We have all seen the memes that flood the internet whenever a woman achieves something big like an Olympic medal. These include the “real woman empowerment vs. fake feminism” template comparing the picture of the achiever with other women the world perceives as the “wrong” role models based on moralistic tenets.
Apart from being extremely problematic, these narratives add to the mental pressure that comes with being a woman. They try to prescribe an ideal way to be a woman and contrast it with the others. There is of course, nothing wrong with being an achiever the world looks up to. Especially in a male dominated world, it is good to see women establishing themselves in fields that are primarily dominated by men.
However, it is wrong to assume that the only reason some women aren’t in these fields is because they hadn’t been working hard enough. Women have historically been denied access to equal rights and opportunities. We are slowly gaining access to the spaces that men already had for centuries. While they are ascribed inherent worth as human beings irrespective of big achievements or awards, it shouldn’t be on women to prove themselves in ways approved by patriarchy or hyped up jingoism in order to be respected.
This leads to unnecessary pressure on women to continuously succeed in whatever field they choose. One faltered step could lead to the whole world labelling the woman as incompetent. As a result, we are often unable to grant ourselves spaces to make mistakes. Such kind of psychological duress to succeed thus, often leads to a lot of stress and poor mental health.
Moreover, sometimes “failure” for a woman could simply mean losing their freedom. Young girls are often told that if they won’t study hard enough, they would just be married off. If a woman doesn’t achieve financial independence, they often end up losing their identity. The society does not give the same space or chances for women to fail and learn again.
Also read: Who’s Going To Save The Women?
Failures and rejections are a vital and unavoidable part of life. But when it comes to gender, women are always expected to excel in return for the freedom they are ‘allowed‘ to have. If a woman is not winning gold at tournaments, or bringing the country laurels, we collectively feel that she does not deserve to be treated with respect because she is not utilising the opportunities given to her. This is a standard that men are seldom held to.
In our pedestalisation of achievers by pitting them against other women who pursue varied interests, we create a problematic dichotomy. We also erase the basic idea that irrespective of failure or success, the way a society defines it, every individual has worth. At the core of it is also the patriarchal idea that women must always adhere to what the popular morality of a community deems appropriate and assigns value to.
Successes should be celebrated of course, but we need to analyse how we conceptualise success and why we have different standards for different genders. We also need to let go of the ideal of what an empowered woman should look like. Taking a gap year for any reason is as empowering as climbing the mount Everest.
We need to accept that there is a lot of grey area in between the extremes of success and failure. Between these two extremes is the space where we learn, grow and live. Women deserve this space as much as men. The added pressure of success that women face is extremely unhealthy and stressful, often leading to feelings of guilt and burnout.
We must recognise the toxicity in our accepted social patterns of attributing worth to individuals. This is a constant process of unlearning we all must undertake so that one gender does not feel like every day is a day to prove themselves, just to deserve to exist.
Featured Image Source: Harvard Business Review