I finished reading ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ by Apurva Purohit, on a journey back from Mumbai.
I went to Mumbai as I was one of the 25 shortlisted persons for Bloomberg TV’s show ‘The Pitch’. The fact that I didn’t make it to the top ten meant that I did not have a return ticket planned and paid for. There was also the possibility of staying an extra day in Mumbai, the next day being a holiday for ‘Rakshabandhan’. It also meant a chance to meet up old friends, make some new ones, spend some time watching the waves lash on to the shore at Marine Drive,most importantly a break from the ‘adult’ world that I suddenly felt thrust into, after my post graduation, which sometimes felt a little stifling after all the freedom I got at MICA. Hence, I was looking forward to spending time in Mumbai. Mumbai, that supposedly safe and sound place. The city that never sleeps.
And while I was re-blogging a poem called ‘Free’ (oh, the irony!) on this website on Independence Day, a journalist was being gang raped in the city that never sleeps. The fact that she was a photo journalist assumes more importance than the person she is. Why? Because, most of the times, our professions define us, some thing without which we’d be quite lost. Your profession gives you independence and a lot of times, it becomes a quiet source from where to derive strength and confidence. But what if our identity gets lost some day? What to do, if it’s just not safe any longer? Do you sit at home, ‘protected’ ? Of course, that would be an equally foolish thing to do, considering the number of rapes that happen AT home.
This was supposed to be a straight forward review of the book ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ and a Q&A with the author, Apurva Purohit, CEO of Radiocity. However, after hearing the news about the recent gang rape in Mumbai, I guess this has turned out to be something more.
The book Lady, you’re not a man by Apurva Purohit is about how women face a lot of challenges both at home and at work. Prime among them, are concerns of the glass ceiling, stereotyping of women, safety of women in the workplace, handling both domestic and professional life at the same time, etc. Apurva Purohit regales you with witty stories which illustrate her reasoning. Her writing is smart, crisp and funny. She tells you how you can succeed even if there are some odds stacked behind you. It’s also how, as a woman, you need to realize that even men face stereotyping and certain things are unfair to men too.
The book is quite relevant to women like me who are working and especially to others who are both married AND working. If you take me for an example, I work in the FMCG Industry. It being only 4 months since I joined, I am at a Management Trainee position, at a stage where I am expected to learn the in and outs of the market, work in the same way that my sub ordinates would work, till I am deemed ‘ready’ to be given the responsibility of managing people. It’s not a proper ‘corporate’ job (the definition of ‘corporate’ being a job in an air conditioned office), according to my mother, much to her annoyance. It involves getting your hands dirty handling distributors, salesmen, store owners every day and not to forget, travelling to all sorts of neighborhoods in Delhi. But wait, I like my job. It’s challenging and I get to see lot of places that I would never normally visit. I am also learning things about marketing and consumer behavior which I never would in a class room. To tell you the truth, I get some kick out of trying to prove that I can do it too, in spite of being a female and hence, ‘the weaker sex’, although it’s a little unfortunate that there’s a need to prove this. (Blah 😛 )
After reading the book, I got in touch with Apurva Purohit by email and asked her some questions. Being a true professional, she got back to a lowly blogger (It’s not like this blog is the ‘Time’ magazine) like me, quite quickly.
The first question I posed was, “Somehow, at the workplace, I have felt the need to work harder than the men around, as if to prove that women can also be professional. Isn’t it unfair that stereotypes of women ‘not being serious about work’ and only interested in ‘talking on the phone’ exist and we need to doubly work to overcome them?”
“Yes, firstly stereotypes do exist and we all have to work hard to overcome them. So the hysterical female boss, the kitty party attending housewife, the over protective mom are images that we need to deal with. Having said that I think society stereotypes everyone , so even men have stereotypes operating against them. I think we just need to recognize that women haven’t been specifically singled out for this dubious honor!”, she answers.
But at the same time, I face a risk everyday (as do so many women), just because of the fact that I am a female and the next person on the street could be a potential rapist/molester (although I do still have more hope from men that not everybody is bad after all).
She continues, ‘I see a lot of women today enthusiastically picking up the gauntlet of entering male dominated industries. Working with the organization to neutralize external negative factors is one way to tackle this issue; so asking for pick-ups and drops to ensure safe travel, ensuring the organization is taking necessary precautions in selecting the right travel partners etc are some of the things women in these industries should certainly push for. I think today there are very few jobs that women cannot do because of physical limitations and those jobs in an innovation or knowledge based economy are becoming fewer in any case.”
