A familiar conversation that I have been witness to, many a times over the years. It is in the context of arranged marriages. Typically (there are many exceptions now), the elders of boy’s family would visit the girl’s family, also to see and get a better idea about the girl. Once the families gave their approval, the boy and girl would meet.
As a young girl, I have heard many elders describe the “approved” girl with pride to their family and friends as soft-spoken, sweet, not too talkative, a bit shy, fair (skinned), not too opinionated, educated but not too educated, responsible and the likes. These were the typical qualities that were acceptable and sometimes, even required.
Recently an acquaintance was describing her two daughters to me. She said that her younger daughter, the 11-year old, was quiet, obedient, grounded, understanding, while, her 16 year old was described as not as mature, childish, a bit of a rebel, definitely not soft spoken, in fact pretty outspoken. I don’t think she meant any harm. But I assume that she was speaking as though one was better than the other. I am sure you can guess who is the ‘nicer’ one.
As I heard her words I felt a rage brewing within me. I was feeling not only for the outspoken 16 year-year old girl, and me, but also for every girl and woman out there who has experienced the impact of this in the past and who still go through it today. I was reminded of the story of Goldilocks, where she described the bed as too hard, then as too soft or the porridge as too hot or too cold. It had to be just right.
It’s like a woman or a girl are being treated as objects. ‘She is a bit too loud’. a ‘bit to strong’, a ‘bit too dark’, a bit too much always ‘She has to be just right’.
I know that beneath the rage, was really sadness and a deep empathy for the helplessness of anyone who falls victim to this ‘system’ that thrives even in our ‘modern age’.
I recall hearing a woman proudly proclaim that she had achieved a lot in her life because her husband “allowed” her to do the things she wanted. She considered herself lucky and felt extremely grateful for this. I felt happy for her and also noted she didn’t say that he ‘encouraged’ or ‘supported’ her, she used the word ‘allowed’. For all you know, her husband might have been encouraging and supportive. I am referring to her inherent belief that it is a privilege to receive the support or encouragement and that it isn’t something that is a given.
Another account is from a friend, whose angry husband who couldn’t find one of his shirts while getting ready for work, told her that the main reason he got married was so that his wife would cook and take care of all his needs.
There is one about a mother-in-law, who called her daughter-in-law selfish because her son was over-weight. She felt that the wife didn’t care for her son enough to cook healthy meals for him, or to help him lose weight. There was no onus or responsibility on him.
The one that saddened me the most was the account of a conversation between a mother and her daughter. It was about the latter’s broken marriage. The mother’s first reaction was to ask the daughter what she had done to ‘displease’ her husband and create a situation. She was more concerned about what people were going to say or think. Sadly, what got left out in this process was compassion, the empathy of a woman feeling the pain of another woman, regardless of the circumstances.
A year or so ago, I read a book on Co-dependency. The following is a description I am borrowing from one of the websites on the same topic.
“Experts say it’s a pattern of behaviour in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity… One key sign is when your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy someone else’s needs.”
As long as we keep following it blindly, we as a society are breeding co-dependent women, whose self worth and identity are linked to the their roles as a wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, homemaker, etc. If these women didn’t bend over backwards to meet the expected demands, they were considered as not good enough. As long as we are not re-visiting these beliefs and perspectives, we are not empowering our women.
Initially, I thought religion was hugely contributing to this. But now I can see that it’s the culture, and our history that play a big part, that may or may not get meshed or collapsed with religion. We have been following a custom for so long that it’s probably hard to separate the two now.
We human beings have a need to belong. A lot of us will try our best to fit in.
Those who are appreciated for being nice, sweet, soft-spoken will consciously or unconsciously try and fit into that role just so that we are accepted, while those who are put down or belittled for being too outspoken or opinionated will form a belief that who they are isn’t good enough. We might tone ourselves down. Then there are some who rebel because they feel oppressed; they do what they want, and lot of the time, its impulsive reactions to different things.
No matter what group we fall into, what ends up happening is that we grow into women not being really in touch with ourselves – our values, our strengths, what we want to stand for, who we are really beneath the facade.
The lucky ones are those, who didn’t grow up being influenced by these beliefs and expectations or the ones who consciously try to overcome them, they know they are worthy. They are confident and self-assured.
Let this be labelled as the words of yet another feminist. I am sure, as much as women are victim to these cultural influences, men have been impacted too. In this particular writing, I am focusing on the impact on women because I can feel and understand that a bit more.
I am a humanist. I stand for mutual respect, value, appreciation, fairness, most of all, meaningful and conscious relationships.
A woman can be strong and at yet vulnerable, powerful but also sensitive, outspoken as well as respectful, loud and yet graceful, assertive as well as compassionate. As long as we have the space to be what we naturally are, as opposed to what we ought to be.
If we want to teach our daughters something, let’s teach them to trust themselves and believe they are worthy, that they are enough, show them how to respect and stand up for themselves, to care for & protect themselves, teach them how to set healthy boundaries so they don’t get trampled, show them how to love themselves and that it’s not selfish to do so, encourage them to speak their mind, to ask for what they need, what they want in order to feed their soul.
“To remember who you are, you need to forget who they told you to be”
Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
PO Box 72280, Dubai, UAE
March 6, 2016