Learning to drive/ride is the greatest thing to happen to you once you are 16. Back when I turned 16, a two-wheeler was your vehicle of compulsion. The option of a car was available to only a privileged few.
I was in high school when I learnt to ride my friend's "scooty". Every evening, she would let me take her two-wheeler for a spin around the block and just like that I learnt to ride my first motor-driven vehicle. It felt like a great achievement even though I did not own a vehicle until after I had graduated from college. It however gave me a sense of independence, the kind that you seek at that age.
One evening during those rides around the neighbourhood, my friend mentioned that she wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle -- a Yezdi or an Enfield. She was particular. A Hero Honda would not do. For those of you who are not familiar with these toys, let's just say the Yezdis and the Enfields were the Harleys in India then.
"Why?" I asked.
"I want to ride what the boys ride."
My friend and I were both petite. Skinny and short would be more appropriate. The weight of a Yezdi or an Enfield was not exactly meant for people of our stature. And I honestly felt quite content with our "scooty". It was lightweight, the ride was smooth and breezy, we could manoeuvre easily through the busy traffic and narrow by-lanes and there was no fight for a parking spot, ever.
"Will you be comfortable riding it? Are you sure? Have you seen how bulky those things are? "
"But the boys ride it. So why can't I?"
"I am not saying you can't. But why would you ride something so bulky just because someone else does?"
I realised that evening that my friend wanted to ride a Yezdi or an Enfield simply because she wanted to prove that she could do what the other gender could. This attitude went beyond her bike aspirations. It reflected in every decision she made during our high school years together. I would try to reason with her but it did little to help. There was a sense of competition with boys and a point to be proven.
"Agreed, there are biases against women in society. But that does not warrant the need to tell our girls to go out in the world and compete with or fare better than the boys in particular."
I could not make sense of her madness then. As I reflect back today, I think I understand everything much better now.
My friend and I were raised differently.
Growing up, gender was never mentioned in my home and it never mattered. This was exactly in contrast with things at my friend's house.
I was always told I could do what I wanted to do. And I did what I wanted to do, most of my life, and fairly independently at that. I was never told that I could not achieve something because I was a girl or even that I had to do something just because the boys were doing it. I have always looked at things and asked myself if I want to do it. Sometimes I have challenged myself. Sometimes I have been awfully fearful. But in the end, I did it all for myself. My success or failure was mine. And this is why back then, my friend's obsession made no sense to me at all.
Today it does make sense because I understand where that kind of madness stems from. It starts from within the family and stays with you for life. The message gets so ingrained in you that you spend most of your life proving that point, more than proving your own worth.
Agreed, there are biases against women in society. But that does not warrant the need to tell our girls to go out in the world and compete with or fare better than the boys in particular. It is, in my opinion, unnecessary.
Last year on a flight I met a lady who is an entrepreneur and runs a small business of her own. I was quite impressed with her career story and her smart mannerisms. She had travelled the world extensively. Her academic credentials were excellent. But as we chatted, she mentioned innumerable times how she was as capable as a man. She had done everything that a man could.
"I am the only woman in a room full of men and I tell myself I have done it. My daddy always said I could do better than the boys."
Why does such a well-read, educated, successful woman need a stamp from society that she is as competent as a man? Before you lay the blame squarely on society or men or how unwelcome women are still in their world, there is an underlying issue that is being overlooked here.
The daughters, the girls need to be raised as equal and capable individuals within the confines of their own homes.
When we tell our daughters the sky is the limit, we must mean it. We must not ask them to prove their worth to anyone but themselves. That will make their life so much simpler. They will soar so high in their flight that no one else will matter. They will be content and powerful in what they do.
I can tell this for sure based on my own experience.