Today, I wish to speak about the experience of being a girl. What does being a woman mean in our part of the world?
Always walking with one’s head bent low. If you are a modern woman like I am it means you no longer bend your head but you do keep your eyes averted at all times. Careful, that you don’t accidentally see something distasteful. Like a man peeing on the road or something downright insulting like a man making lewd gestures at you.
Being a woman means always being conscious of the clothes you wear, the way you sit, the way you laugh or even the way you eat. None of these should be ‘suggestive’. ‘Suggestive’ being an all encompassing word for anything that may trigger a sexual thought in a man. Considering that we are talking about ‘any’ man ‘anywhere’ this is quite a tall order.
Being a woman means speaking softly, being ‘likeable’, shy, good, conscientious, loving, caring, nurturing, sacrificing…
So on and so forth. All of these are very desirable traits. But they are very demanding traits too. And if the men in your lives don’t respect and reflect these traits these very traits become their first weapons for exploiting us.
Being a woman means learning to give way – to other drivers on the road, to pushy males in a crowd, to male classmates in the corridors and to your husband or in laws in your house.
Being a woman means all this and much more in our part of the world. At the same time many of us are raising our girls in a different, egalitarian kind of world. We are teaching our daughters that there is nothing they cannot do or achieve. That they have as much right to walk on the roads, to play on the grounds and swim in the lakes as the boy next door. In short we are telling them to claim their world.
My post today is addressed to the ‘girls are equal to boys’ kind of parents among us. How do incidents like the recent one in Mumbai leave you feeling? Besides the shock, the anger, the helplessness! Does it make you question the way you are raising your daughters? Does it make you wonder if you are living in a fool’s world? By not teaching her, the traditional methods of coping with the gender bias in this society are you letting your innocent daughter lose in a ‘wild wolves’ world?
Being the mother of a young daughter myself such incidents fill me with doubt. Is it better to teach her to sit ‘properly’, dress ‘appropriately’, and step out ‘wisely’? Knowing fully well that ‘properly’,‘appropriately’ and ‘wisely’ are terms with as many interpretations as there are people in this world.
I also know that no amount of conservative dressing, traditional upbringing and home bound living is going to safeguard her from the discrimination and violence that girls face at every step in our world.
And yet, each time I hear about such an incident I wonder if …..
If I should tell her, its better (read safer) to be a teacher in a nice girls school than a photo journalist for instance? Or If I should tell her to avoid lonely spots, late nights, empty buses? Or for that matter should I teach her to shun movie shows, or being friends with boys?
But I resist. I resists because I know in effect I will be asking her to limit her choices, chain her ambitions, clip her wings and shrink her world. I don’t live in a fool’s world. I know boys and girls are not equal in the eyes of our society. I know there is a chance that my little girl will encounter violence every time she steps out. That some creep will try to pinch her, or pass comments, or whistle as she walks by, or maybe even violate her. But I will still encourage her to step out.
I am not an idealist, nor an optimist. I am a realist and I’d rather teach my girl to deal with the violence in the real world than to hide from it.