This Women’s Day, let us chuck out ‘being liked’

Nobody taught anybody to pick ‘the one with the big ambition’

In an all all-time low, after appearing on a panel discussion titled—‘From thigh-gaps to gender pay-gaps’—sponsored by a luxury lifestyle brand on International Women’s Day, in which I cockily felt I had rather wiped the floor with my male opponent, I found out that he had been paid three times the amount I had been.

“Perhaps he was compensated for throwing the match,” my husband reasoned. “A sort of hardship allowance, as it were. I mean, it is not fun to be the sole male in a panel like that on women’s day! All the women gang up on you and attack you like you’re the ruddy patriarchy personified. You end up looking like quite a chump. He must have negotiated a chump allowance. Don’t worry about it.”

“But I’m the real chump here,” I replied, “Where is my chump allowance?”

“The key word here is not chump, but negotiate,” sniffed my daughter, “He got that much money simply because he asked for it. Meanwhile, you just smiled and accepted whatever they offered. That’s the trouble with you Gen X types. You guys always doubt your worth.”

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

I pointed out to her that calling me ‘guys’ wasn’t very feminist of her, but she told me not to digress.

Not entirely unrelated to this conversation is the curious case of Saraswati, my cleaner, and Rajanna, my gardener. Rajanna in typical entitled male fashion complained loudly about his low salary, his hungry children and negotiated a 40 per cent salary hike for himself. Meanwhile, Saraswati with downcast lashes, declared herself “satisfied with whatever Amma saw fit to pay her,” then quietly tucked a pair of my carelessly discarded gold earrings into her bosom, and made off with them.

The reason why women are so crap at negotiating—and also the reason why my demure sweet Saraswati found it preferable to embrace a life of petty crime than ask me for a pay rise—is that women worry about being liked.

According to my daughter, my trouble is that my mother made ‘being liked’ the number one item on my list of Key Responsibility Areas (KRAs). So did almost all the mothers of her generation. And so, me and my friends like to be liked. We have been taught early to not rock the boat and to “maintain good relations with everyone”. We are reared to be comfortable when everybody approves of us and is fond of us. It is somehow more feminine to be universally liked—like a new daughter-in-law in a Sooraj Barjatya movie—a sweet, playful, unselfish presence that brings sustenance and happiness and comfort into the room.

(Saraswati got me six ragi laddoos for Maha Shivratri, by the way, one day before the CCTV footage revealed her theft.)

But the moment we step up and ask for something the establishment considers too big for us—a bigger role, a salary hike, Hillary Clinton asking to be POTUS, say, or Priyanka Chopra Jonas asking to be more than just a Bollywood heroine or the love interest of a famous star—we become unlikable. There is a reason why Royal Stag’s ‘It’s Your Life, Make it Large’ has never featured a female celebrity—(Priyanka would be the perfect casting for the brand, wouldn’t she, with the way her career has just burgeoned and burgeoned, like the prize money in an episode of KBC!) It is because while the patriarchy has taught all men to blindly pick ‘the one with the big t**s’, nobody has taught anybody to pick ‘the one with the big ambition’.

Women who ask for more are ‘difficult’ and ‘hard to slot’. They make people uncomfortable. And that, because they are women, makes them uncomfortable.

This Women’s Day, let us embrace that discomfort.

Let us chuck out ‘being liked’ from the KRA list. And pencil in ‘being respected’ instead.