All that she can be


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Category: Women Date: 21 Nov 04


The holiday season kicked off and I was amidst the collective chattering roar of beautifully dressed people, lulled by the violins, into one of those amiable moments, talking to a banker.


Casually swirling our bubbly, we reminisced over the bank backing for an unusual programmeótraining disadvantaged women to do menís work.


I smiled, remembering the fun I had interviewing the women in menís overalls, powering through splinters of wood and electric sparks, to produce furniture, wriggling out from beneath cars, faces smeared with oil, grinning widely at their newly found skills.


No artifice can replicate that unselfconscious beauty of the animated confidence that comes when the world opens up.


It wasnít just that they were doing stuff that men normally do, but they had also adopted the swagger that comes with the territory as if to say ďI am what I do, not what I wear. Donít need no lipstick to look nice, donít care if my hairís in place, donít need my clothes to hug my curves.Ē


Thatís rare. Every woman down the ages has had to care about how she looks. Billion-dollar cosmetic industries rely on womenís preoccupation with themselves. Itís not because we are the more stupid sex. Simply the more pragmatic.


Because for as many decades as weíve been primping, teetering in too-high heels, enduring hot wax on our skin, breathing uncomfortably in too-tight clothes, weíve been trading up, beauty for security, dumbing down, for approval.


Even women prime ministers and executives, and editors, and financial analysts angst about image. Which woman hasnít had the moment when every item of clothes she owns is flung on the bed but she has nothing to wear?


Iím not denying weíve come a long way. Statistics everywhere show girls eclipsing boysí performance, consistently, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, creating a problem of male underachievement.


In Britain alone, women will outnumber men by about 27,000 in this academic yearís intake of undergraduates. The new mould is set.


Mothers can confidently tell their daughters they can be rocket scientists, Martha Stewart homemakers (minus jail sentence) and Miss World rolled into one.


But even inside the heart of the brightest, most powerful woman in the world, there is a tiny niggling doubt. That somehow she is not complete unless she gets male approval. And she does what she has to do to get it. She says she wants to look good for herself but who are we kidding?


Which woman doesnít fantasise about just letting it all goóletting the eyebrows grow, hair colour grow out, letting it all hang and being adored anyway? Men do it, why canít we?


Call it insecurity, call it survival. Somehow most of us havenít made that final leap into freedom. So todayís woman diets, works out, hunts for clothes and make-up and shoes that flatter her.


She competes with other women for the attention of powerful men (after all itís still a manís world). Weíve done it for about 6,000 years, and itís probably in our DNA.


But that day when those sweaty, oily, hard-hat-wearing women electricians, mechanics, carpenters, proudly displayed their work, it felt like watching women shatter the prison of corsets to be all the human being they could be, on their terms.


But I digress. I am still at the party. The banker is talking. Wait a minute. This isnít how the script should go. He is saying:


ďDo you know that several women got bashed by their spouses after doing that programme? That one man actually cut off the hands of one of the women who trained in non-traditional skills?Ē


No, I didnít know. But I believe it. He couldnít handle her being all she could be. I looked around at all the made-up women in that room, myself included, thinking, no wonder we strap ourselves down with artifice. We have to do it to survive.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur