There is a not-so-far-away planet where the ideas of “man” and “woman” as we know it do not exist. Everyone is just an Alien – there’s no pink and blue, no particular qualities, stereotypes or judgments associated with either sex. On this planet, Aliens have biological differences but not social ones. Any clothes, any characteristics, any professions are acceptable.
Then one day, a couple of Aliens found themselves on Earth.
“How strange the humans here are,” they observe. “Why do they limit themselves and each other so much?”
As a human being passing by them, I had to ask, “What do you mean?”
“We’re confused by your human Woman. How do you become one?”
Bewildered, I began explaining to them the idea of gametes and chromosomes, but my explanation was cut off.
“Does having long hair also make a person a woman? But this can’t always be true…what about wearing particular clothes? Staining your lips different colored dyes, wearing gold and silver around your neck, defining your eyes, your face, removing the hair from your body… Are these activities limited only to a woman? What if a man finds them enjoyable? What if a woman doesn’t want to do them?”
“Well, these are social norms – “
I was interrupted again, this time by a rather scholarly Alien.
“I have researched this topic using the human Internet, music, books and movies across decades of your time. It seems that the human Woman must be physically beautiful and always willing to be with a man, but a woman who has been with multiple men is of a bad character. All women are bad drivers. All women are extremely dramatic. And women are intended to be the slaves and property of men – you protest, but my authentic source is Napoleon Bonaparte, a great leader of Humans.”
“These ideas are outdated, though, this is the twenty-first century…”
Another, younger Alien responded to this.
“How are we supposed to think of women in this century? According to popular music from India, women are considered equivalent to dolls, popular food and local sweets, and other objects. In very few of your “movies” are women talking to each other about anything but men. From these we have also learned that the woman’s place is in the house and kitchen, and her duty is to be subservient to her husband. There seem to be so many rigid requirements to be a human woman!”
These words got me thinking about the Bollywood and Hollywood movies I’ve watched, the TV shows, the music I’ve listened to and enjoyed without thinking about the lyrics. If I were an alien with no knowledge of gender roles, of stereotypes, then I suppose I, too would find the portrayal of women in the media strange and confusing. What makes the “perfect woman”? Is she demure and shy? Does she have long hair? Does her life revolve around the men she knows? Why are girls assigned one colour at birth – pink? One type of toy – dolls? As the Aliens said, doesn’t categorizing every aspect of our life by our gender limit our human potential? It was in these thoughts that I found my own answer, free from society’s conditions.
“What makes a woman? Her ambitions, her character, her resilience. Her hopes and her dreams factor in. A woman may be made of kindness and joy – or she may be made of cruelty and pain. There are norms and judgments but the truth is this: on this Earth, in this century, every woman can pave her own path – let it be pink, blue, or all the colors of the rainbow. Every woman creates her own character, informed by her experiences – that men may or may not be a significant part of. And most significantly, every woman builds her own future – whether with bricks and stones, both at work and at home.”
I’m not sure that they understood what I was trying to say. But that day, I understood who I am and what I’m capable of as a woman. Unlike the aliens who went back to outer space, this learning stayed with me throughout my time on Earth.