Saturday, March 12, 2011

Behind Every Successful Woman

We have all heard this saying - " Behind every successful man there is a woman" but have we ever thought about who is behind a woman's success?

Or is it just that we do not somehow associate women with success?If you ask an average woman what success means she would tell you it means being able to have a decent job, keep the family together, raise healthy , happy children and have enough for her old age. Some women may also extend this to include the ability to manage home and a career successfully. It is not very often that a woman is able to identify success as an individual achievement.

It is not to say that by this we mean that there are no successful women. There are many of us in various different fields- doctors, writers and other professionals. How have these women managed to achieve their success?

Let me illustrate this with my example - I consider myself to be a reasonable successful woman in the sense that I have been able to achieve atleast two thirds of what I had planned for myself in my life. I  had the best opportunities made available to me by way of education which I have used very well for myself. When I look back to see how this was possible, I realize that I probably had a very enabling environment to nurture my dreams and move ahead in  life.  Let me now try to deconstruct and demystify this word "enabling environment"- a very supportive family is what emerges.  Supportive family certainly.. but  it all boils down to two men in my life - my father and my husband!

As women, men form a very important part of our lives in the sense that they are our other half and socially the more powerful gender. Men  decide their own destinies as well as that of the women in their lives or under their control. My father beleived very strongly in the independence of his daugthers and encouraged both me and my sister to beleive in our dreams and follow them through. We never had to negotiate or manipulate our way into getting anything out of him. What he always wanted to know was whether we beleived in what we wanted to do and if we did so did he!

The same is the case with my husband. Never had I to seek his "permission" to do anything. He always beleived in my capacities to handle any situation and encouraged me in everything that I wanted to do. Decisions are always jointly taken and he has always respected my views on any issue.

I sometimes wonder why this is not so with a large majority of women in our country? We often find that men are the main obstacles for a woman's success. Why?

" Because they are afraid that if we become successful we may not respect them" said Kuppamma, a woman I met in a village in Vedaranyam, some time ago. But isn't a woman's success as much his? For e.g if she is a successful entrepreneur, financially it is the family that would stand to benefit. But why is it that a large majority of men do not like to "let go" of this power that they  have over women?

And no, it is not just the likes of Kuppamma who face these problems to develop their capacities and become successful. I have seen this in women from middle and upper middle class families too. Women often try to "hide" or "play down" their success so as to keep their men happy. But is it their men's happiness that they are interested in or is it the desire to keep the man's insecurity at bay?

It is surprising that for a gender that has the best of everything insecurity should be a problem! This insecurity shows up in different ways with different classes of men. While it is a very "in your face" insecurity in a rural context , resulting in domestic violence, in a more educated and sophisticated environment it may be more subtle.

Again not to say that all men are insecure. Certainly not!

I have been observing around my immediate environment to see what causes this insecurity- I think it is a certain lack in one's own self confidence. In a rural area, a poor labourer is completly powerless in front of a richer and more powerful person. He is extremely meek in front of the more powerful men. But when he comes home he transforms himself into the power centre and feels most insecure if he perceives his wife as transgressing the lines of control. His upbringing in a patriarchal society like ours ofcourse reinforces these behaviour patterns. The same cause and effect theory can be applied almost universally. The lesser the confidence a man has in himself the more threatened he feels about his wife's capacities.

This also  shows up in a work environment where male bosses sometimes cannot accept a female colleague questioning a decision. While ofcourse the organizational hierarchy vests power in the boss irrespective of gender, I have often found that male bosses with little confidence in themselves find it difficult to handle a woman who reports to them. Conversely there are some supremely confident male bosses ( yes I have had a wonderful boss like that!) who encourage women to grow within an organization often changing policies to suit women's requirements. These kind of bosses ofcourse encourage independent thoughts irrespect of whether it is men or women who are thinking them.

Now, coming back to my original question- who is behind a woman's success?

I think the answer is very clear- it is men! It is the men in our families - our fathers, brothers and husbands ( sometimes also sons) who can encourage women to step out and follow our dreams. Organizations with sensitive men as bosses can create the right environment to nurture talent. A society that has men like this would soon see a lot of success as half of its population would slowly start coming out of the shadows!

" It takes a brave man to support his wife in her quest for success" says Kasturi from Nagapattinam.

We need more of these brave men.. ! Success for a woman would then be because of men and not inspite of them!

11 comments:

meerasrajan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cloud nine said...

