It's a Monday afternoon and its just after lunch hour. The traffic in Damansara is bustling with everybody needing to go everywhere. I sit down on the hard wooden floor. Cool from the air conditioning working overtime to compensate for the heat outside. Opposite me is my third guest for the day, Rathika Sheila, a writer and a creative powerhouse.
How do u think you’re breaking the bias of women writers, being that women writers and editors aren’t pushed into the mainstream as their male counterparts?
I think we have to be conscious about the type of media we consume, if you are aware that you are reading only male writers you have to make a conscious effort to have representation in your life. I used to think that there weren't as many female writers but it's just that I wasn't looking in the right places.
How do you think representation is affected if most mainstream media portrays women as side or superfluous characters?
I think it would be limiting especially if people see women editors and writers as just for fashion and beauty brands as these are seen as fluff pieces but actually when you write about fashion or beauty it can be a really sharp and massive story. But I think we have a preconceived idea that working in a magazine may not be as serious as working in a newspaper.
Media and television shows often portrays women as struggling, in a hardship or having to fight for their own place
and they're not wrong, a lot of male directors don't know how to write female characters. They’re always either struggling, attached to a man, or they don't have personal autonomy and it has been something that I have been really conscious of when I watch films.
I think its obvious when characters are written by a man or women depending on how they’re portrayed because men wouldn’t be able to realise the challenges that some women have to tackle
Yeah, and they don't think that it's real. That's the problem as well. But one thing that really irked me about the media in general, during International Women’s Day, there's so much talk about empowerment that it comes off as performative because it’s not reflected in their day to day life. Using these slogans to make a statement or campaign to look good or to look like an ally, but whether or not these people practice it on a daily basis is what really makes it different. You have to put it into practice or else why do it then?
Being in your industry, what are the main problems that come up gender wise?
I think mansplaining is the biggest problem. That's been something I have to experience in the workplace. There's been a lot of mansplaining but it all also comes down to your character. I don't think people underestimate the things that I can do because I have a strong personality and I'm very confrontational. But I can see that being a different story for someone who isn't as vocal. People might take your kindness and politeness for granted and it's something that happens in the industry no matter where you go. People might patronize you or not take you seriously when you defend yourself. I don't like that you have to be aggressive to be taken seriously but that seems to be the way it is right now. I don't think some men realise they do it as well, some men might mean it in an earnest way but ask yourself, does she need me to explain this or was the explanation well enough.
So in a way it goes back to what you said, to have self awareness
Having self awareness can be an exhausting thing as you constantly challenge your mind to think and that's something people don't really want to do, because it means being honest about who could be and what you need to improve on and some people don't want to face those demons and correct that problem. Self awareness is something we can use a lot of in any industry. I think it's a combination as well of how you are raised and what you are exposed to in the media. What you are exposed to shapes what you think and how you are brought up and so if you only are exposed to how a man should behave or how a woman should behave, that's all you might end up being. So it definitely is a combination of the nature you come from and how you are nurtured. It also requires us to have tough discussions that can help address the problems.
Who inspired you to be the woman that you are today.
My mom for sure. She is a single mother to three kids and she funded us through everything and got us through college by herself. Just seeing my mom's determination and perseverance to give us a better life than the one she had, was like a call for me to do better. My mom not only did she have her own trauma to juggle and deal with she had to be both parents for her kids and have necessary uncomfortable conversations and parenting isn't easy and i think we often times get mad at parents for not doing the right thing but we forget that we are also human and they are prone to figure things out as they go. And I think that's something that my mom inspired me to do better. She gave me a lot of freedom and space to figure out who I want to be so that's why I am as liberal as I am today. She's the most accepting person I have ever known.
What do you think the world needs more of or lesser of?
I think the world needs more self awareness and empathy, and emotional intelligence. We need less of enabling ourselves to not be good people. Not all feelings are good feelings and we need less selfishness.
What is the quote that helps drive you through the day?
Everything happens for a reason and if you want different results you have to try something new
Rathika Sheila is wearing Aurora Heels in Chestnut