“I have a rep to protect” was an endearing catch phrase of John Travolta aka Danny of the ‘Grease’ fame. It also sums up the basic nature of every man and woman in society, whether they admit it or not. “I don’t care what people say or think” is something we all would like to say but every one of us has a different meaning attached to the word “people”. We have been trained over generations that what society accepts is the only standard and we are notorious if we challenge that- more so if we are women!

I was reading the poignant tale of Mata Hari by Paulo Coelho which goes by the name of ‘The Spy’. Mr. Coelho has redeemed himself in my eyes with it, after his “Adultery”, a book which started off so well but turned out to resemble a sleazy soap opera. I had been disappointed with it even though his brilliance did shine in many places. To have someone who has written such wonderful work to come up with something that felt like a B grade film that vied for attention, was sad. I guess it happens to even the best of us!

Well, back to Mata Hari’s tale as narrated in ‘The Spy’! It is a must read. We owe it to her to read her story, which has been woven beautifully by the author. A spirited woman has never been appreciated in the past and she is seldom admired in present day society for no one knows how to handle her. Men are in awe of her but a bit intimidated and that does not go well with them so they malign her without a second thought. The women want to be like her but do not have the guts, so they condemn her. Typical!

Mata Hari was known as a dancer, a prostitute and most importantly a double agent and she was shot by a firing squad on 15 Oct 1917 despite there being no firm evidence against her. She was just a scapegoat to preserve the reputations of senior officials. The sad part was that she was shot by the French; the side that she was always faithful to. And for what? Her youth and her fame had left her and her death was more beneficial than her life, to many.

Men are strong and brave. They can take on battles and give their lives for their countries; they wouldn’t complain if they lost a limb or more. They toil for their loved ones and are the most magnanimous- but all this within the “domain of righteousness” and as long as they remain respectable. They may digress without remorse if assured that they wouldn’t get caught but would wipe their hands off a situation if it tainted their image.

Am I saying that a woman doesn’t care for her reputation? No, I am not saying that at all. However, in my opinion, a woman who cares overtly for her reputation will firmly curb every impulse to succumb to temptation (the practical side of her). If she does succumb to it, she, more often than not will go the distance and ruin her image without care (the emotional side of her).

How important is a reputation? If the whole world thought that you were no good or unscrupulous but your own conscience was clean and if you had the trust and support of those who were really important to you, would it really matter? It would hurt but would not be the end of the world, would it? If you admit a mistake, you come clean in your own eyes so what if the world judges you? Could you sleep if you let a person die just to save your face? Isn’t it more important to have character; a person with integrity from within, than just a popular face and phony deep down?

If those high ranking officials, who knew Mata Hari; who had been her lovers, testified for her, her innocence might have been proven. What would they have to lose? If she was still found guilty (highly unlikely, for there was no evidence) fingers might have been pointed at them but they could clear that, if they were indeed innocent. On the contrary, if she was set free, what could she possibly do and how badly would their reputation be tarnished for knowing her? In that era, women knew what their husbands were up to and sadly, they turned a blind eye so what was this façade of propriety all about?

And finally, why does the woman get branded as one with ill repute? All through mythology, history, fiction and not to forget present day reality why does the responsibility of moral righteousness fall on the woman? This really has to change. You know it has been ingrained in us so much that even those of us, me included, who condemn this whole injustice are extremely cautious that our daughters are not maligned and in the bargain teach them to be upholders of modesty and virtue. Who on Earth are we to judge anyway and brand people with reputations?

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