Behenji Vs Modern: Having secured admission at an all-girls’ college, I had assumed that now my life would be free of stereotyping and judgement. But little did I know, how misplaced this belief was.
Before lockdown, every day as I would enter my classroom, I would find it divided into groups. No, I am not talking about the friend circles, but a division based on the concept of ‘modern girls’ and ‘conservative girls’. And who decided that? None other than the girls themselves. The division, though didn’t end in the classroom, it rolled over into the canteen, the library and even in WhatsApp groups, where friendships were forged on basis of your what stereotype you fitted into, over everything else.
For centuries, girls and women have been expected to behave in a certain way. A certain image is projected in the society of a conservative and progressive person. The one who doesn’t fit in the image gets ostracised. Who defines these standards? Isn’t forcing a standard in itself a form of suppression, even the so-called progressive ones? In a fight to break one stigma aren’t we giving birth to another stigma? And what about the freedom of choice that feminists fight for?
And to make the situation worse, it is women who judge each other based on these standards! Instead of accepting diversity and individuality; women judge, comment, and make the fight against patriarchy exclusive, giving fodder to those who question women’s unity.
Girls judging girls
The fight against patriarchy and gender inequality gets tougher when it is women themselves who stand in the opposite corner. Those women who either support the patriarchal structure or those who have failed to grasp the real meaning of feminism. Some women have internalized these patriarchal notions to the extent that they have no inhibition in endorsing them. Your dressing sense, your behaviour, your likes, and dislikes are judged by other women. They categorize you as liberal, progressive, and conservative.
This idea of stereotyping other girls based on their choices by fellow women itself peddles the patriarchal norms expecting each one of us to lead our lives a certain way.
Which standards make you a modern girl?
Girls who put that extra makeup, wear short skirts, talk to male friends are judged by other girls as well, and not just men. They are categorized as ‘modern girls’. Their character is questioned. They are accused of setting a bad example for other women. Judging these girls for making these choices caters to patriarchy, that wants to clearly define how “proper” women should behave. In fact, the word modern is often used as a euphemism for a girl who has crossed her limits. How can these choices make them less decent?
Which standards make you a conservative girl?
What you choose to wear, whether you befriend boys or not, how you carry yourself, is all about comfort, confidence, satisfaction and happiness.
If we see the situation another way round, girls who wear suit salwar, don’t have any male friends or do not have any high ambitions are called ‘Behenji’. They are not seen as icons of empowerment for other girls. Sara Ali Khan once revealed that she was asked to stop wearing suits as it made it her look less modern and more like a behenji. These prejudices can damage a person’s confidence. This is not being modern or progressive, but a much prevalent elitist and classist notion. How is shaming someone for their comfort zone equality? How can your dressing sense make you less of a feminist?
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Your dressing sense and hobbies don’t label you as a feminist or progressive person. What you choose to wear, whether you befriend boys or not, how you carry yourself, is all about comfort, confidence, satisfaction and happiness. The freedom to exercise your choice is where you start establishing equality. Instead of developing an aversion to who doesn’t fit into our ideas of feminism we should focus on celebrating their choice. There isn’t any dress and behaviour code for it!
Saumya Tiwari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV