Shaira Chaudhry In The Quest for her She Woman

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In a time when poetry is getting redefined with the new generation poets being part of the pop-culture, we bring you, Shaira Chaudhry’s She Woman.

She Woman

She’s carried you in her womb for 9 months
Her organs completely displaced –
Graciously making room for the foetus to lounge
Bearing it with a soulful embrace
Enduring sickness, discomfort, indisposition
The tenderness of her flesh easily raising her body’s Fahrenheit
The severity of her labour pains juxtaposed against the pain caused by the venom of a snake bite –
The former apparently being worse
Oh, did I mention she might just be cursed? –
In case she happens to be carrying a double X chromosome, that is
The same chromosome that capacitates the birthing of life
A ‘real time’ heroine, if you ask me
But all I ever heard growing up was superhero jargon – Batman, Spiderman, Superman, He Man

And I’ve wondered – Where has my ‘She Woman’ been?

The room fills with laughter. ‘She Woman’? What’s that? Who’s that? What a strange term, they say
Of course it’s strange –
Because using only the masculine form, as a gender neutral is okay
I can be a female actor, but you can not be a male actress
I can be a female author, but you can not be  a male authoress
I can be a female usher, but you can not be a male usherette
You’re a millionaire but few know that I’m a millionairess
You’re a murderer but uh, only God knows I’m a murderess
You perhaps venerate He Man and that’s okay
I’ve only endeavored to seek its equivalent female version –
Where is my ‘She Woman’, again?

Picture by H Heyerlein


‘She Woman’, I’m told is anywhere I look –
Through the past, present and future
Across caste, class, ethnicity and race –
Hiding under the guise of grace and disgrace
History has known her as Mother Mary, Goddess Sita, Aphrodite, Cleopatra
The Concubines, the Devadasis, the Geishas
The contemporary world knows her as Wangari Mathai, Indra Nooyi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Oprah Winfrey
The Nirbhaya’s, the Malala’s, the #metoo afflicted
The unborn girl child killed inside the womb
The prostitute you just escorted to your room
The CEO of a fortune 500 company
The teenager who just lost her virginity
I see ‘She Woman’ of every kind, around me
Only more misrepresented than her superhero friends
Across popular culture and religious texts

A story about a prince and princess, for example
That we so fondly revere as God and Goddess in temples
Joining our palms together before them in devotion
God Ram and Goddess Sita shared a rather skewed relation
It was for fourteen years that Ram was exiled
And Sita decided to accompany him as his dutiful wife
Who during their stay in Panchvati,
Fell prey to Ravan’s vile captivity

Abducted by him,
She refused to be rescued by anyone but her venerable husband –
A rather rampant concept around the media representations of women, commonly seen
Across fictions, fairy tales and fantasies

Wherein women inevitably find themselves in situations where they constantly need to be rescued by the men in their lives
Patiently waiting on them to arrive,
Rather than proactively seeking ways to save themselves
Oh, I forget – an ideal woman does not assert her own power, or fight back – for it isn’t virtuous

So well, rescued by Ram, she was
But he refused to take her back into their abode
Accusing her of sleeping in another man’s house
Ram demands Sita who’s been through agonizing abuse already
To undergo Agni Pariksha and prove her purity
An anguished Sita who does not even attempt to defend herself
Throws herself in the funeral pyre
Because well, she’s an ideal woman –
Subservient in her disposition.
Her purity is proven when she’s spared by the flames
Ram now wraps her in a warm, loving embrace
And she embraces him back, tenderly forgiving his treatment
Because an ideal woman is quick to forgive men
But often finds herself pleading to be forgiven by them
So they go on to live happily ‘ever after’
Until Ram hears a launderer condemning Sita’s chastity
And he chooses to respond, not by punishing the muckraker
But banishing his pregnant wife from the palace
Who would rather heed to his commands
Than take a stand for herself
Because well, she’s an ideal woman –
A devotee of her husband
Stoic of sorts, who does not express her emotions –
On being disrespected, distrusted and publicly disparaged even
And I wonder – what is it that we revere Ram and Sita for, again?
In the name of dharma,
They both made choices in favor of society’s expectations
Against their ‘love’ for each other, under the pressure of social obligations
Forsaking love, that knows nothing of duty
Duty – that is but a ritual, a liability
And so goes a household fable narrated again and again
Across centuries of bigotry, fallacy and shame
Etching ideas of gender roles into our psyche as a society
Condemning violation and applauding conformity
So where’s my ‘She Woman’ in this story? I seek to know
Hidden beneath the ideal woman, I’m told
And so the stories of women, from antecedent to current events
Continue to represent them,
As soft targets of infamy
Making them wrong as much for being
Submissive as domineering
Attractive as unattractive
Loving as callous
Calm as brash
Dependent as independent –