She is right in what she says. Organizations need to step up the way they treat their female employees and the facilities they provide. And it is probably up to us to demand for them, although in certain cases, it feels stupid doing so. I am not sure whether any grocery shop owner, out of the 20 shops that I visit on a normal day, would take me seriously me if I were picked and dropped at each place. And very unfair to my male colleagues who do the same job and get the same pay. At the same time, I don’t want to be ‘protected’ all the time. Rather than me always worried about how I will reach home late at night, I want the men on the streets to be afraid of me and the police.
My mother has palpitations when she comes to know I am going to come home late. My father conveniently (and very diplomatically) disappears behind the newspaper when we have a fight, as to why I can’t sneak out from work and go shopping with her. She has come to terms with my job now but she is always worried. I don’t blame her but I wish I could allay her fears and wish for a safe place to live and roam around.
My next question is, “Sometimes, parents seem to be the biggest obstacles to a career when they prevent you from doing things which may not be ‘safe’ but are still important for you to do your job properly. How do girls deal with them?”
“I think we all need to co opt our family members into our careers so that they become equal partners in its success and failure . This can happen only if we discuss everything about our jobs with them and ask for help . I see many young girls today don’t want to tell their parents things in a false sense of protecting their privacy and the poor parents are unable to judge what is required to do a job properly . As parents they will worry about safety and such issues especially with girls. It is the women’s job to allay this fear”, says Apurva Purohit.
‘Lady, you’re not a man’ is an interesting and quite apt title for the book. The title feels like an extremely sarcastic male (or female) telling you that you can’t do shit because you’re not a man.
Apurva Purohit explains, “Through this title I am trying to say two things 1 ) I am telling the women that you don’t have to be male like to succeed and 2) I am equally telling society and people who have often taunted women that you can’t do this because You are not a Man, that we women can do equally well just the same.”
I ask her about the hardest part of writing this book. “I have been used to writing a blog which is actually an exercise in saying the maximum in very few words ( 300-400 words) so actually writing a full chapter around one message which required more verbosity without becoming boring was the biggest challenge”, she says.
She has managed that quite well. This book says what it wants to say without boring you. There are enough real life stories, in her witty voice, to make you identify with the woman. What I liked most was that she encourages women not to feel guilty about their life choices, whether you are working or not working, having a baby or choosing not to have one, going to the post office party cum networking event or staying home to look after the ‘home’. We are not superwomen and we don’t need to constantly feel bad about not being able to fulfill everybody’s expectations. At the same time, she asks women to behave like true professionals and not expect to be treated with extra ‘care’ something I agree with. How can we expect to be treated as equals if we demand special privileges (passed on as a result of our conditioning in a patriarchal culture) which are not really required?
I tell Apurva Purohit she’s come a long way. To lighten the Q&A, I ask her if there were to be a movie made on her, who would she cast as herself.
She appears to be humble as she says “I don’t think I have come a long way or anything. I got into leadership roles very early in life and as they say you become competent through practice and 10000 hours of doing something. Having run organizations or departments for the last twenty odd years has made me good at what I do ! I can’t think of a film being made on something like this but I like the strong Hollywood actresses like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Sandra Bullock .. so possibly them…”
I ask her what she does in her spare time. “I am very much a homebody and I like spending as much time as I can at home with my family and some very few close friends. I enjoy reading a lot, specially crime fiction which is my passion, and love travelling. My holidays with my family are my one big luxury and I also have a weakness for heritage jewelry.”
This is where I stop talking about ‘Lady, you’re not a man’. Every time there’s a rape, I feel uncomfortable and disturbed. I can only hope that things will be better one day and we won’t have to feel scared most of the time, irrespective of whether we are doing our jobs or having fun roaming around in the streets. At the same time, a salute to all the women who want to make a change by fighting back, whether it is the 22 year old photojournalist or a friend who ‘accidentally’ gives a whack (I am hoping it was at a place where it hurts the most) with her umbrella to the man who passes by and calls her ‘mast’ (nice). Kudos to all the women who brave the streets every day. A change can only come when we go out into the streets instead of ‘safely’ sitting in our homes.
I am hopeful of a change. Till then, as my friend Hirak keeps telling me, ‘Chin up, be brave, be beautiful!’
(Beauty is often a reflection of what you are feeling inside yourself, not your face or your figure.)
Note: A copy of this book was provided for review by the author/Rupa publications.