A truly liberated woman?

Born free. But are women still in chains

Decades ago, Bernard Shaw said, "Give women the vote, and in five years, there will be a crushing tax on bachelors." Bachelors still go tax-free but women have gone places. Nancy Palosi has cracked the marble ceiling to become U.S. Congress' first woman speaker. Hillary Clinton has thrown in her hat at the presidential ring. Our women combat armies outside home, hold jobs that were declared "they-can't-handle". Talent crunch has forced the corporate world to make offices women-friendly, offer flexi-time and work-from-home sops. Women can now have kids and feed them too. Does it mean the millennial woman is fluttering out of her cocoon? Is she truly liberated? Judge Chitra Venkatraman had a hard time controlling laughter. "When she becomes a decision maker," she said chuckling. "Liberation is choosing the path, being adaptable, saying `I made a mistake', doing course correction and then reaching the goal." She won't pin "liberated" labels on educated, urban women. "Urban education stunts thinking," she said. "A city woman would grin and hear the husband abusing. She'd worry about social response. An unlettered slum/rural woman free of cultural constraints will reach for the nearest broom to whack him." A homemaker is better equipped to handle men, she claimed. A home has fewer situational roadblocks, allowing her to think independently.

Freedom, gender-free

Is she a free woman? "Yes. I have a job of my choice, spend time with family, socialise. I know where to compromise. Freedom is gender-free. It's adjusting to surroundings and taking what you want." Ok, be a balanced ropewalker. "Forget the woman, a liberated human being is a myth," said Asha Krishnakumar, HR executive, conceding if freedom enjoyed were compared, the woman's side would shoot up in a balance. Emancipation comes at a huge price, she held. "We have to work three times harder for recognition. When a man travels, he calls home saying, `Get my bag ready.' He's away for three days, God knows where, and is patted for excellent work. If a woman is successful, she got there `somehow', never through hard work. At every level, it's the born-free-but-everywhere-in-chains story."Yeah, a lot of women appear emancipated. But being a good boss, employee, mom, daughter-in-law and wife means you have no life of your own. You "adjust", you're last in the "to cope" list. You strive for what men take for granted - like trust. Now women earn as much and more, are assertive and ask questions. And men can't take it! Couples end up in crowded family courts. "I am in the top 5 per cent. I wear the `modern' crown. But in a larger perspective, suppression exists in subtle ways."

The reality

Bite the reality; we still battle poor mindsets, said an IIMA alumnus. There are pockets of empowerment. Opportunities haven't cancelled out expectations. We have to fill moulds, play a complementary role. Even in "progressive" societies, women need to dress and talk in a certain way for people to like them. And we're eager to please, we try hard to fit. "In a world of female foeticide, domestic violence, denial of voting rights and polygamy, total liberation is a long way off."Are men totally liberated? No! Not when they are expected to be career-driven, macho and ambitious. Ah, but the anti-feminist brigade has something to chew on. Women's liberation has been good for men. Now women go out and earn, pay EMIs, swipe plastic for personal wants, men have choices they never had. "When I married a career woman, I could afford to quit my job as a lawyer and become a full-time writer," boasted a guy who's been grinning from ear to ear ever since. Men can work part time, as wife trudges up the corporate ladder. Not all are Alpha males out to conquer the world!A woman is ready to be president of the most powerful democracy, but is the country ready for it? GEETA PADMANABHAN

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