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Recently I met a woman on the regular bus that I take everyday to office. After a few days I realized we were living on the same street, worked in the same office and that her name was Mona. Since we took the same bus, with each passing day we became good friends and would end up sitting together, talking and sharing many things during our one hour journey to and fro. Suddenly in the course of one of our conversations, she mentioned how she was very very choosy about befriending women. 'Women are always judgmental towards their own sex, you know. They always criticize other women's clothing, body, makeup, choices and can hardly talk anything positive about them. In fact women are their own worst enemies' she stated and then realizing her tactless remark changed the subject.
'Typical', I thought to myself, 'here's another woman who thinks she is just above the rest'. I dismissed her words from my mind and did not let it sink in.
The next day I was in my office canteen and a group consisting of all women sat next to my table.
'Hey you know Priya returned from her maternity leave and she looks so fat now!' exclaimed one of the ladies.
'Yeah, she should hit the gym early else she will start looking like a mother to her husband with her overgrown figure!' said another and the gang roared with laughter.
'You know when I was in my ninth month, my tummy looked barely grown. My college friends were so jealous of me' said another as she held the phone to show her earlier pregnancy photos with pride.
'Is this you? You are so lucky to have that figure, really' exclaimed another while the rest nodded in agreement.
'And do you know, she is now staying separate with her husband and no more with her in-laws' said the first one.
'Why separate? Her mother-in-law prepares dinner for her what more does she want? Of course with her attitude, I wonder if anyone can bear a minute longer with her' the second lady uttered, dipping the spoon into her soup bowl while the rest of them chuckled.
'Also I heard that she is planning to leave the job and be a house-wife', said another in a whisper I could barely hear.
'What?' exclaimed another female while the other shook her head and declared 'Such a waste!'
'Do they know Priya has gained weight because she has thyroid? Do they know her mother-in-law prepares food forcibly because her father-in-law and brother-in-law do not like anyone else's cooking? Do they know how much work Priya herself did before leaving for office and after going home? Are they aware of the problems she faced with her in-laws which almost led to a divorce with her husband and that she was forced to make this choice because of her poor health conditions?' I wondered feeling sorry for Priya. I knew all this because she was my Ex team-mate.
Mona's words rang in my ears. Was she right - are women really judgmental and critical towards other women? I wondered.
I came back to my desk and my 35 year old female boss walked over to me handing a few resumes and a list of names.
'Can you just quickly schedule interviews for all these - except the last female on the list. She's just married so cross her out', she said with a wave of hand.
'Don't you like married female employees', I jokingly asked her scanning through the list.
'Well the fact is they are newly married so they would still be honeymooning at work, always on phone and texting and calling. Then in a few months they would get pregnant and then constantly complain about tiredness and weakness and I hate entertaining all that. So the best solution is to not hire them', she replied with a wave of her hand.
'That's a bit harsh to generalize all women like that, isn't it?' I asked with a smile.
'Not everyone is you, it?', she asked with a wink while I went back to the list where I noticed another female's name crossed out in red.
'Is she newly married too?', I asked my boss pointing to the struck out name, wondering if she sensed the sarcasm in my voice.
'No no, but she has this two-year old kid whom she leaves at the daycare which means she will have trouble staying late at work. And I don't want to entertain such candidates who cannot be flexible, you know' she replied looking over her glasses.
'But I think if she is talented and willing to work in such circumstances then we can try and make some arrangements for her wherever possible or we can at least ask her if she can manage', I said shrugging my shoulders.
'Why go to such troubles dear- I plainly reject female candidates to say the truth. They always have problems - newly married concession, in-laws issues, pregnancy difficulties, new mom troubles, managing kids and so on. Most of them, in fact almost all of them often have "female" problems and it's really exasperating to always hear them out' you know, she replied throwing her hands in the air and heaving a sigh.
Mona's words again rang in my ears. 'I think she's right', I thought. 'Women themselves are their own worst enemies. A woman does not even try to understand another woman then how can we expect that from men'.
I witnessed another such unfriendly women incident when last month I had been to one of my distant relatives' wedding. That's when I also understood why brides are really nervous on their wedding day.
'Her sari doesn't seem very expensive for a girl marrying into a rich family, does it?' said one middle-aged female who was sitting behind me at the wedding.
'Yeah, my daughter's sari was prettier. Also look at the jewelry - It doesn't seem much at all, in fact is it even real gold?' she whispered and they both chuckled.
'I had told Mr. Kumar to get his son married to Vidya from our family, she would have been such a perfect choice. This girl nowhere suits the groom, wonder what he saw in her except that she's highly qualified', she added.
'Yeah, look at the make-up on her dark skin, it is making her look like a ghost', said the first one amidst the chuckles.
They quickly changed the subject when the groom's mother walked over to greet them. The ladies immediately masked their viciousness with their plastic smiles and hugged the groom's mother with fake affection.
What a facade of being a well-wisher, I thought. Mona was just so right. Women are harsh to their own sex. The boy was willing to marry a dark-skinned girl but it's the women who cannot accept that - Irony!
I returned home from the wedding with Mona's words constantly lingering in my consciousness.
The next weekend my maid arrived with her face horribly swollen.
'What happened Varsha?', I asked her with concern.
'Nothing new Didi, today is sunday so my husband started his drinks early', she replied touching her bulging jaws and tears came before she could stop them.
I rushed to the refrigerator to get some ice.
'Doesn't your mother-in-law stop your husband from hitting you?', I asked her pulling the ice-tray from the rack.