An ideal case in point, of an exemplary monarch of Egypt
Ruling one of the most powerful kingdoms in history
Cleopatra is commonly portrayed as a harlot
Who uses her sexuality to control powerful men like Mark Antony
Her intelligence and super abilities as a politician,
Rarely given credence
Her portrayal consistently remains that of a temptress
Women and power seem to share a rather strange relation
Apparently it is only through her sexual prowess
That a woman makes it past her ‘limitations’ – and onto power –
‘Limitations’ decreed upon her
By men and women alike
Propelling misogynistic norms
To which she must abide
So when she walks into the room with panache
Her head held high with pride
Into a room full of men –
Board of directors, CEO’s, CFO’s –
Their murmurs of surprise
Bellow upon her like a thunderstorm
Their animated eyes skipping corners
As her strong demeanor pierces out her well-fitted suit that accentuates her curves
The room fills with ambivalent emotions – of astonishment, confusion, envy and lust
Too ambitious they think,
Too big perhaps, for her own shoes
But of course it’s not a surprise after all
Because she made it by sleeping with the ‘influential lot’
And where’s my ‘She Woman’ in this story? I seek to know
Buried beneath the label of seductress, I’m told

So I take a trip down memory lane
Through the years gone by
To when she’d walked into the room for her first interview,
With that pretty a face
Of course they wanted to hire her –
The pretty face that smiles and obeys
And obey she must, if she would like to be paid –
Paid handsomely in cash and leisure –
If she would just allow herself, to be the object of their pleasure
Each time that they insinuatingly asked for ‘it’ –
Though that wouldn’t be, were it not for her seductive bearing
Her compliance makes her a slut
Her defiance makes her a bitch
Let’s get real for a second here – don’t we all know that she’s always the one asking for ‘it’?

Woman walking away

And in the bedroom with her lover
Uninhibited and unrestricted
God forbid, that she owns her body
That she dare own the ‘game’
Too free, and too comfortable in the expression of her sexuality
She’s got to be put to shame
For being so unapologetically promiscuous,
For being too darn overbearing
Definitely not an appealing feminine demeanor
There has got to be a way to tame her
Interestingly, a man is never overbearing enough
He can choose to sleep with as many women as he pleases
If he has multiple affairs, he’s lauded as a playboy
If she has multiple affairs, she’s defamed as a slut

Such is the hypocrisy of our patriarchal set up
The culture of impunity for men
Where the Harvey Weinstein’s, the Aziz Ansari’s, the Mahmood Farooqui’s
Never did really learn the concept of consent
A culture whose judicial system decrees that “a feeble no may mean a yes”

Where rape is so commonplace, it now rarely causes a stir
Where if she has slept with him once, he thinks he now owns her
And where is my ‘She Woman’ in these stories? I seek to know
Veiled under the pretty face, the promiscuousness, the ‘farce’ of assault, I’m told

A few more years back in time,
To when she was still a student
With dreams pulsating through every pore of her being
Slipping ever so often, into her wonderland
Of great things achieved, in ways big and small
Fancying that in time, she’d make a difference in the world
And while she had many, who supported her endeavors
There were those who were threatened by her ambition
And sought to curb her right to education
Lest her knowledgeable self, disrupt the status quo
Upsetting a largely male dominated play of power
It was hate groups using fear, guilt, shame and scorn
As weapons to hold her back and to make her cower
Of which cases like Malala Yousafzai were born

The Taliban feeling too helpless
In the face of its failed execution on the ban of schooling girls
When a headstrong Malala refused to cease her zealous efforts
Of advocating it as their basic human right
A debilitated Taliban responded to this plight
With an assassination attempt on her –
A rebuttal to her continuing activism
Justifying their act of violence as a necessary ‘religious obligation’
And in the name of religion
All the insanity that ever transpired
The wars that were fought
The women and children that were devoured
Really stand out as signs of fragility
Interestingly, our culture perceives girls to be fragile
But the ‘Malala’s’ steadfastly taking on the world, nimble and agile –
Have succeeded in proving otherwise
By deriving her strength of character from the cause she stood to defend
Malala turned her advocacy of girls’ education into an international movement
And any woman ever, who resolutely stood up for her rights –
Fiercely chasing her dreams
Has only led our world further upstream
Beneath the woman fighting for her basic right to education though –
My ‘She Woman’ still remains incognito
A woman at work

A girl in college
A teenager in school
A kid in elementary grade
A toddler in daycare
Is already dealing with the world telling her –
How she should look
What she should wear
How she should talk
How she should embody the feminine quality of care
The stories of women
The representations of women
The expectations from a woman
Deem her erroneous in every possible way, it seems
To serve propaganda and make million dollar profits
Off of playing with her self-esteem
Sending messages about how she’s never enough –
Beautiful enough
Fair enough
Tan enough
Fit enough
Healthy enough
Thin enough
Sexy enough
Radiant enough
Happy enough
Wanted enough –
Just never enough!


Picture Credit: peacequarters.com

And though social conditioning
Applies to men and women alike
Her struggle with noncompliance
With making her voice heard
With choosing that which allows her to live on her own terms
Become reasons for social, economic, political cacophony
In a way that nonconformity on a man’s part never would
Her fundamental rights as a human being, still quite misunderstood
And although women continue to evolve from a state of affairs so blue
With little girls growing up to Wonder Woman as their idol
We sure got many more women champions to look up to
But still much more change, that has got to transpire –
Before I can find my ‘She Woman’ unrelentingly being who she came here to be
Without the need to hide under labels
Making her own choices, unrestrained and free
And so this is but a start –
Mother, daughter, lover, sister, home-maker, employer, employee –
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Shaira Chaudhry is a part-time writer. She writes about travel, style and holistic wellness for magazines and blogs, and also writes pieces of poetry whose mood ranges from playfulness to thought-provoking ideas. The views presented are author’s own.

Feature Image Credit: Aaron Burden