By Shalini Kaur
The women of my family keep me close. They keep reminding me of “slutty” tendencies of women in short clothes, bra straps showing, bold lip colours, deep necklines, small breasts, heavy breasts, loose hair, coloured hair, well-cut hair, well-styled hair, makeup, anything and everything. The women around me tell me they love me yet they very casually objectify me and all of my sisters, my cousins, my friends. They tell me to be strong but kill my self-esteem every time I use my voice to express myself – “Shut up”, “You speak too much, learn some manners”, “Been going out too much. You need to be controlled.” They tell me to be strong because the world is an ‘evil place’ but they make me feel shame in being a woman, in being myself.
My “hanji” is the only word that doesn’t make them yell at me, lecture me. My words, my self-worth, my confidence, my individuality seems criminal to them, their brain yanks these signals to them at my being a little in love with myself, a little in control of my life, a little bit more self-believing. A little more of myself looks as the burgeoning of criminality to them.
They teach me how most women are wrong, how I must be right. They teach me how I should also compromise my life, just like them, their daughters and their sisters – in order to be a ‘good woman. They compliment me using phrases like “you’re not like other girls of these days”, or“you’re very good, you don’t like all these short clothes, flashy hair colours or tattoos”. “You’re very sweet because you never talk loudly” or “you’re so kind, you always speak so softly”.“You look beautiful because of your long hair” but the next moment when I talk loud, they term me “shameless”; when I wear clothes that don’t fit their idea of a cultured woman, “characterless”; when I don’t let men ignore me and disrespect me, “too clever”. I wonder if it is their hypocrisy or their morals.
Or both, cemented with years of conditioning.
They are victims of shame and thrust the same shame upon me. They silenced my cousin and me too when I saw my uncle forcing a kiss on my cousin’s lips, and I too was taught to be silenced at the happening of my uncle rubbing my legs in my school uniform.
My women abduct my sanity and use their authority to murder my confidence – all in the name of shame. They tell me that my legs shouldn’t be visible and my arms shouldn’t be unclothed; I wonder if I could just get an invisibility cloak. They teach me that the women who look too good, who dress too well, who speak too loud, who catch attention, who go out, who talk to other men – provoke; and the women who provoke – get raped. They teach me to obey the men in my family and to fear those not in my family. They restrict me when I open my mouth and mock me when I stutter to defend myself. They teach me a list of things to do and to not do to keep myself safe, and keep doing things that finish my self-love. I feel unsafe in my body, in my house, in their company.
Every time I take a step up, they pull me down further. They warn me every time I am about to step outside about the bad men of the outside world, no heed paid to the bad men who come into my house every week and touch me inappropriately. They tell me to fear the men outside but aren’t the men in my house a part of the men outside? The monsters live in my own house, our houses – whom we’re taught to obey.
When will these women stop policing other women? Cutting them off? Being their biggest enemies?
I’ve always been an anxious girl because the women around me apparently love me too much. They kill me in me and call it empowering me. They are oppressed and they help the oppressors oppress more of us. The women involved in my oppression are themselves oppressed.
But I know, now, that it is not entirely their fault. They haven’t been taught better, they haven’t seen better. You become what you witness and what you are taught. They are taught to continue this vicious cycle of oppression – to perpetuate patriarchy. They’ve done it to survive their own ordeals, the same ones I’m trying to overcome because someone told them to stay quiet. They’ve learned that they have no voice or no power, so they think it’s okay to try and dim mine. They have wrong learned behaviours – conditioned to the shame of obedience to others but disobedience to themselves.
But it’s 2021. There should be protests on the roads and protests in the houses. There should be conversations with those in power in the world and those in the houses. There should be teaching and learning both up and down the family tree. It is time, when we, the young women of the world, help liberate our oppressed women, teach them what they weren’t always taught – self-worth, individuality, and women’s rights. We should teach them their value, undo their conditioning of patriarchy, make them believe that a woman's skin is no worse than a man’s skin; that it’s never about the clothes, the behaviour or anything in itself – it’s always about the “control”. It’s about controlling others to be seen as better, bigger themselves; to have more power, more opportunities, more dominance. It’s never about right or wrong for the oppressed, it’s always about the benefit of the oppressor. It’s time we stop, as a community, perpetuating further pain onto our own.
It’s time to unite as strong and self-respecting women, even if it means disobeying society to obey ourselves.
About the author
Shalini Kaur is a consultant and a creative writer. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from SRCC, Delhi. She is deeply passionate about women’s empowerment, poetry, and chocolate cakes. To read more of her writing, follow her on Instagram @shalkaur
This article is part of a collaboration between TheLipstickPolitico x Pen In the Door by Gurmeher Kaur.