A friend who was thinking of separating from her partner of seven years recounted a funny incident. “Mom was visiting and my juicer mixer grinder refused to work. I tried everything but it just wouldn’t get better. My partner returned from a week-long work travel trip and instantly fixed it and my mom was pleased that she could finally juice those tomatoes into a paste. Later, when I was telling her how I needed to take this step of walking out of this marriage, she instantly pointed out, ‘But he fixed your juicer, no? How useful. Are you sure you want to leave him?'”
While we both laughed at the matter, a sad realisation dawned upon us about how little we demand for ourselves. Whether it’s from our partners, our families, our jobs or from our lives.
A woman working in a corporate firm recounted her post-maternity rejoining at work and said that her male boss was really supportive. When she asked for leave for an extra month after her maternity leave had expired, he immediately agreed. No questions were asked.
But in the same breath, she added that in the next few months when it was time for appraisals and promotion, she was skipped which was unfair because she had already delivered the desired results inspite of her pregnancy and before going for maternity leave.
Let it be noted that the extra month that she took off to look after her child was unpaid leave. There were no favours granted there and in her own words “My pregnancy cost me a promotion”.
However, not once did she think of fighting this decision because demanding a promotion could even cost her a job or worse still could have put her in a job where all colleagues would have looked at her as “the woman who wants”.
Another friend who is a homemaker waxed eloquent about her husband who would babysit his children for an hour every evening so she could catch a breath which basically meant doing other household chores because her hands were free.
Both, the woman working in the corporate and the woman at home called their boss and husband supportive and it made me wonder if they would have been indulged in a similar manner by the people in their lives.
Why is it that when we raise our girls, we ask them to be unseen and unheard? To stay indoors, locked up. To not wear what they want to wear, to not marry who they want to marry, to not work the way they want to work. Not asking them to want more. But asking them to accept less.
In a video for freedom that I just shot for Independence Day, two college-going girls told me that they want the freedom to talk about their periods. They wondered why it was taboo.
A woman in the video demanded freedom from the life of being a woman. She laughed when she said it but I wondered how many tears it would have taken for her to make that statement. Repeat that. “I want freedom from the life of being a woman.”
This is an ordinary woman in the city of Mumbai overburdened by her responsibilities of looking after her family, running the household and earning an income because she did not demand from the others to come and take that load off her back.
Whether it’s wanting the arm-rest space in a tightly packed flight; demanding a higher salary than your male counterparts; demanding the bigger share of the pie when you sit with your family; your right to be heard; your right to reclaim your space in the world; your right to be useless and not necessarily useful, to be seen; demanding seats in the parliament or demanding your rightful place in this world – women need to be taught to demand more from the bedroom to the boardroom.
However, a deeper thought lingers over my mind. Actually, we are not really worried about demanding. What we are worried about are the consequences of demanding. Because once we ask for something, there will be a room heavy with silence before we know which way the beam balance falls.
Truth is when you demand you have to be ready to walk away if your demand is not met. You have to be ready to walk away from a ‘lesser life’ – one that provides a seemingly safe zone that lulls you into comfort.
One that will ask you to be a better version of yourself and you will have to push yourself hard. Because when you walk away, you will be demanding those things from no one else but yourself. And that requires courage. Even if it is for a moment.
It sounds like a solitary journey but it’s not. The moment you embark upon this journey to demand from yourself, you will realise that you cross paths with people who are on a similar journey. Those who have demanded and received their rightful place in this world. And that is how you will know that you have found your tribe.
Tonight, at home, demand from every single person the time that you have tirelessly given them for years. And tomorrow when you go to work again, repeat this.
But most of all, demand from yourself. Your own freedom.