I have often wondered, whatever happened to the girl in me who was always asking questions and would not take “this is just how it is” for an answer? Whatever happened to that girl who didn’t mind being confrontational if she had a strong opinion about something? Whatever happened, I wonder!
I don’t recognize myself anymore…But I also don’t remember anything distinctly happening in the past that made me become this “meek, docile, staying quiet even if I didn’t agree with something, letting things slide just to maintain peace, thinking my opinions don’t matter and that others are more important and others opinions mattered more than mine” version of me. When did this happen and more importantly, how did this happen? While I contemplate, I can’t seem to piece this puzzle together.
And you know what the worst part is? That for years now I have thought this to be a great transformation of mine! I thought, maybe this was a good thing; that I have learnt to sacrifice my own voice and feelings for others sake and that makes me a paragon of virtue; that this is what I am supposed to become! I have been told how I must “adjust” and make sure there is always peace and harmony. Even if it physically breaks your back or mentally affects your self-respect, or emotionally makes you feel alienated with yourself, you must keep adjusting. So much so, that without giving it a second thought, I have been always putting everyone else before me! I do that on “Autopilot mode” now, that’s how efficient I have become! “I” doesn’t exist in my priorities anymore! I have been told that it’s pretentious, almost vulgar, to think of yourself and your needs, and so I follow it to the Tee.
You see, I have been finally Tamed! Yay Society!!! Mission Accomplished! Wow…so this is how it’s done! Ripping you off your identity and robbing you of your voice, all while making you think it is good for you! Now isn’t that something! The best part is, most of us don’t even realize this all our lives and we are so convinced in the goodness of this taming exercise that we start the cycle of taming our daughters. Oh it doesn’t stop there…the final straw is when it makes you feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this transformation that it offered! Well played society!
And that’s when it hits some of us…those who are fortunate enough to see it, that is. You feel cheated and taken advantage of and it feels too late to start over. There’s too much water that’s passed under the bridge already; but we do have one choice though; to break the cycle; to not let it happen to our daughters. I definitely find myself fiercely trying to break this generational curse.
Coming back to the subject, here I was trying to understand what happened and how things changed. I wanted to solve the puzzle…and I had to go back in time for that. Travelling all the way back through the memory lane, to recall and pin-point the occasions that lead to my so called “transformation”. It all starts with this resounding “that’s how it is” over and over again. So many repetitions of such episodes that she slowly learns to stop seeking answers. This is just part one of the “Taming of the shrew” episode. At this point there is still hope; there’s scope for asking questions; even uncomfortable ones; if you feel safe with your family. So if you are fortunate enough, you continued being who you are for a while. But that may not be true for many who feel alienated within their own homes too; in that case, the taming begins right there…at home!
Then comes the next level, the outer circle of family and relatives, friends and neighbours, and of course media, movies and books that shape our thoughts, our ideas and our being! All telling her there is something different about her! She isn’t like the other girls; and slowly, the “something different” starts to look like “something wrong”; something that doesn’t conform to the standards set for what’s defined as “accepted girl behaviour” made-up by the society. You are looked upon as rebellious or unlady-like if you err on the side of questioning too much.
There is also this sweet weapon of all; the praising you to the moons when you are being subservient, when you just nod your head and smile sweetly while an elderly gets away with saying something outrageously regressive. That’s when the girl realizes that this is what she will be praised for and this is what acceptable behaviour for a girl is! This is part 2 of the taming charade.
And the finale comes when she is married off. There are loads of advice pouring in from all and sundry on how to be and do and live in your marital home; basically how to stop living your life and become a doormat for others. That’s how you will get to be the cultured daughter-in-law; sanskaari bahu and the sacrificial Bhabhi, as if that was the whole and sole purpose of her life!
Somewhere around that time I saw this rebellious girl (what I mean is basically a normal human being with a voice of her own) becoming this unrecognizable “scared to open her mouth in case it made people raise their eyebrows” kind of girl. As a young and naïve bride, wedded into a new family, you now have more people with opinions and more people to please and seek validation from. From finishing her education and living a pampered life at home, you go on to cooking for a family overnight. All the domesticity of waking up at dawn to cooking and cleaning and running a household, leaves one with no time to even lay your head down to rest, let alone think of themselves! Then there are those visits from the extended family, to check on her homemaking skills. It doesn’t matter then whether she is equally or more qualified than the man. If she can’t prove her prowess in the culinary and domesticity area then she is a failure. Wherever you go, judgement looms large!
