds to his own questions. Oftentimes this personality split is between a man and a woman. It becomes a café, hotel-room, bus stop conversation between Philip and Philip. At 3 a.m./s, he comes to me with it. His man and woman are caught in conflict and he cannot resolve it. And so he begins:
Man Philip – You tell me! What does it mean to be a woman in today’s time?
Woman Philip – Well! Today’s age of progressive climate and equality does not alter the basics of womanhood. Being a woman still means something – Right? (pondering) It means tenderness. Softness. Empathy!
MP – Do you mean men cannot be empathetic?
WP – No! They can be!
MP – Then Empathy does not count. Because it is applicable for both sexes.
WP – Well. Womanhood has to do with elegance. Gracefulness! A certain charm!
MP – Oh! So men cannot be graceful and charming? Tell me Lizzy (that’s how Philip would have it), have you never met a Dandy?
Philip’s inquiry was legit. Isn’t it strange that one could not point a figure at what it exactly meant to be a woman? Philip went away murmuring to himself with a creased forehead. The question stayed with me.
As a progressive woman, I had been conditioned to not only fight for equality, but also feel equal. I’d never had it this way. And so I asked myself this terribly significant question – On a very fundamental level, am I exactly what a man is? In that moment, my entire being, on a very cellular level felt an upsurge and rise. A loud and clear ‘No’ deeply resonated in my being. In – slow – motion – weird insights began to dawn upon me. That night, I put down the shining armor. The lens of victim-hood broke. The angry feminist in me died.
What does it mean to be a woman? Maybe it means being empathetic, graceful, tender, and full of charm AT ALL TIMES. Maybe it means being about your wits; maybe it means to be the neck that can turn the head, and not battle for being the head instead. Maybe being a woman means to operate from a cleverer place. Maybe it means to love dearly. Love is clever. It does not break walls outright. It smolders and melts them. Maybe being a woman does not mean to burn bras and growl. When did being a woman have to do with doing anyway? Why did we start becoming men? Why did we insist on pulling our own chair and opening doors for ourselves? Even when we did, why did we not do it with a smile and a wink?
Maybe being a woman is a more profitable, more productive place to be. Some battles can be fought by just being. We are equal in our choices to operate on something, but when we operate on anger, we become men. A woman dies, and the uniqueness that came with her being a woman gets buried. A burnt bra hangs on the top of the tombstone. It isn’t a nice victory flag to have. The skies become all purple with a red undertone. Are those even skies? Has purple won? What does it mean to be the proper purple at the right place? More importantly, what does it mean to be orange at all times?
– Ashmita Rai