I’ve heard it to so many times. And yet it just doesn’t register. That’s not how I think of myself. As different.
I’ve never thought it a problem, well, other than I didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t quite fit into people’s pre-defined notions or perceptions. And I kept knocking into them. You see, I didn’t think I was different, and didn’t quite understand their discomfort in dealing with me.
I think it started when I was a little girl. I was a handful for my mother, because I was different. I didn’t sitting around talking like the other girls. I was out running, scraping my knees, tangling my hair. I preferred playing marbles than pottering around the kitchen. I didn’t care about pretty dresses and refused to dress up like mom would’ve liked me too. I was also not very polite, or dainty – because even then, I didn’t mind having an opinion or voicing it. For example, I didn’t why girls and the women of the house should eat last, or have to clean up always. Or why the boys got the first pick of fruits or anything else. No one else noticed. No one else complained. Why was it such a fuss for me? Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else! And why did I insist on wearing those darn jeans – yes I wore my brothers jeans and shirts, because at that time, there weren’t any for girls available in shops – that weren’t frilly or ‘too modern”.
In school, well, I changed about a dozen schools. So I just put it off as being the new kid in town. Last year of school, I was amongst the rare girl in school seriously thinking about a career. I didnt quite know what career I wanted, but I definitely knew I wanted one of ’em things.
While other girls were dreaming of prince charming, I was falling in love with Gallileo, Newton, Irodov and Richard Feynman. Others explored make up, I explored Hallisay & Resnick, Nelkon & Parker, ML Khanna et all. And I truly enjoyed it.
In college, well, it was a bit better. Our batch had 26 girls in a batch of ~450. Everyone freaked out. That was the highest girls ratio in the history of IITB so far. So just being a girl there, was an oddity enough. On top of it, I wanted to go trekking, and the slums, and the villages. I also did karate, played basketball and skated.
And I still thought I was normal. I was just being me. Just me.
I did a lot of other not-normal things over the years. I travelled. I bought a house and painted the walls yellow, green and pink (I kid you not. I did). I danced – on stage with SDIPA. I was a good engineer. I did impossible projects. I became a mom. I became a bread winner. I ran a gaming lounge. I created websites. That’s a ton of not-normal things. Not-normal for the average man or woman my age. And I still thought I was just being me. Just an average girl, ok, woman.
I’m leaving my current job soon. As part of the transition/parting meetings, the one thing that stood out from someone upstream, “she was different from the others here”. I asked my manager – she re-iterated. “You’re just different from the others here”. I asked if that was good or bad. “It’s just that people don’t know how to react to you”.
It was a bit of a surprise. And also telling. That people don’t quite expect a woman to be a competent, assertive, professional. People do not like, what they don’t understand, or can’t quickly place in their mental framework. People don’t “like” people who are not like them. People like, and prefer to be associated with, other people who are like them. And to get ahead, or to get things done, or just to live in society, you need to “belong”, “fit in”, be like the others.
Most of the people in the work force are men.
I have a strong belief that had I been a guy, instead of being called ‘different’ I would have been called a ‘game changer’.
Most of the women in today’s world are still stay at home moms, or even if working, treat their career as secondary. Most women today, whether career women or not, are obsessed by their looks, and judged by how they look and how well they take care of their house and family, and defer most “out side” decisions to the male members of their family. (Yes, there are exceptions. But they are exceptions, not the norm. Just like me.)
So I don’t quite fall into that category either. I don’t care about my looks, or my weight. I just want to be healthy. In my small nuclear family, I carry the financial responsibility as well. I deal with electricians and carpenters and tackle investments. While I love my son and want to be a good mom, I’m done with the selfless mom/wife/daughter role plays. I claim my space as a human, and a woman. Or at least, I’m trying to. I don’t have the time, or inclination for kitty parties, gossip and bitching. I love saris and carry them well, but love my denims more. I still have no clue about make up, and no inclination either. That doesn’t make me any less feminine, or beautiful.
So colleagues don’t quite identify with me. They call me “different” because I’m not like them. They don’t know how to react to me.
Other women don’t quite identify with me. They call me “different” because I’m not like them. They don’t know how to react to me.
In spite of the labels hurled at me all through, I never quite realise being a smart capable woman with a low tolerance for BS, could be such a handicap in life.
I am yet to come to terms with it. As I’m transitioning into a different phase, I’m questioning, more than usual, everything about me, and around me. Norms, beliefs. Everything.
If you’re a smart woman reading this, please reach out to me – how do you deal with it?