“How did your workshop go?” 

     “Fine.” She stabbed at the silky rice rolls slathered in crispy chilli paste.

     “Doesn’t sound like Fine to me.”

     “Ma, what did you expect? I was in a room full of feminists. They were arguing about the need for female archetypes. What’s an archetype anyway?”

     “A representative character..yunno like when you think of care-giving, Florence Nightingale pops to mind.” 

     “There you go. Stereotyping. That’s exactly what they were saying — Why aren’t there strong female role models like a female version of a Superman or Ironman? Why are women always classified as care-giving, nurturing, subservient?”

     I smiled indulgently at my daughter.  

     “It is not funny, Ma.”

     “But I am sure you had fun. This is interesting.” I picked up a punched up lump of clay. It looked oddly like a man with a hollowed out eye at the forehead and a gaping mouth.

     “This,” she grabbed the lump and balled it up, “was their idea of fun. You exorcise your inner demons by shaping it out in clay to give it form and then punching it down.” She forced-fed the balled clay into the ashtray, stabbing its surface with impatient imprints of her index finger. 

     “What should we do after lunch?” I looked dreamily across to the shoe shop. 

     “Ma, are you not going to apologize?”

     “Whatever for?”

     “Whatever for? For signing me up for the workshop without my consent. For wasting my whole morning with a group of people I don’t like, discussing things I find distasteful. Need I go on? And don’t you dare laugh about it. It is not funny.”

     “Calm down. Look, I honestly didn’t expect it to be a feminist thing. The brochure said.. wait,” I fished a crumpled piece from my handbag and held it up triumphantly. I lifted up my spectacles and peered at the fine print. “OK. here it is.. An interactive performance workshop on invoking and reclaiming your inner goddess through story-telling and ritual magic.”

     I grinned sheepishly. “I thought that it would be fun, especially the ritual magic part.” 

     My daughter rolled her eyes and glared, “Do you know how much I hate that word – interactive?

     “Oh, c’mon. You know all those rituals and taboos that we do, right? Like how you should not clip your nails at night, or whistle at dusk or dry your clothes outside at night just in case you attract feminist ghosts wandering around.”  I laughed wickedly.

     “And does that also include – don’t leave any food on the plate otherwise you will marry a man with pockmarks on his face? Or don’t sing in the kitchen, otherwise you will marry an old man? Ma, this is 2017, not 1917.”

     “Precisely. What these women at the workshop are saying is that these rituals and taboos are designed by society to keep a woman in check. Do this and you will end up with an ugly husband. Do that and you will become an old spinster. These are all scare tactics. So the big question here is how can we rise above this taboos and be the woman we aspire to be.  For example, what is so horrible about being unmarried by choice? or childless by choice? or wanting to have it all?” 

     “See, you should have been the one attending it; not me. After all, you always have an opinion about everything. The things that were discussed were way over me. I couldn’t comprehend what they were talking about. And when my turn came to say something, my mind was blank. I have never felt so stupid in my life.”

    “Anyway, I am sure you have learnt something from this workshop, right?”

     She stared at the half-eaten dish and shuffled. 

     “Ma, you don’t understand. I do not want to be unmarried or childless. I want a good husband and a nice house and beautiful kids. I want all the trappings of a blissful married life. If I have to sacrifice my career, so be it. It is what it is.”

     “Don’t misunderstand me. All I am saying is that we don’t need to have strong archetypes.   Pursuing what we want shouldn’t be viewed as a feminist thing. Nor should we ever feel guilty for putting ourselves first.  Learn to lean in. We are strong. We bring life into the world.”


Published by

Andrea Boult

Blogs Malaysian short stories at Occasionally I blog in Manglish.

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