I rode out many low moments of my youth on the fantasy of a still-in-the-planning book. It was to be called ‘SWHNF’, or ‘Strong Women Have No Fun’. I even had the dedication planned: ‘To the one person who is always there for me—myself.’ I look back now and grin at the pomposity of my thoughts and the audacity of labelling myself a ‘woman’ when I was little more than a child. But I also have to admit that the idea still resonates with me—occasionally. Those are typically the days when I’ve witnessed ‘wimpy’ women not just getting away with doing nothing, but actually being rewarded for it.
Look around. Don’t we all know needy, clinging characters who are unable—or rather—unwilling to do anything on their own? They bat their eyelids, smile winningly and bravely confess their inability to get things done. The task could be anything: from a simple filling of a form to the slightly more arduous paying of a bill to the effort-intensive painting of a house. They just can’t do it; any of it. I have an aunt who can’t even buy her own petticoats—and she only wears sarees. But that’s no problem, because someone always steps in and saves the day.
In office, many of these women are extremely competent workers who are more than capable of doing all their work, and even helping others. Still, perhaps to keep their hand in, they run every now and then to the (male) boss with entreaties or complaints about colleagues. If they find themselves at the receiving end of the boss’ displeasure, they turn on the tap. The man can’t deal with tears, so he quickly pipes down and leaves the room. Voila, the problem is resolved. Delicate Darling strikes again.
At home, they are daddy’s little girl; with daddy being played by father or husband, or even a sibling. “No problem, baby. Daddy’s got it; just relax and watch TV,” they’re told any time a problem crops up. So, that is exactly what they do, secure in the knowledge that there are people standing by to pluck the thorns out of their way. The ‘path clearers’, meanwhile, leap Tarzan-like from one task to another, scything through the jungle of impediments, fortified by the knowledge of their indispensability.
At first glance, Helpless Heroine seems simple, even silly. The truth is she is very, very smart. Because she understands—and taps—one of the deepest emotions that drives man: the need to be needed. She knows that to use someone else’s powers, you must first make them feel all-powerful. She realises that strong women, capable of holding their own intellectually and emotionally, make a lot of men uncomfortable. She understands that most people think that you can’t be sensitive and caring and still not fall down on the sofa, sobbing, at the first sign of trouble. And so she puts on her ‘little woman’ act.
Maybe the caregivers realise they’re being manipulated, but they are happy nonetheless. Because Powerless Pumpkin poses no threat to a society reared on the idea of female subordination.
For those without helplessness in their DNA, here’s some consolation: strength is in this season. Last year, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s inclusiveness, geniality and humility made him the most-preferred Prime Minister. In 2014, the strong leader is having a revival. Indira Gandhi is at the Top of the Pops. So, perhaps, can you.