'Why will she Didi', she replied with her twitching lips. 'I could not bear an heir to their family so she considers me scum. She hates my daughter and so my husband also feels my daughter is a shame to the family.'
She sobbed and then wiping her tears she added, 'But I will make my daughter study because I don't want her to end up like me and so I will work until the last drop of my blood Didi'. She said with a motherly conviction and determination.
I sat down beside her and stroked her back gently.
'Women are their own worst enemies' again rang in my ears. A woman hating another woman because she bore her a girl - one of her own kind making the girl's father hate her too! Mona is absolutely right', I wondered.
After finishing all my work, I along with my son went down to the park for his Sunday playtime. I sat on one of the benches while my son rushed to the slides excitedly. An old lady around 55 years sat down beside me.
'Are you staying in the B-Tower?' she asked with a smile.
'Yes aunty', I replied and smiled.
'So you are the one who is staying separate from your in-laws?' she asked eyeing me suspiciously and catching me completely off-guard.
'Yes aunty', I said politely keeping my poise.
Another aged lady who was overhearing the conversation joined us.
'So do you leave your son in the daycare when you go to office?' she asked and I knew she already was aware of everything but she wanted to hear from me.
'No aunty, I leave him with my in-laws', I replied trying to maintain the polite tone. Honestly I wasn't liking this intrusion.
They both looked at each other as if they had just witnessed a crime.
'These days kids go to work, earn money while the old parents are left to take care of their children. Moreover they leave their parents and go separate but then they come to them for taking care of their kids. Children just use parents these days', said the aunt to the other lady as she nodded and I was left an awkward listener to their conversation although millions of thoughts were running in my mind.
Do they know my in-laws themselves wanted us to stay separate because my husband was unable to balance between his mother and wife causing constant fights and my mother-in-law loved having complete control of the house? Do they know that today if my mother-in-law falls sick I attend to her while also managing my office job and kid? Do they know I go to work not because I party leaving my child back home but because I am helping my husband financially to repay off his loans while he juggles between providing monthly monetary support to his parents and fulfilling their financial needs along with ours? Do they know that when I offered to put my son in child's care at my office, my husband refused and said that as long as his parents are healthy we won't have to go for daycare? Do they know nobody forced my in-laws to take care of my son?Do they know that I have hired maid, help, auto almost everything to make sure my mother-in-law is not over burdened in taking caring of my son?
I was tempted to scream at them but then I realized that I was not required to explain myself regarding family matters to people who are strangers and nowhere related to me.
That night as I lay on my bed, it dawned upon me that Mona was completely right and she wasn't being sexist. If men are bad to women then women are worse to their own gender. There was truth in every word of hers. I also remembered when I was eight-months pregnant one senior female employee from other department walked over to me and suggested me to wear loose clothes because a visibly grown tummy was an awkward sight to behold. How do I explain that I already shopped thrice for maternity clothes and I had not anticipated the tummy to grow drastically at the last month? How do I explain that a grown tummy is an indication of pregnancy and what is so wrong if it's seen beneath one's stretched clothes as long as you're not walking naked around? A woman with cleavage is accepted but not a woman with a pregnant tummy.
As I continued to ponder, thoughts flooded my mind on how one woman shames the other on how she looks, what she wears, her relation with in-laws, whether she stays with them or away from them, how she raises her kids, where she raises her kids, whether she is working or a stay-at-home mom, whether she has babies, when she has babies, how many babies and the list is exhaustive.
When a man condemns other women we call him a Male Chauvinist Pig, then what do we call such women who condemn their own fellow sisters?
Women who wear modern clothes condemn those who wear traditional clothes commenting on how outdated she is.
Women who wear traditional clothes look down upon women who opt for modern outfits passing comments on how tight the fitting is.
Women who is married condemn the one who is thirty year old and unmarried and women who marry early are looked down upon as uncultured.
Women who have babies immediately after marriage are considered inferior in comparison to those who deliver babies after years of planning.
Women who go to work in offices look down upon stay-at-homes as if they have just wasted their lives opting to be homemakers.
Women who stay-at-home pass comments such as 'I love my family and so I stay at home to take care for my kids' implying that the women who go to work don't love their family nor care for their kids.
Women who raise their kids in daycare are condemned for being loveless and careless mothers who have no intention of raising kids with values and principles.
Women who stay with in-laws condemn women who don't while accusing them of 'abandoning of poor parents' where as they themselves might be bearing in-laws to avoid taking responsibilities or fearing more work if stayed separate.
Women that seek help from in-laws or their parents who are willing to take care of kids are condemned for mistreating them and shifting parental responsibilities to grandparents - without considering the fact that there are some grandparents who love to raise their grandchildren without perceiving it as a burden and that it's a decision based on mutual understanding after all.
Women are so cruel to other women at home, work and everywhere. They judge her and criticize her without mercy. They do not respect their fellow kind and they do not respect their choices instead they always belittle her. Women are read under magnifying glasses by women themselves and there is no room for mistakes. There is constant suspicion in everything she does.Women themselves don't give benefit of doubt to their own kind. Let's destroy the popular notions such as a woman cannot keep secrets or that a woman is always jealous of other woman's looks and well being or that two women cannot live under the same roof. We need to put an end to this.
We rant and rave about how women are equal, how patriarchy must go away and how men should treat us like princesses but do women treat other women even like human beings? Since the beginning men have been treating women like inferiors and have shown intense discrimination against them, do we women need to do the same? We as women already have enough forces to fight against and it's high time we turn away from shaming and putting down each other. Change in patriarchal society can start only when there is a change in women themselves.