Would you throw yourself into a fire….alive?
Or perhaps a better question may be; What would make you throw yourself into a fire alive?
Back in the day in India (around the thirteenth century onwards) women and young girls would throw themselves into raging fires in the name of honour, during wartime. This act of self-immolation was known as Jauhar, and took place when defeat was inevitable. Killing yourself willingly in a fire was deemed ‘better’ than being captured, enslaved and raped by the invading armies. Honour was more important than life.
Or put another way, what is life without honour?
This had me wondering….What must have been going through those women’s minds just before they were about to walk into the burn. What were they thinking as they clutched their screaming little girls, and walked forth into the flames regardless?
How did they overcome their fear to seriously walk to their death in such a painful manner? I mean weren’t there other ‘less barbaric’ ways to end your life?
Is this grit?
Is this stupidity?
Is this courage?
Whilst I’m not a huge fan of labels and official definitions (afterall how can any of us define anything absolutely?) it is interesting to see how ‘Grit’ is defined in popular mediums:
Grit: Courage and determination despite difficulty.
Angela Duckworth’s definition- (Grit researcher)
Passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement.
Doing what’s necessary no matter what.
I guess they are all pretty similar definitions, though Angela Duckworth’s definition seems to imply that grit is what keeps us going the long-haul.
I’d love to have a cuppa tea and a chinwag with Angela, to see if she feels that there are micro-moments (dealing with screaming toddlers) as well as potential momentous occasions (jumping into a fire alive), that require us to gorge deeper into our ‘grit-wells’, to kind of pass to the next stage.
I guess what I’m wondering is; Can grit show up at any point in the journey, regardless what the size and depth of the challenge is? I mean I’ll take a screaming toddler anyday over melting in a fire alive, but in my humble opinion both scenarios call upon grit.
During my research for The Butterfly Letter debut collection (titled Gritty Girl), I have been flung into a world full of excellent females, both dead and alive. Most I'd never come across before, but all have impressive stories and spark curiousity and possibility.
Our school history classes are known to omit certain accounts to suit a certain narrative. Having been schooled in the UK for example, our British take on our colonial past is served up quite differently to how my own Mother and cousins describe the Brit’s role in India. Our History books are often slanted for a purpose. Without a collection of voices, it is difficult to understand the whole event.
The writer serves the narrative. The reader chooses to devour it or not.
During your school days, which she-ros (female heroes) did you study in depth? Out of all the inspiring female role-models you came across during your formative years, which ones did you stumble across as part of your formal school education?
If your history classes were anything like mine, women and their struggles and victories were rarely discussed…….let alone celebrated. So why don’t our history books, and history classes talk much about our she-ro’s? And what is the impact on our young girls today, when role-models are deemed to be the cutest-clickable-insta-influencer with her candy-coloured-chequered-insta-feed?
Grit at home
As a Mum to both a young girl and boy, we talk a lot about grit at home. We also celebrate she-ro’s (since there isn’t a shortage of narratives placing men on a pedestal). Raising my kids to not know who Vandana Shiva, Harriett Tubman, Virginia Woolfe, Mary Kom, Marie Curie and Alice Paul are, seems like a disservice to my foresisters, and makes for sterile storytime ……no offence Disney Princesses.
I read about incredible women to my kids, not knowing if they grasp the message, but not minding if right now, they don’t. Seeds beget seeds. So I’ll just continue to share she-ro stories, and perhaps one day a seed may take root, and an idea or inspiration may take shape.
Gritty Girl project
As I embarked on the Gritty Girl research project, I thought I would just be spending my time at the library, deep in the archives, and sprawling the corners of the internet to unearth facts about Gritty Girls to feature in the collection. Whilst I certainly did do exactly that, I didn’t realise that the inspiring (and sometimes horrifying) stories I immersed myself in daily, would have such a profound impact on me.
I thought I was collating research, to distill into a tidy handcrafted letter, that I would post to my own daughter and to yours. But I didn’t anticipate the stories placing me in a quandary, where I questioned my own position in the world.
What do I stand for? How should I use my voice right now?
I’m awe-inspired at the battles our foresisters had to endure, in order for us to be where we are right now. Admittedly the progress isn’t globally uniform, but I’m questioning how I can move the cause I care about most, further along the lines of progress.
Isn’t it incredible that we are still fighting for equal pay with men? The gap may have shrunk, but the conversation remains on the table. Not an item we can quite cross off the agenda just yet girls!
Perhaps I won’t see the day that we achieve equality with men, but I hope we can confidently pass the baton to our daughters to continue the dialogue…..the quest. Such a quest is just one example of a possible arena for us and our girls to continue to vocalise our voices. There are plenty other narratives that need a chorus in today's world. Quite naturally, we are tethered towards certain callings over others. And this is a beautiful thing to celebrate.....as long as we are visible and not in the shadows either through limited opportunity or suppression.
In order for our girls to become gritty and continue with any quest, they will (in my view) need two things;
- A seat at the table
- A voice at the table
Depending on the colour of our passport, skin and social-economic status, some of us already have a seat AND a voice at the table. Others are battling to find their voice, let alone a table that will accept it.
It is my hope that us women don’t squander our opportunities to push humanity forward in whatever way we can. It is my hope that we give our girls a leg-up to continue the work of our foresisters.
For a world full of Gritty Girls would indeed be a glorious world to live in, don’t you think?
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