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  • Writer's picturegauri nadkarni choudhary

Women and the Sword of Damocles

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Greek mythology like Indian mythology is a wealth of stories that help us understand human nature at its best and worst. Ancient texts have often used the faults of humans and presented them in a larger than life manner. The simple aim is to teach us morals and values without us being aware of them.

Damocles was a Greek courtier who was enchanted by power (who isn’t?). So the then king allowed him to sit for one meal as a king. The condition though was that Damocles would have to eat the meal with a sword hanging over his head held only by a single hair from the horse’s tail. Poor Damocles couldn’t obviously eat in peace. He realized that the position of power is not as glamorous as he thought it to be.

How though is the story connected to women? What power do women seek? Most women in today’s society seek the power of independence. To live with dignity and authority in a man’s world. Many would argue that the modern women today are independent. Yes, by law definitely. Unlike the previous generation we have a lot of independence. We have rights and we have advantages.

But are we truly independent? I am not talking about being independent from the society or men. I am not talking about financial or legal or moral independence. I am talking about independence from our own selves.

The sword of Damocles for today’s women is created by them. Their own expectations and demands from themselves. We have a specific prototype of what an ideal woman is and we seek that woman more than men do. It is we who constantly want to prove ourselves to others.

I remember a young girl telling me that girls can’t play cricket as well as boys. Like a true woman of toady I gave her the usual girls can do anything boys can do story. She looked at me straight in the eye and asked me “why do girls want to do what boy’s do? Why can’t they do their own things?” And I had no answer. I still don’t.

Why do we try so hard to be like men? Why do we take pride in being called the “son” of the house? Why do we call a brave woman “mardani”? Why do we take pride in getting a man’s position? Why have we changed ourselves so much that we are in a constant struggle with our identity?

The sword then is nothing but the inbuilt guilt that we constantly carry within ourselves. We probably have more guilt than blood cells in our body.

If we don’t work we are guilty of wasting our education

If we do work we are guilty of neglecting our house

If we go out with friends we are guilty of neglecting our families

If we go out with family we are guilty of neglecting our friends…..

And the list goes on and on

We have entangled ourselves so much in this mess that we are neither happy playing the role of a woman nor that of a man. At work we try so hard to be a man putting in more than we probably can so that no one regrets hiring a woman for the job instead of a man. At home we try so hard to be a woman cleaning and cooking and staying fit so that no one points their finger at a working woman.

It doesn’t just end with guilt ,we have a tendency to put ourselves down too. Being a tomboy is a matter of great pride for most girls. I have never seen a boy being proud of being effeminate. Often we say things like “I am not a typical girl or I just don’t connect with girls”. Meaning? Are we then not admitting being of lesser value indirectly?

The biggest nemesis of the modern woman is not the man but the woman herself. We not only willingly stand under a sword held by a horse’s hair but also regularly whip ourselves with a horse hair whip. Because somewhere we have deeply ingrained in our psyche that we are not good enough till we become a man.

So what are the consequences? Women are more prone to depression. There is an increase in the risks to chronic illnesses, in obesity and infertility. And this is even before the proverbial horse hair snaps.

Whether we believe we were created by God or evolved from algae, we were created differently. The existence of the whole world is dependent on the difference between man and woman. We can achieve much more by being a woman than trying to be a man

Neither the man nor the woman is perfect. In our pursuit of equality we forget the need for differences. We disregard the ancient wisdom which emphasised these differences. Whether it is the Oriental concept of Yin and Yang or the Indian Ardhanareshwar, both the man and woman need to be different to complete the whole.

Does that mean it is wrong for a woman to be ambitious, powerful or driven by need to achieve? No, but it is wrong for a woman to feel guilty about being all of the above. Our society portrays these women as ruthless and incapable of fitting into the prototype of a gentle loving homemaker. The gentle loving homemaker is seen as incapable of being ambitious and successful.

What we need to understand is they are not opposites. Carl Jung spoke about the anima and animus, the masculine and the feminine, that is present in all of us. The need to achieve and the ability to care are present in all of us irrespective of our gender. What we should pursue is a balance.

Take away the sword. Take away the tiger from the goat. Take away the guilt and need to please everyone. See how you will flourish.

You don’t need to be a man because you are a woman and therein lies your biggest strength.

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