Why Women Should Build Each Other Up

Aug/02/2020 / by Sweta Vikram
Image credits: Ashkan Forouzani/Unsplash

Let me tell you about the first time I made malpua for a Holi party at home. It’s an indulgent Indian dessert — fried pancakes flavored with fennel, saffron, and cardamom and dunked in sugar syrup — made during the festive season. It requires a lot of effort. When I excitedly called my mother to tell her about my successful culinary adventure, she asked, “Beta, did you make it from scratch, or did you use one of those shortcut recipes or instant mixes?” My father, on the other hand, said, “That’s great. But next time, don’t waste your time cooking for 50 people, beta. You lead a busy life. Get food delivered and use that time to rest.”

Ten years ago, I quit my day job and decided to give full-time writing a go for a bit. While my mother-in-law said that her son/my husband’s career should be of higher priority (meaning I shouldn’t travel much to writing residencies and make sure the refrigerator was stocked up for the man when I was on the go), my father-in-law said, “Between your house guests and pressure cooker whistle telling you that the daal is done, you won’t be able to get any writing done. Get a separate space for your writing, beta.”

As a writer and obsessive explorer of culture and conversations, I have sat with these two comments from the parental figures in my life. Mine isn’t a unique story. When I spoke with London-based Priya Shah, she said, “There have been countless times that if I am inviting a family member for simple evening meal my mum suddenly needs me to make them a full-on meal, whereas all I plan is roti a curry and maybe some daal and rice with a side salad. My mum thinks there needs to be an extra savory plus a sweet. I know their generation did everything, but they also got cranky, and it looked overwhelming. I have a masi who goes over the top with food all the time. I love her food but her insistence on making it all and then judging people who don’t is immense. I have also seen her lash out at my mausa if he isn’t helping. I notice that it’s all done for validation, a way to feel good and tell everyone else about it.”

In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg says, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I would like to add that women should look out for each other not just in cubicles and boardrooms but also in homes. Just because you weren’t treated adequately, doesn’t mean you extend the same to other women. Get into the habit of building and lifting each other up.

Women should look out for each other not just in cubicles and boardrooms, but also in homes.

When I asked Surabhi Lal, Chief Impact Officer at Luminary, to share some thoughts on women supporting other women personally and professionally, here is what she had to say: “There are so many women who support other women, but I have talked with just as many women who say they have not always been supported by other women. To truly support each other we have to have a mindset of abundance, not scarcity.”

She continued, “We must believe that there is enough business, prestige, and accolades to go around. There are so many ways to support the women around us, starting with noticing, crediting, and publicizing each other’s work. I truly want us all to win, whatever the win is for the time, and I get such satisfaction in sharing the wins of others publicly and privately. In no way, does that take away from me. It is just the opposite: It brings me joy.”

To truly support each other we have to have a mindset of abundance, not scarcity.

It’s worth bringing up that many of the women who aren’t supportive of other women might not even realize their internalized gender bias. Instead of using their position to help another female, many feel that because they did it on their own, why shouldn’t the others? In homes, females who have been oppressed become the oppressors; instead of ending the cycle of trauma and control and generations of gender inequality, they perpetuate it.

I have an incredible female boss at this time, and I am a part of several women-led and run entrepreneurial groups who inspire me to be a better person and support other women. But I have also worked for unsupportive women in leadership roles who preferred rooting for male colleagues and acted negatively biased towards other women because of their scarcity mindset.

All I am asking for is for us women is to pause and reflect on our behavior. There are centuries of history, survival, biases, and trauma built into each one of us. We have been trained to seek outside validation. Women have been pitted against each other over everything from spices to management roles. But we know that we are better than what was served to us. Let’s build each other up.