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 Post subject: What Women Want
 Post Posted: Fri May 06, 2005 1:21 pm 
What Women Want

By Suzy Steer-Fowler
DM / 06May2005

In a survey carried out by British magazine New Woman, 70% of women aged 25-35 said that they found women who ‘have it all’ were actually ‘annoying and unhelpful role models’. Are Sri Lankan women quite so easily overwhelmed? Is it really possible to “have it all” and if so, is life really as idyllic as it seems for women who do?

Now that we have the freedom to do what we want to, rather than what we think we should do, what do we hold to be most important to us? W@W took these questions to five Sri Lankan women who have worked hard to cram their years with achievement.

Rozanne Dias

This years Miss Sri Lanka holds down a full-time job as a cabin attendant whilst managing to find time to model, act,dance, design clothes and run a boutique in between crossing continents and time-zones with Sri Lankan Airlines. Her first film ‘Dedunu Wessa’ is due out in early June.

Do you feel women today are pressured into having to juggle too many different roles?

“No, not really – I think women want to do that. Women now get to excel in so many different fields and I don’t think that they are pressured to be more than just a wife or mother but that they want to be a little more than that. The pressure comes when women have to make sacrifices without knowing which ones to make. You need to know where the red line is and how far you can neglect one area of life for another.”

On why she loves all her multiple careers equally:

“I could never be satisfied with just doing one thing; I need to constantly experiment and I feel as if I become a different person with each different role I play. I would never be a full time model, employee, designer – I can balance a lot of things and when I get an urge I make sure I fulfil it.”

But would you give it all up if you ever had to?

“I’d like to have children quite soon and I want to give them the childhood I never had, coming from a broken family. I hope that I can carry on working, but if my family or husband required me more, they would definitely become my priority. I’m a workaholic so I would miss work and I would miss the fun that I work for…but then again you can’t have everything in life and I would have a different kind of fun with my kids and husband.”

Looking gorgeous is an important part of most of the jobs you do – do you believe that it is important for women to always look their best?

“Yes, I really do – but it all counts, not just the face and make up. If a woman carries herself well, projects herself, speaks nicely and has poise, she will turn heads. I am content with the way I look but I work at it – not my face obviously, there’s not much I can do about that, but I do work on my body and there’s no gender barrier – everybody should work out to be healthy. Self esteem is what you achieve, not what you’re born with.”

Do you think that Sri Lankan women today can consider themselves fully liberated and emancipated or are there still social taboos and preconceptions that need to be broken down?

“Yes we are free to do anything now…the Sri Lankan woman can wear whatever she wants, do whatever she wants. We have so many female entrepreneurs, a female president ruling our country– it is a woman’s world and eventually the rural areas will catch up. Women will shout up for their rights. We’ve got enough if we want to be happy, in some places in the world women can’t even show their faces.”

Mohanthi Athukorale

Business Development Manager of the stationery and educational toys manufacturer Panther Stationery, 25 year old Mohanthi works a 7.30am –5.30pm day dealing with the firm’s sales and marketing whilst dedicating most of her spare time to studying for her MBA (Masters of Business Administration).

Have you ever felt that you’ve faced any discrimination or difficulties as a woman in a predominantly male career environment?

“Never when dealing with customers but when I have to give instructions to employees, I do sometimes feel that if I were a man it would be easier… the male workers do know how to irritate, like by always making excuses and it does seem that they find it difficult taking instructions from a woman. These issues are probably everywhere, in western culture just as much as in Sri Lanka.”

Do you feel women today are pressured into having to juggle too many different roles?

“I know women from my MBA course who study hard, hold down a demanding job and take care of their family and marriage. They are amazing, they balance everything. One of my friends has two children, one aged 4 and one aged 8. Although her husband tries to share the responsibility for looking after them, at the end of the day she’s their mother and the children still want to come to her first. I admire women who can do it all and still enjoy life at the end of their day. Women are very strong.”

