“Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.”
― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
November 18, 2000: It’s Diwali. My brother and I are opening our presents. I tore open the glittering pink paper, only to find a kitchen set hidden in there, longingly looking at the black shiny car that my brother just started playing with.
September 28, 2003: My brother is upset about something, so much so, that he has started weeping, to which my aunt vehemently responds, “Stop crying like a little girl!”. A little part of me just shattered inside.
April 27, 2007: I love playing football. My mother, apparently, isn’t too fond of the idea. She’d rather have me go for a walk “with the girls”.
June 11, 2013: My best friend calls me up and yells,” I am so annoyed right now. My grandparents just assumed I must know how to hem. As if I am biologically programmed to know this because of my gender!”
May 19, 2014: I am working on a presentation. The electricity goes off and so does the presentation. I swear in annoyance. My classmate is sitting right next to me. He says, “You should have control over what you’re saying. You’re a girl”. I am befuddled.
Jan 12, 2015: I log into Quora. And read this: My 15-year-old son has a very caring, sensitive nature—too sensitive, I think, for a boy—is he gay?
I am a twenty year old girl who lives in a society that is constantly trying to customize me into what their idea is, of a ‘good girl’.
What I have realized in my twenty years of existence, is that we, as humans, have an uncontrollable need to control things. And this compulsive ‘disorder’ has seeped so deep into our minds that we have started controlling each other’s existences. An example of this is the need for us to enforce normative gender expressions on individuals who, we believe, aren’t performing ‘adequately’ according to the rule book assigned to their gender. This is termed as gender policing.
When a child takes birth into this world, a billion battlefields await his/her presence, the two basic objectives being: to exist and to persist.
When a girl child takes birth (if at all) into this world, there’s a third objective that comes into play: the battle with those around her which needs her to constantly prove to them that her life is not a mistake and that her existence is not a curse.
Nobody is biologically programmed to think in a certain manner. Thought processes are imprinted upon; this is where psychological programming comes into play: the endless expectations of the society from the respective genders.
The ideal woman is expected to know all the household chores, dress ‘decently’ (read: decent- every part of your body that even remotely suggests that you’re a woman should be concealed), talk softly, sit with her legs closed, to bear children, to be sensitive; to be a respecting daughter, an obedient wife and a good mother and pass on the values to her children and lastly, to not complain.
And the ideal man however is expected to keep the women in his life ‘in control’, to be strong (read: strong- emotionally numb), and to be the only one to wear the pants in the family (quite literally!).
But we’re in the twenty first century, aren’t we? We’ve risen above the primitive mindsets and clichés.
Hence, we want our daughters to study hard and get good education, but don’t want them to work; we want them to be ambitious, but take up a job that isn’t too far off or requires them to work at nights or travel; we want them to be confident, but never talk loudly; we want them to have a mind of their own, but never state an opinion that opposes our beliefs; we want them to be comfortable in their own space, but adjust according to the norms of the society; we want them to be successful but not too successful; we want our daughters to be lawyers, doctors and engineers, but we also expect them to cook, clean and nurse the children.
We want our daughters to be free and independent, but their existence shall always be defined by a man.
Be it a woman leaving behind her father’s name for taking up another man’s, or giving up her ambitions to have a peaceful family life, or being condemned for something as personal as her sexuality while her male counterpart is ‘expected’ to have had sexual encounters by a certain age, or demeaning a man for not being ‘man enough’ if he embraces his emotions, the blatant sexism that has seeped into our lives is beyond belief.
We’re the largest democracy in the world, yet, our children are petrified of being who they really are! This intractable need for control has been gnawing on our skin. And it will continue to, until we let go. The sheer hypocrisy amidst which we’re all living in is what has brought us to this very sorry state of affairs today. And what’s worse is the fact that it is so deeply embedded in each of our mindsets that we’re practically oblivious to any such existence. There is a dire need for us to police our thoughts get those on the right track before we go right after each other’s lives and telling each other how we should spend our lives.
It’s time we stopped customising our children. They’re our children, not our Facebook settings.
It’s time we let them be.
By Dhwani Mohan