Potentially a well-thought out post dear Meera. Even my life has been in the shadows of two men- my father and my husband and now it is obviously my son who decides little things like what to cook and when to eat out! I've had my share of bad experiences with office bosses who always boss around meeker women, men who cannot simply accept that women do have a brain and a heart. But otherwise, it is better to report to a male boss who has concerns rather than a dissociated female boss. But one thing i must say- we all become what the men shape us. I am happy that you have accomplished two-thirds of what you had wished, but sadly for me, i don't even remember what i had wished....it was lost somewhere in between becoming a devoted wife and a loving mother. This is what we lag behind- we tend to lose our own self somewhere and we deprioritize our career and development, becoming a scape goat for ambitions of men.

" I earn enough, why should she step out?" seems nice, but when you think of the life after 60 without the men of your life- you rather feel insecure. It is this insecurity that drives career-oriented women. Sadly for the rural woman,the men they confront represent male dominated society and she remains submissive. The trend is totally different in cities, where cosmo women take career and family balanced. But to shine well, as you say, we need more of the brave men who can grow along with the women, nurturing them...not by crushing their ambitions and dreams. Thats a lovely post!

dr.antony said...

I can only agree partly with you.You have shown the courage to say that men are behind the success of women.Probably it happens when there are no clashes of egos.You are lucky to have a supportive family.But I have seen worse things happening to women.

Brian Miller said...

i wonder if we all tries together if we would achieve far greater success...i am all for women achieving success though...and i guess it is all in how you define it...

KParthasarathi said...

Nicely written.When we talk of the phrase"Behind Every Successful Woman" we usually associate the spouse.But it can be anyone as Meera put it.It can be a parent,a sibling,a teacher, a friend, fortuitous circumstances or even none.I would put the fire in the belly inter alia as one strong motivating factor for success

Ibhade said...

I am yet to hear the saying of who is behind every successful woman. Yes, some men can't handle their wives success due to ego. And some women cannot manage their success well, due to pride. Nevertheless, it must take two people for one to be successful.

meerasrajan said...

Thanks folks...! Like Partha says there can be anyone behind a successful woman and often it is not just the husband but a whole lot of others! As Brian says, success needs to be defined and men and women define success differently becuase our expectations from society are different. Yes, Ibade men's ego comes in the way of accepting women's success and like anyone women are also egoistical..! Like Cloud nine says, often there is this "protective" attitude that men adopt that makes us women feel very pampered and that is comes in the way of success!

rama said...

Very nicely said. I know a person very close to me, a lot older than me. She used to come first in her class, stood 1st in the whole college of men(there were just 3 or 4 girls in the whole college). Was very good in Karnatic music and was very good in debate etc. She got married to a man selected by her parents who is a good man, but still very old fashioned in his thoughts and attitude towards life.
She had to do things before he came home, she cannot be praised by anyone, as it may offend her husband, she cannot take any music classes while he around, and she cannot meet friends or entertain them when he is at home.
She started speaking softly, not she was ever the loud type, she would wait on him, trying to be very considerate of his likes and dislikes and so on. Whenever I used to meet her I used to ask her how can she be like this, doesn't she have any self respect, self identity?
She would say it is okay, somebody has to given to maintain peace in the family, why start a fight for each and every issue, she is fine with it.
It is amazing how women mold themselves to suit their men so that the family can be peaceful, suppressing all their own desires, and also trying to look and be happy. She is not the only one , I have a cousin who totally changed from the free and modern girl she was into one of those aunty types.
Both my friends have their own earning capabilities and can be independent, but choose to be this way.
I have another extraordinary friend whose husband kept on bugging her a lot, hers was a love marriage too. She got so disgusted with him that after almost 30 years of marriage and with three grown up sons, she just left him one day to go and live with her brother, and work for their family company. Here was a woman who was not bothered about society, of what her parents would tell her( the usual I told you so)and about anything, she went straight out of his life, no divorce, no settlement issues just a free bird.
Behind the fall of a woman, I should say, there are many factors, like parents, society, education and finally her husband.
But it not that women can't stand up for their rights or fight such men, it is that they somehow feel they are better off the way they are and choose to remain so.

meerasrajan said...

Rama, very true! I like your comment " Behind every woman's fall". Men, particularly our husbands shape us in so many ways. If they are supportive we gain confidence and if they are not then we try to be what they want us to be like. After all peace needs to be maintained. We women, have been burdened with the responsibility of ensuring happiness in a marriage ( as if marital happiness is a woman's lone responsibility)!

Haddock said...

Something to sit up and think.
Like that......not inspite of.....

Rachna said...

Behind a successful woman is a good man and sometimes a sterling woman like an able and supportive mother or a mother-in-law. Many of us are fortunate to be born in families where our fathers and our husbands later stood by us. Trust me, sometimes it is to keep the marriage happy, to bend down to conventional or orthodox thinking, to project a good image in society, not having support from maternal home or being financially dependent are many factors which hold a woman back and make her suffer. In a country like India, we are indeed the blessed few to have a voice and be able to raise a voice.

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