Do you personally find it important to devote time to looking good?

“I wouldn’t say I spend a lot of time on my appearance but I do like spending time with myself by having my hair or eyebrows done, going shopping – it makes me feel good about myself. When I focus on my appearance its for the feel-good factor and not for others.”

What do you feel is the most important thing your career brings to your life?

“A sense of fulfilment, a sense of responsibility… a confidence that comes from the things you’ve accomplished; the people making things difficult for you that you’ve managed to over-rule, the series of challenges that you’ve succeeded in.”

Could you give up your career tomorrow and still be happy?

“I love what I do and I would like very much to work for the rest of my life but at different times in your life your priorities can change. I hope I’ll be able to be a working family woman but even if I couldn’t I believe that with a positive attitude to life you can be happy with whatever little you have.”

Do you think that Sri Lankan women today can consider themselves fully liberated and emancipated or are there still social taboos and preconceptions that need to be broken down?

“Its definitely a changing society – so many women are working and doing very well in their jobs. It’s fantastic to be a part of. The taboos are still sometimes there but people’s mentalities are changing. By the next generation I think society will have realised that everyone’s the same, man or woman.”

Anoja Weerasinghe

Rising to stardom from a remote Sri Lankan village, Anoja has enjoyed a career as an acclaimed actress and singer spanning over twenty years . She’s scooped several prestigious awards in this time including a Best Actress Award in 1987. She is now devoting considerable time to her charity work, in particular post-tsunami projects, and to the Abhima Academy of Performing Arts that she founded.

Are there are any areas of your life you wish you had more time for?

“Finding time is the most difficult thing these days!! And I want to do everything I do properly – that is why I’ve always tried to learn everything I need for a film - karate, horse-riding, motor-biking - before acting in it. But I still wish I had more time for education. I only studied for a limited time but my first dream was to be a doctor. I wish I could have studied more but I got married and couldn’t go to university. That is one area of my life I have not yet completed.”

Have you ever felt that you’ve had to make any sacrifices in order to have got where you have got in your career?

“At the moment I feel I have the best of both worlds living with my daughter as a single person and as a grandmother. I certainly don’t miss a man in my life because I am very much involved with my work. When I got the papers through from my second divorce I thought that in a way it wouldn’t be fair to get married again. In our culture, we Sri Lankan women have to dedicate a little time to our housework, our children, our man. I need all my energy at the moment for the good work I do and I love that I don’t have to answer to anyone right now about where I’m going or what I’m doing.”

Do you feel women today are pressured into having to juggle too many different roles?

“I have very mixed feelings about this – should women work or not work? I don’t know the answer. Of course its not bad for women to work, working is so important to me for the good feelings I get from having my independence and what I earn. But nowadays women are so busy they don’t always have time for their children. My mother didn’t work so she always had a lot of time for us and we had a very happy childhood. Life is about needing to make choices.”
Niloufer Anverally

Chairperson of the upmarket Colombo fashion boutiques Cotton Collection and Leather Collectio. She has two children.

Are there are any areas of your life you wish you had more time for?

“Of course. I think that everyone wishes that their kids could come first; I can’t spend all the time with them that I’d like to. I don’t have the luxury of dropping them at school or spending the afternoons with them. Our fun time is only at the weekends – I would never work on a weekend. That time’s saved for my husband and children.”

Could you ever give up your working life and still be happy?

“I don’t think I could. The grass is always greener, and right now I do feel that I don’t have any time for myself but work is a challenge and I need that stimulation. I do feel strongly that the hours working mothers do spend with their children is often very quality time. In the evenings and at weekends I try to give my children my full attention and I’ve noticed the difference between these times and times when I’ve been at home for longer for whatever reason, like when I’ve been ill. Then, although you’re with your children you find yourself occupied with other things at the same time, taking phone calls, talking to the domestics, etc. At work I’m only ever five minutes away from home and I always make sure that I’m available to my kids when ever they need me.”

