Paromita Vohra: Hats off to us

Updated: Nov 18, 2018, 10:22 IST | Paromita Vohra |

How often do you see a woman placed on a pedestal for her achievements or her bad behaviour laughed off because she's a maverick genius? Whereas it almost seems to be proof of a man's brilliance

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Paromitra VohraThe other day I had an unusual conversation with a friend from college, about what kind of young women we had been. She began living away from family at 16, as a paying guest, while in college. When a girl from her class eloped, the parents immediately landed up at her doorstep, convinced that she must have led their daughter astray. "Can you imagine this?" she asked indignantly. "But, hats off to me, you know, because at that age, I told that lady she had no business doing this." I felt my heart blossom a bit. Not because she had told off the narrow-minded parents, but because she said "hats off to me" about a small, but important, personal quality. How often do you hear a woman say that about herself?

Success is a funny thing. We are all supposed to aspire to it, or be thought of as losers, and it's always defined in limited terms as particular public achievements — territorial conquest, in other words, by gutsy warriors. Women consume a lot of motivational material in part because their relationship with success is so complicated. They feel they must succeed more and prove themselves doubly to be taken seriously. Yet, too much success or ambition, and they're deemed unlikeable, threatening, intimidating, opinionated. Having a sense of value for yourself? Vinasham! When I commented the other day that I wasn't impressed by the attention of people who didn't value my work before #MeToo, it caused a nervous giggle, because such self-worth, yaniki, arrogance aurat ko shobha nahin deti, na? Actually, even I felt, for a minute, that god would punish me for saying it.

How often do you see a woman placed on a pedestal for her achievements or her bad behaviour laughed off because she's a maverick genius? Whereas it almost seems to be proof of a man's brilliance. But, of late, despite how all this makes women so anxious, I also wonder if that's a bad thing. While discussing how talented men feel entitled to angst and obnoxiousness, a woman, who is my Facebook friend, made an interesting comment, which I paraphrase: we need to humanise success. Women are good at doing this, because we are always making our success sound like no big deal.

The idea of humanising success is actually a radical one. The point is not to put women on those patriarchy-shaped pedestals instead of men, but to expand the meaning of success beyond the unimaginative monoculture of numbers, money, size, etc, and
include human aspects of life into the conversation.

A magazine, in its recent #MeToo investigation mentioned that it had earlier run a profile of one of the men in question. I did grumble mentally about how both liberal and conservative outlets always do fawning profiles of men, and probably, 1/100th of that number of women. But, more importantly: how come such profiles rarely include the person's behaviour with women or co-workers? And, if they behave like jerks, how does it not modify the understanding of their 'great'-ness? Why did we need #MeToo to see the unpleasant penumbra of this 'success', when we should always have critiqued it?

A heterogeneous celebration of achievement of different scales; determining relevance by philosophical and poetic values; celebrating how life is lived with self and others: we should say hats off to all these.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning, Mumbai-based film-maker, writer and curator working with fiction and
non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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