Kanwal Arora

I Don’t Want the Next-Best Thing…

I first heard and fell in love with the song Fairytale by Sara Bareilles back when I was in school. In the song, Sleeping Beauty claims she’d rather sleep her whole life away than be with someone who keeps her from dreaming. Cinderella is exasperated when she discovers men can climb hair, and decides she must cut her hair to keep them away and/or find herself a new tower. Snow White, living with seven “itty-bitty” men is reduced to doing household chores all day.

“Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, man made up a story
Said that I should believe him
Go and tell your white knight that he’s handsome in hindsight
But I don’t want the next best thing
So I sing and hold my head down and I break these walls ’round me
Can’t take no more of your fairytale love”

To my rom-com-obsessed-sixteen-year-old mind, it challenged all the (fairy) tales that we’d all grown up listening. I’d never before heard or thought about things in this light. To me that song was ground-breaking even then. It signified the freedom in choosing my own “knight” and not just settling for the first one who came waddling my way.

A couple of months ago, I read comedian Tina Fey’s bestselling book Bossypants.

Here I’d like to give a little background information. She is one of the trail blazers in American comedy; the first female head writer on (what is now a 40 year old institution) Saturday Night Live, creator and executive producer of multi award winning comedy show 30 Rock and writer and actor in the critically acclaimed movie Mean Girls. She’s been included in various 50 Most Powerful Women lists over the years. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a fan.

At a time when stand up comedy was dominated by men, she broke through and paved her own way. One of my favourite stories is from her early days when she was part of a comedy improvisation show which had always had a cast of six – four men, two women. When suggested that they switch to an equal number of men and women, the producers got agitated, and made excuses to turn down the suggestion. Of course the real reason was that women weren’t perceived to be that funny. But Tina Fey remained adamant and eventually became that third woman in the first gender-equal cast. And that’s why I’m a fan. Fey categorizes her book as being partly autobiographical, partly self help, partly comedy, partly management advice, and partly spiritual guidance. I would call it the funniest, most inspirational feminist manifesto I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

I’m currently reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. She advises her fellow women in the workforce to ‘sit at the table’, which is her way of saying- seek out opportunities, don’t wait for someone to recognize your talent, fight for what you deserve. Since the beginning of time, women have primarily been seen as ‘the caregiver’ and been expected to be demure, shy and nurturing. They’re expected to be satisfied, even thankful for what they get (even though they were more than deserving in the first place) and not fight for their due recognition. Sandberg says (and I agree) that women should be encouraged, nay coaxed, to “lean in, and not pull back” at work.

It’s been a couple of years since I last heard Fairytale. I like to think I’ve matured a lot mentally in this time and understand things in a more complex and wholesome way. The significance of the song too has changed for me. It now means breaking free of all the unseen shackles that bound us, whether at the workplace or in our relationships. It means having the freedom to do what we want, even if it goes against our traditionally accepted roles. It means not having to settle for less than what we deserve, out of fear that we might offend someone’s sensibilities. I’d like to end my rant by once again quoting Sara Bareilles–

“But the story needs some mending and a better happy ending
‘Cause I don’t want the next best thing”

Kanwal Arora
Kanwal Arora

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