Do you feel women today are pressured into having to juggle too many different roles?

“I think that the Western way of sharing out all the responsibility for home and family is not quite here yet in Sri Lanka. I do think that everything does tend to rest on the woman. But the ability to be organised and flexible are international conceptions of women. Women are levelheaded, they can multi-task- and these are skills that partly come from looking after children. Women are good at getting things done and the number of women out there delivering tsunami aid right now proves this.”

Do you think that Sri Lankan women today can consider themselves fully liberated and emancipated or are there still social taboos and preconceptions that need to be broken down?

“I certainly don’t think that Sri Lankan women are at all downtrodden. They do have a strong role as mother and keeper of the home in Sri Lankan society even if in some rural areas they’re not yet able to pursue other roles.”

As you balance your work and home lives have you felt supported by family and society?

“I feel very fortunate. My parents are very proud of me having done something with my life and am happy that I’m happy. My mum lives literally just next door from me and I have a great support network. This is important because after school my children need to play and because I live in a private lane, with my mother there to keep an eye, they can do that. If I was living on my own I don’t think I could have managed.”

Anoma Wijewardene

A high profile Sri Lankan artist, Anoma has exhibited and sold her art worldwide since she graduated from St Martin’s College in London, 1974 and she can count YSL, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren among her clients for her design work. She continues to work and teach in the UK and Colombo and is currently in Sydney overseeing her current solo exhibition.

Are there any areas of your life you wish you had more time for?

“Yes – I work in my studio every day and because I have to go with the flow of the painting, I often work from as soon as it gets light until it gets dark. Without light I can’t paint but I can’t just stop work whenever in the day I feel like it – it can’t happen like that. So I tend to get most of my jobs, like shopping errands, done after dark. In an ideal world I’d like to have more time to spend with my close friends and to travel – my work is demanding and takes a lot of energy so I don’t always feel I have the strength to party!! But I’m very happy to accept constraints and limitations – the agony can be the price I’m prepared to pay for the ecstasy”

Do you believe that it’s important for a woman to always look her best?

“I don’t buy into that always looking a million dollars thing; although for some people’s careers it is appropriate, the work I do can be filthy manual labour and I know I have to look my worst. Actually my ex-husband complained I didn’t dress up enough. Clothes are good fun but we should be liberated enough to feel comfortable enough whether we’re wearing something ugly, weird or elegant.”

Do you feel women today are pressured into having to juggle too many different roles?

Well, it’s what women fought for and I’m glad she now has all those options but… (thinks for a while about this)… I do think that the “do-it-all” role is an extremely difficult one that can’t be fulfilled very satisfactorily. I was a wife for around 20 years and also a stepmother and I always worked. I did it. I was an artist, a wife, a socialite, I did the school run, I had the vegetable patch, I baked cakes and having been all that and juggled all those roles – I don’t think I realised quite how hard I was working. During my marriage break-up I had a letter from a very good friend. She said “you’re trying to be the dutiful wife, the dutiful daughter, a social butterfly and a serious painter – I think its time you need to make some choices.” I had a few years of “making choices”. I’m extremely grateful that I don’t have a husband or children. My time is exclusively dedicated to my work. I made a conscious decision not to have children. If you are a mother you need to give a lot to your children, especially in the early years – they are a big responsibility.

If it ever had to come to it, would you ever give up your work?

“No! What would you have me do? It’s my breathing. Art is a burning need for me – I can’t function without it.”

How would you most like to be seen by others?

“How would I most like to be seen?….As a good artist and a caring friend. But please don’t put me in a box. Who you are and what’s most important to you varies from period to period of your life and people usually only ever see one aspect. People who see me at exhibitions see me only as an artist; people who see me at parties think, “oh, you’re a Colombo 7 girl”, with all the social connotations that go with that; people who see me at home have seen me as a wife, stepmother or just a homebody – very few people see all of it.”

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