Highly educated, highly motivated, highly sexed and highly strung You may not be the bitch but some say you are, sister dearest. You could be a brand new breed of woman: the Alpha Woman.
Highly educated, highly motivated, highly sexed and highly strung You may not be the bitch but some say you are, sister dearest. You could be a brand new breed of woman: the Alpha Woman. From being relegated to the margins to finding a voice within existing structures, to now finally breaking out of them into a category all her own where she is doing it for herself, the new-age Alpha Woman shines bright without the need for any kind of affirmation, male or otherwise. From Taylor Swift’s epic Grammy acceptance speech and Serena Williams’ unapologetic spunk to our own Priyanka Chopra’s now famous statement that she only needs a man to have babies, the Alpha Woman is walking tall. On the eve of International Women’s Day, ladies who are leading by example in different fields reflect on the road taken, and the empowering journey.
Women are like plants. There’s a wide variety of us, with no right or wrong. Some plants require shade, some have flowers, some don’t, some take a long time to grow, and so on. As a woman, you have to decide what kind of plant you want to be and be honest with what type of plant you are.
Don’t try to turn an apple tree into an orange tree. You’ll waste years of your life trying to change something that’s not supposed to be changed. And you have to understand what and who you are, and then go find your match. It’s not a matter of who is perfect; it’s a matter of what environment do I do well in. On a personal note, I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent Alpha, but I certainly have some Alpha qualities. I am partially Alpha when I am donning the director’s hat. I am opinionated (I work towards women’s development and empowerment and have spent years writing opinion pieces); I am competitive (I like to constantly challenge myself by doing diverse roles); I can be hard-headed (I’m not one to back down easily). However, I am not bossy and neither have I ever had the inclination to lead a pack.
My ideology of an Alpha woman is someone who is liberated, and someone who isn’t butting her head against another individual in a show of power. It interests me when I come across people who have opposing thoughts. Without getting angry, I want to go into the core of understanding where the person is coming from. Understanding all sides of the coin helps you understand yourself,” she says.
About being vocal on various issues, without being intimidated by any backlash, Kalki says, “I just talk about the things that matter to me. I don’t do something to make headlines. In fact, I don’t realise that it’s going to be talked about. I only do it for my own therapy, for my own gratification, own creativity, my own need to get it out of my system. I am not censored by anyone. I don’t really have a PR consultant or an image consultant or even a stylist. I am free and that makes my way of looking at things quite different, liberated from others. There is no censorship.”
Women from the world of literature have given her a whole lot of inspiration and worldview. “From Virginia Woolf to Victoria Ocampo to Joan of Arc and Karuna Nundy (women’s rights lawyer) and more I find them really amazing in the clarity of their works. I have had a mixed upbringing. From being a French girl living down South and living in Aurobindo ashram, I have seen life from different facets. There is a sense of tolerance and unity, and the acceptance of all religions too has definitely influenced me.”
On the best advice that she has ever received, the actress says, “A book called Freedom from the Known by Jiddu Krishnamurti that I must’ve read when I was 16, carried the best advice: Accepting that we don’t know anything and letting that be our starting point. Let curiosity, learning be the motivation of your life. I live by this principle myself.”
Her advice to the modern Alpha breed: “Women are always told what to do and I want to change that by not telling them what to do. Do what you want, girls.”
Nandana Dev Sen, actress and author Don’t you think the word Alpha Female is reductive Though it is commonly used, it still feels derived from a male model of power and ambition. Yet, as we know, women lead, achieve and inspire in very different ways than men do, and that difference is a huge part of our strength,” says Nandana and adds, “Personally speaking, my mother has always been a great inspiration. In fact, I grew up in an all-female household, with my mother, grandmother and elder sister all very strong-willed, successful, extraordinary women. They instilled a great deal of confidence in me at a young age and I never for a moment felt that I had to play by anyone else’s rules — professionally, or personally — if they clashed with what I believed in. Nor have I ever worried about what people would think, as long as I was convinced that I was making the right decision.”
Talking about her professional decisions, she shares, “As an actress, I’ve always been drawn to characters that are non-stereotypical and unrelentingly real, that are intensely human and engaging but not necessarily perfect. The question I’m most frequently asked is why I decided to embrace nudity in Rang Rasiya. It’s still difficult for people to grasp that my body is as much a part of my humanity as my brain, my morals and my heart, and I would never be apologetic about expressing it with the dignity it deserves.”
She recalls, “When I moved to Mumbai to shoot Black, everyone’s first reaction was: what’s a Harvard girl doing in films You’re too smart to be an actress! (As if there’s a fundamental clash between the two.) A lot has changed in the industry in the last ten years and I think Indian actresses are breaking out of stereotypes in a marvellous way. It’s wonderful to see talents like Vidya Balan and Kangana Ranaut make unconventional films that are commercial hits without any male ‘heroes’. I think we are finally beginning to understand that an actress can look good, act well, think smart, be sexy, write clearly, have an education, enjoy a political consciousness and exercise a moral conscience, all at once. About time!”
Sania Mirza, tennis champion She might hold a staggering number of international tennis titles, but for Sania Mirza, the going’s not been all easy. “It has been a tough journey, but then if you want to achieve something in life, you have to deal with your share of difficulties, whether you are a man or a woman. Tennis is one of the most competitive global sports and it goes without saying that I had to put up with my share to be able to get to the No.1 spot. But I have always taken everything in my stride, followed my heart, done what I believed was right and that’s taught me to be strong,” she shares.
