Call it the Mary Kom effect, but when both Sonia Gandhi and Jaya Bachchan lost their cool over two consecutive days in the lower and upper house, respectively, it was a thumbs up for irascible women the world over.
You know the stereotype: men who lose their tempers are regarded as “strong”, women who fly off the handle are immediately dubbed “bitches” or “harridans” and attract concern about their PMS cycles.
When Mary Kom says, “When I face you in the ring, I hate you,” the media sits up and takes notice. Not because it’s a little-heard sentiment from the world of pugilists — no. From time immemorial, legends like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson have demonstrated that aggression is a necessary component of winning and that championships are not love fests. The reason Mary Kom’s statement has attracted so much interest is because till now women were not “allowed” to express their rage. That is, until Mary Kom, Mamata-di and now Sonia and Jaya. These role models have shown that there is nothing unlady-like about having a hissy fit in public. That it’s OK not to be cool; that grinning and bearing it is for wimps.
What was particularly satisfying in both the Sonia and Jaya episodes was that not only did they stand up for themselves with alacrity and a resolute firmness, but also that their ire was accepted and apologies were immediately offered.
After years of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s anodyne presence, this might have been a small hiccup in the ongoing Kurukshetra of our Parliament. But for the cause of women, it’s a giant step.
Poor Indira Gandhi — whereas her father Jawaharlal Nehru was allowed his hissy fits and temper tantrums, which were indulged by his doting staff and Cabinet colleagues, Indira’s gender never allowed her some much-needed letting off of steam. Picture this: decades of putting up with inefficiency, stupidity and insubordination from your colleagues, day in and day out, having to smile through their idiotic ideas, their smelly socks, their greasy locks and their wiliness and graft — and no recourse to letting off steam. No wonder she is reported to have suffered from shingles, an extremely painful nervous disorder, which arises mainly due to stress. No wonder, too, that so many female politicians had to develop their skills in backroom machinations and behind-the-scenes strategies to overcome hurdles.
What else was left to them if a good old display of rage was regarded as “unlady-like”? What is also such a welcome sign for feminists of both genders is that through the examples of Mary, Sonia, Jaya and Mamata, women have different anger models to choose from — Sonia’s jaw grinding, knitted-brow mutter, Jaya’s incandescent combustibility, Mary’s tactical fury and Mamata-di’s bull in the china shop ferocity.
Over the next few months, women will hopefully have a few more varieties to choose from: Jayalalithaa’s wrath (a welcome relief from her sinister stealth), Sushma Swaraj’s pique, Mayawati’s vexation, and, what would be the mother of all temper tantrums, Meira Kumar’s venting of spleen. (After years of smiling through the circus of Parliament!)
So you still don’t think the time has come for women to demand their right to vent their ire? Really? In the name of Mary, Sonia, Jaya and Mamata why don’t you step outside you @@@$##*!!!?
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer