By Alia Aishah Shahrir

It is a fabulous time to be alive, and a woman in Malaysia. To be able to hold property in our own name, seek education in any field of our choice and have a say as to which political party shall rule the day. To be able to drive, earn a living and exercise our reproductive rights.

Oh, how the 21st century woman should heave a sigh of relief that she was not born even a century sooner, and express deep gratitude to the great women and wise men of yesteryears, for never in the history of mankind have women on the whole, enjoyed greater agency and equal opportunity than they do today. The hardest fight is frankly, over.

But women will always need a project, bless them! They have continued to build on historical efforts. Now they push not just for the right to education, but greater enrolment of female candidates in STEM courses. The right to vote has become unquestionable, so they now lobby for greater representation in parliament. The list does not end there, and I earnestly hope it never will.

It is worth noting that despite being the most educated they have ever been and steadily on their way to closing the gender wage gap, women I feel, are nowhere close to narrowing the confidence gap.

Whilst goddesses of the 19th century fought to be distinguished from chattel, those of the 20th century led the formidable crusade for gender equality. For a while there, factions of women conflated this with a crusade against men, yet ironically believed that the only way to get ahead in some respects was to mimic “masculinity”, which meant distancing themselves from traditional notions of “femininity” such as emotional vulnerability, compassion and selflessness. That was the first blow to the collective female confidence.

We lost the plot for a while admittedly, but by the dawn of the new millennium, competing against men had thankfully, become outdated. Then came the second blow, women found the ultimate opponent in other women. Super women.

I trust female readers know exactly the breed I speak of. The CEO who is a soccer mum and Stepford wife with the silhouette of a coke bottle. The modern standard of perfection- of having it all, all at once. Such women are not mere social constructs, they do exist and with the advent of social media their lives can be so inspiring and accessible to watch.

But women must never for a second take such models of success as a one size fits all and place crippling pressure on themselves to replicate the same – which is why this Women’s Day, my only wish for the fairer sex is a more robust self-esteem.

Stop looking for contentment and self-validation through the eyes of others and define your own idea of success, ladies! If you want to quit your job and find fulfilment in building a thriving family life, do not ever feel that you lack intellectual depth for choosing so, or that you are not pulling your weight in the relationship.

If you receive a salary raise that does not commensurate with your efforts, do not retreat quietly in hopes of your hard work being recognized the next time- negotiate for it.

If you are in an abusive relationship, please do not fear setting healthy boundaries and/or leaving it, just because you have been together with your partner for a long time and falsely assume that you “cannot do, nor do you deserve, any better”.

If you want to be the first female prime minister of Malaysia, marry a Kelantanese man (I hear they are the empowering kind).

But truly, if you harbour lofty ambitions of any sort, do not give it up like lamb for slaughter just because your partner is irrationally threatened by your potential success.

Live consciously and courageously, my Malaysian women. Similar to ONE’s (Organisation for National Empowerment) call for a positive approach to nation building titled #ForwardTogether, the impact we generate as a collective whole will always depend on our individual willingness to break our personal glass ceilings. So, ladies, be the product of your decisions, not your circumstances.

After giving birth to every single human being alive for hundreds of millennia, the mainstream media has finally declared 2018 as the year of women. To that I say, we will take the entire century and beyond, thank you very much.

Originally published on Free Malaysia Today on Thursday March 08, 2018.

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