Looking at her journey and the lessons it has taught her, she says, “Like any other teenager, I grew up wanting to hang out more with my friends than train in the 40 degree heat. But it’s the choices you make that set your course in the long run. One piece of advice that I always give to aspiring young women tennis players is to love what you do — I enjoy the pressure, it’s what makes me perform to my best and defines who I am. You really need to love what you are doing, enjoy the losses as much as you enjoy the wins and continue to work at it. Two of the most important practices in my life are discipline and adaptability. I never have a pattern or a set schedule that I can follow. It is important to adapt to be able to survive. No matter how busy my schedule, I always make it a point to train and work out for four and a half hours every day. I keep my afternoons free, but if that doesn’t happen, I make sure I train in the evening. And it’s this commitment to my sport that has gotten me this far.”
Vaishali Sarwankar, International Commodity Trader Hailing from a conservative Maharashtrian family in Mumbai, Vaishali’s decision even to seek higher education was viewed as an act of overreaching. Today, she stands tall as one among the only three Indian women in the world to not just be surviving, but also thriving, in the volatile arena of International Commodity Trading. “I am a simple girl and have understood with time that obstacles and challenges exist in everyone’s life. I have learnt to always focus on solutions instead of problems. I don’t like discussing problems. If I am presented with one, I need to have plans A, B and C ready to roll.” Practicality is an essential trait of the Alpha Woman, from her point of view.
Her profession requires her to deal with traders at the ground level, almost always placing her at the receiving end of aggressive and abusive language on the field. “I don’t like fights, which is ironically what this industry is most known for. But I’ve realised that a woman can survive anywhere if she just focuses on the work she is there to do. For the first ten years in this industry I had to struggle a lot, but now people look at me as an example. People tend to use all kinds of language when they talk about or to girls in my line of work — language that is devoid of any respect. I used to hear men talking about me like that and felt terrible. But I interacted with the same men who insulted me at an individual level, proving to them that I deserve to be treated with respect,” she recalls.
Dealing with male ego clashes needs added tact. “My way of tackling it is by keeping professional and personal spaces separate. I don’t mingle personally with people who I deal with professionally. We are good friends but I always maintain a line. You have to do that to survive.”
Her definition of the Alpha Indian Woman: “For me, the Alpha Indian Woman is confident, above all else. Confidence is extremely important, especially for Indian women. For someone like me, in an international arena, something as simple as a lack of fluency in English can destroy self-esteem very quickly. I come from a vernacular medium and can’t speak English very well, but it is, at the end of the day, only a language. It can never deter me from saying what I want to say. I know what I want from my life and so do most Indian women, but they don’t speak up. And I know for sure that if they do, they will find many men in India to stand by them.”
Mithu Sen, Artist Being fair-skinned in India has long been considered a privilege. Artist Mithu Sen understood the difference between black and white at a very young age. “My mother and my sister are both very fair-complexioned. When I was only four or five years old, my mother bought identical pink frocks for my sister and me to wear during Durga Puja festivities. Someone at the pandal told my mother that pink suited my sister and it was not the colour for me,” she recalls.
As a consequence, she banished pink from her life until 2003, when she did a show titled ‘I Hate Pink’ and used the pink palette extensively in her paintings. “In that exhibition I celebrated pink — a colour which is popular among girls and there I was, so fearful of using it because I thought it did not belong to me. I aimed to become like P.T. Usha, who was also a dark-skinned woman, where my achievement spoke louder than my skin,” says the artist known for works dealing with female sexuality and eroticism. “Every aspect of my work — from medium, to concept, to subject — is influenced by various taboos in Indian society and has strong sexual and erotic imagery. Initially, people used to say that I use bold, graphic imagery and media like body hair and blood to get noticed. In truth, I used provocation as a positive tool to establish my identity. I portrayed myself in many different ways, where even my sexuality was very ambiguous,” she shares. “My idea of an Alpha Woman is someone who loves herself as she is, is not afraid of any prejudices and revels in the power of her sexuality without being answerable to anyone but herself.”
Sunny Leone , actress Driven, unemotional and not letting anyone stand in her way — these are the qualities associated with the stereotype of Alpha Woman. The 80s working girl was all power suits and planned for world domination but accusations of pulling the ladder up behind her and being anti-women has changed this. Being good at your job is no longer enough, you now need to have a heart too. For me, an Alpha Woman is somebody who can work really hard and be assertive in her workspace, and also be able to use her womanly charms to maintain happiness and peace within her surroundings,” says Sunny Leone, adding, “When women are put in a position of power, they find it very hard to find that balance between still being the woman that they are and trying to take control of the situation. It is difficult but not impossible. My biggest inspiration while growing up were female business owners and people I had worked for. Besides them, there are many unsung heroes out there, women at the top of their professions but who don’t shout about it. It is the prevailing culture around the world, women are not programmed to shout about their achievements. Perhaps they are too busy juggling their many different responsibilities, at work and at home. It isn’t easy.”
Her advice: “Women have to work extra hard to prove themselves and working hard is the best way to go. Women can be as strong as men can be. Get where you want to get. People are always going to criticise you no matter how hard you have worked towards a goal, they are going to push you down, manipulate you into believing that you aren’t good enough but just keep a positive attitude and work, and you will get there.”
Inputs by Nandini Tripathy, Aditi Pancholi Shroff, Geetha Jayaraman, Anisha Dhiman