We run the world. We certainly do. From your early morning coffee to that fancy dessert at a Michelin-star restaurant, chances are there's a woman behind it all. And even if there's a male chef involved, he's got his mother, sister and wife or girlfriend behind him anyway. Much has been said about the rise of the millennial woman. From power dynamics in the boardroom to voices for change, think pink knitted pussyhats and hashtags on social media, there's no looking back for women today.
Sure there's still a lot left to improve, from how much we're paid to the way we're treated. From how common women depreciating jokes are in conversation even with our closest friends to how safe we feel walking along a deserted road in India. What matters is not that things are how they are, but that now we actually do something about it. No longer is it okay for us to have scary cab rides home - we hire women-only 'pink cabs' with female drivers instead. Short of taking a bull by its horns, women today actually stand up and do something about whatever it is that's bothering us.
While we probably think we're pioneers of some sort, going forth boldly where no other woman has gone before. It's time we understood our ancestors were just as strong as we are today. From as way back as Eve, women have actually always called the shots, some of us are outright loud and others do it rather subtly, so our counterparts think it's their idea.
There are instances from eras gone by of women rising above their roles as family guardians to the public influencers. Way back in 42 BCE, Hortensia made a famous speech in Rome's Forum in defiance of the second triumvirate's aim to tax Rome's wealthiest women to fund the war against Caesar's assassins. Her speech did notably get a 'partial' revoke of the tax, but something was better than nothing. Not much is written of what Hortensia looked like or what she wore, but what has remained through the centuries is her quote of "why should we pay taxes when we do not share in the offices, honours, military commands, nor in the short, the government for which you fight between yourselves with such harmful results?"
Women have had an influence on everything that happens on our planet through the centuries. An article in Forbes in 2017 talks of how "women's impact on the consumer economy ranks right alongside technology as a major factor on marketing and sales. When you consider that, as recently as 1974, it was difficult for a married woman to get a credit card in her own name in America, the pace of change seems astonishing." This, despite all those jokes about women and shopping.
While we may not be the more dominant sex, we are certainly the more intellectual. Not only do girls outperform boys in CBSE grade 12 exams (82.02% girls passed against 78% boys in 2017), women now earn a major chunk of educational degrees. Over 40.7% of enrolled PhD students in India today are women. The Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, Statistical Year Book India 2016, shows that nearly 30% of women now live in urban India, and 60.6% of women are literate as well. In the larger scheme of things, it does look like things are looking up for us as women.
Chandramathy, a government play-school teacher, tells me her story of how, as the daughter of the palace cashier of the Kochi maharaja in Kerala, she found herself getting married at 17 at her father's insistence. Diagnosed with Guillian Barre syndrome and semi-paralysed by 19, already with a toddler and another child on the way, Chandramathy found herself bedridden, but slowly got on her feet again to get a job as an Anganwadi teacher. A couple of decades later, having lost complete sight in her left eye with paralysis on her left after complications from surgery, she still got up to go to work. Says Chandramathy, "I got my life back because of my work. My sons are now grown up, but I want to continue working as much as possible for as long as I can." In 2006 and 2017, Chandramathy received the Kerala state award for the best Anganwadi worker with volunteer service included. Her ideals tend to represent what most of us are about today, our will to get up and move on, our resolve to continue, irrespective of what happens.
History has been wrought by strong men, behind whom stood even stronger women. To think of it logically, even Plato's first signs of interest in philosophy could never have borne fruit without his mother egging him on. Life as we know it would never be the same without women, every now and then, needing to take a back seat to let families run smoothly. We have had the power to influence, the power to make a change and the power to be who we want to be. What matters is how we use that power. Whatever has happened around the world, women somehow manage to make things work. We stand up for each other, from #metoo for sexual harassment to getting justice for Nirbhaya. We stick around for each other.
While circumstances do rule the day, ultimately it's always a glass half full or half empty view. Sure we do get a lot of opportunities, but are they the same when compared to our male counterparts? There's always the argument for equal pay that crops up every couple of years, maternity leave getting extended every now and then. How often do we find ourselves or our colleagues not up for promotion after they've been on maternity leave? How often do you find your career not rising as fast as those who don't have toddlers at home?
Sure, we'd do well if Wonder Woman was real and we all looked like Gal Gadot, but there are real-life heroes in our every day that we don't notice. Fanatical about everything from sharpened pencils to bright sunflowers, women's rights, kittens and dogs and pretty much everything else, us women always end up striving to be better Gryffindors, 'where dwell the brave at heart'. While our lives are no longer about who lights the brightest cave fire, we're a lot more about trying to prove to ourselves we can do it all. We can have thriving careers, manage efficient homes and yet get out for an all-girls night of fun.
As we get closer to another Women's Day, there's a lot to look back at and a lot to look forward to as well. Besides, I'm sure if someone had actually raided Cleopatra's closet, I'll bet they'd have found some high heels in there. At the end of the day, who run the world? Girls!