Personal dreams and aspirations are soon forgotten and pushed way back in list of priorities that was once a top priority. Keeping a woman dependent on the man for her survival is another insidious way of exerting control and demanding subservience. This behaviour is juxtaposed by putting her on a high pedestal, touting her as the honour of the family and praising her for all the things she does and guess what, that marks the beginning of a self-sacrificing woman! Now she has to live up to all that hype and she readily walks into this never-ending self-effacing trap!
Those multitude of occasions where the whole family is gathered around and gabbing away where you are expected to just stand, smile and nod intermittently. You know better now because you have tasted what it feels like to have an opinion. If you say something that’s different from the collective opinions then there are raised eyebrows, glances, smirks, gaslighting and jibes; which is more than enough to tell you that you aren’t welcome to give your opinions. It’s for the important people of the family, not you, you aren’t family just because you are married into the family. Of course you have to be highly educated and cultured but thou shall not have opinions, at least not contradicting to the collective opinion of others. Oh but you are allowed to stay in the kitchen and talk about cooking and enlightening home remedies as much as you want. It’s insinuated many times over in various forms – a mocking glance, a sarcastic remark and some snide undertones, do the job perfectly well. Somewhere in those, “hmm…we don’t think so“, “oh is that what you are wearing to the event”, “our family likes beans cooked only this way”, “why isn’t your daughter wearing earrings”, “oh your kid looks too skinny, too fat”, “omg, your husband is doing house chores! *gasp*” judgmental looks and questions, you don’t know when and how you change! And what can I say about the insidious selective praising of qualities of yours when they find you “meek, slaving away in the kitchen and sacrificing for others”. And for someone new to the family, wanting to be accepted as one among them, this works like a charm.
In time, all of this keeps chipping away at you, a little at a time, smoothening the so called rough edges that threaten to poke them. You start taking every feedback, every action and reaction and turn yourself into this carefully chiseled version that suit their standard “ever-ready to please, ever-smiling, ever-obliging, sacrificial” vision; so much so that you don’t recognize yourself anymore! And that’s how it’s done!
What’s even more interesting, and by that I mean infuriating, is how women have been made the gatekeepers of patriarchy. After internalizing this system for centuries, overtime women have taken it upon themselves to impose, implement and carry out the sermons on how to keep women as second class citizens within their own homes. The indoctrination and perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow inferior to men, and that a woman’s job is primarily to take care of the man and the family, had been ingrained in us. So much so that women themselves became the torch-bearers of patriarchy and have been running this system like a well-oiled machine. Not just that, women have been successfully trained to look down upon and even hate fellow women who to go against the norm. Turning women against women – so conniving!
In a family structure, if you notice every action you will see how undoubtedly it shows men as superior. Whether it’s feeding the men of the house first, then the kids and then finally waiting to eat only after every one had eaten to consume the leftovers; or during family gatherings, where men sit around comfortably in living room discussing the ‘highly important’ international politics or cricket or watch movies and relax while women are relegated to the kitchen to churn out meals and serve them. Even in times of sickness, all attention goes to inquire the wellbeing of the man and the children. The attention is turned to woman only to question her whether she is taking good care of the family despite her own sickness. And God forbid if the man of the house had to lift a finger to help around the house, then all hell breaks loose.
A woman then is a mere shadow who comes in to magically serve all others and then disappears into oblivion. She is neither seen nor heard. It makes one wonder – Is a woman invisible? Can’t they see her? Does she exist only to serve others? What about her own identity?
One thing’s for sure; if we think we can somehow bite our teeth and continue to bear with these demeaning norms without damaging our next generation, think again. What do you think happens to the kids who grow up watching these scenes being played out around them over and over again? Girls and boys end up following this very same template into their adulthood and that’s how the baton is passed on generation after generation.
It never ends with one generation unless you make an attempt to break it. Even if you promise yourself that you won’t let this happen to your kids, remember that children imbibe from observing their environment. We can preach all about empowerment of women but if you are not walking the talk by being a living example of it, it won’t move a needle.
Break the generational cycle in your own homes today as parents. Build gender neutrality. If not, we can continue to wonder what’s happening to all the intelligent girls who are educated to think for themselves and are equipped to be independent! Where are they vanishing off to?