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?

publive-image 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!

motherhood Picture Credit:

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

Poetry Shaira Chaudhry She Woman Womanhood