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Lifting each other up
Q: How are you supporting the women in your life today?
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This week I am writing solo as Kinnari is on her walk in Spain.
I thought I would write about a topic that was triggered from reading the news earlier this month. Serena Williams announced her retirement from tennis or as she called it her “evolution” from tennis to other things that are more important to her today - family and her venture business. I was touched by her op-ed in Vogue and how she described her decision. I felt that she had captured the feelings and thoughts of so many women. If you haven't had a chance to read it, I highly recommend making the time to read it - to understand the choices women in every career and at all levels continue to face today as they try to figure out how to prioritize family and work.
Reading her essay reminded me of something I had written last winter after a visit to the theater. In Nov 2021, our local theater finally opened up for live productions and I went to see a play called The Revolutionists written by playwright Lauren Gunderson. I had never heard of the play but the description caught my eye.
“This is the 'HER-story' of four badass women renegades—an assassin, a spy, a writer, and Marie Antoinette—who try not to literally lose their heads as they fight for equality and attempt to save the soul of France during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. This grand and dream-tweaked comedy is about violence and legacy, art and activism, feminism and terrorism, compatriots and chosen sisters, and how we actually go about changing the world.”
I went with three of my badass women friends. The pandemic had brought me closer to my female friends. When things were tough and I was down, my friends pulled me out of the doldrums with their silly jokes, sob stories, long forgotten memories and sassy reflections of our current times. Even at times when I didn't feel like connecting with the outside world, I would pull myself out of bed to join a zoom session and listen to their banter. It gave me the much needed juice to get through another week of mommy duty during online schooling. These days roles have flipped and I am instead happy to lend a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on for my friends, whether they are facing founder challenges or mental health worries about their kids.
Sometimes I wish I had been alive during the feminist movement of the 1960s. Idols like Ruth Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem continue to inspire me to this day. In my thirties, I started to appreciate the fact that I was raised by a feminist - a woman who was one of fifteen women in her medical school class of a hundred students in the 1960s in India. My mother insisted that I learn how to drive a car as soon as I turned eighteen (the legal driving age in Oman) stating that a “woman’s independence requires her to be mobile”. To this day she continues to champion women through small acts like making sure her female help in India knows how to sign her name and open a bank account.
“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
Of course it’s not too late to be a feminist. As women we need to pull more women up. We need to mentor them, cheer them on and bask in the glory of their successes. We can stand on the shoulders of giants that came before us and open new doors. Women like Indra Nooyi (former CEO of PepsiCo) and Leena Nair (new CEO of Chanel) are breaking glass ceilings and paving the path for women of color. As I learnt during my time in HR - “If you can't see it, you can't be it”. Reshma Saujani started Girls Who Code in 2012 to encourage girls to learn computing skills needed for 21st century opportunities and is now championing the Marshall Plan for Moms in the US - an effort to invest in women’s economic recovery and empowerment post-pandemic.
Reese Witherspoon and Geena Davis are bringing new voices into mainstream media, changing the way women are perceived as well as represented in the media business. Lilly Singh has used her voice and media following to bring a new perspective as a woman of color into the foreground. Meenu Vadera, founder of social enterprise Sakha, is challenging gender norms in India by creating employment opportunities for women as professional chauffeurs. The next generation of girls like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg are not happy with the status quo and are already bringing about change.
These women inspire me to not lose sight that there are still battles to fight. As a mom of two boys, I also wonder how to raise two kind human beings who can be supportive allies to all. I hope I am teaching them some values through the choices I have made as a woman both at work and at home.
“We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
This afternoon my fifth grader walked in with two books from his school library - The Fourteenth Goldfish and A Boy Called Bat - and expressed his desire to read more books about special needs kids because he wants to understand his brother more. I am proud of his curiosities. Maybe this is the start of his journey into learning about diversity - neurodiversity. And over time I hope to continue to teach my boys how to be aware of the privileges they have, how to be kind to the ones that don’t and how to strive to make the world a better place by accepting all human beings despite our differences.