We've come a long way baby, or have we?

 

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Category: Women Date: 07 Jan 2001


If there is one symbol that sums up the hefty strides women have made in this century, it’s the Virginia Slims ad for cigarettes, which shows a sexy woman, staring boldly into the camera with that elegant cigarette in her mouth. Feminists may criticize her for being a sex symbol, the righteous may say she’s glamorizing a poison stick but nobody can disagree with the caption that goes with the ad: “You’ve come a long way baby.”


For centuries women were rubbed out from history books that only recorded the feats of men, of killing and conquests, of wars and rulers. Throughout the history of “Man” thousands of potentially great women went to their graves with untapped talent, remained invisible. The business of raising decent men and women who gave something back to the world in which they were born in was never considered heroic.

 

In the early nineteen hundreds we were still carrying out age old functions-giving birth, nurturing children, being homemakers, taking care of our elderly and ill.

 

Women were barred from entering universities, kept from fulfilling our potential as doctors, lawyers, scientists, businesspeople, secretaries. Our potential died at birth.

 

World War 11 dramatically altered all that for women in the west.  (Women in many Islamic countries meanwhile continue to be trampled on) Suddenly women were called upon as extra hands in the war effort. They stood alongside men nursing the wounded, cooking and cleaning for the men in the battlefront while mines and bombs exploded around them. At home they replaced men’s work in factories and offices, keeping countries going as their men went down in the trenches. When it was all over women were told to go home and make babies and homes. They went back sure enough, but something had changed forever.

 

That something was the realization that they could do everything a man could, and sometimes better, for didn’t they have centuries of experience in juggling ten jobs at once? Hadn’t they nursed an ailing mother, dug the garden, created a meal out of almost nothing and managed the household finances so somehow the children were clothed and fed and something was put aside for a rainy day. In the 60’s they spat fire at the tradition that they knew was only another name for a kind of slavery. They burned bras and bared all. They smoked and drank and swore men under the table. They scorned men and went off to live without them. But more changed as women evolved. They realized that in order to be equal to men they didn’t have to become men. That in fact their womanly nurturing attributes empowered them.

 

As a new generation of women began to accept going to university for granted, voted freely, rejoiced in the strength of their body, incorporated athletics as part of their glory, discovered that they could transfer their home management skills to corporations with great success, they could afford to grow calm with their new power. Women became swans and butterflies overnight. As the century burned forward we began excelling, outdoing the opposite sex in academics and business. But as time went on, like the woman in the Slims ad, we were able to celebrate our beauty, instead of hiding under it.

 

Men prefer to employ us because we had ingrained sense of deadlines (from a simple thing as having to put children to bed on time) of conciliation and fair play in the boardroom (from bringing calm to a home of fighting adolescents).

 

The Caribbean woman is unique in this equation. She has inherited the history and strength of women from four continents. From Europe she learned how to adapt to an alien environment. From India she learned how to keep families together. From Africa she learned raw survival. From China she learned enterprise. From the Middle East she leaned thrift and hard work.

 

The majority of our families in Trinidad and Tobago are headed by women- single mothers who, without knowing it, everyday draw from centuries and continents of experience to feed, clothe and educate their children without any help from their spouse.

 

If we are a matriarchal society it is because we have had no choice. Yet thousands of women everyday get up early and pack lunch kits, drop children to school, and are dedicated to their careers whether they are secretaries or supervisors. Women use their gifts of nurturing and management at home and at work.

 

There is one question I want answered in this equation. Why, despite all the strides we have made do women suffer so much? Still paid less then men, still dependent financially and socially on men, still, subject to domestic violence, verbal humiliation, control and tyrannical stereotypes that repress our spirit and take up all our time (cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing)? And what is it about women that prevent us from supporting one another and fighting for basic human rights and freedoms such as respect and financial independence, and social freedom.

 

The silver lining amidst all the burdens our women carry is that the more challenges that are thrown to the more they rise to the occasion, and somewhere between all the toil emerges the pure pearl that can be the woman of this millennium.

 

She is free, fearless, rejoices in her beauty and sexuality. She is gentle with children, the elderly and the ill and yet pushes practical, intellectual, artistic boundaries and boulders, until she is as dizzy with her achievements. Like the girl in the Virginia Slims Ad, she is able to despite it all; spin her life out, using the golden thread of her potential.

 

She will do more, one by one, family by family, she will do as she has been doing for centuries, hold the key to a more humane world in her hands. She may not have the money, the power or the tools to do it but she can teach her children, and so guide all of humanity by proxy.

 

And so in a hundred years our grand daughters and great granddaughters will look back at, us, the women who have brought in this millennium and say “We’ve come a long way thanks to you, baby.”

 

As long as there are women, constitutional crisis or not, the country will be run, woman-by-woman, family-by-family.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur