With the birth of a girl, a list of don’ts is placed on her head, even before she learns to speak. Every single action of hers is monitored closely and she is given due feedback about how she carries herself- both in public and private spaces. Don’t sit with your legs uncrossed. Don’t talk back to elders. Don’t talk so loudly. Don’t talk to men. Don’t wear that skirt. With each “don't” society tries to police the way women communicate, dress, sit, travel, and perhaps basically, exist. However, the same dictates are never applied to men.
Take any instance of being policed for proper etiquettes and try to analyse it. You will find that each one of these norms is inherently sexist as they disproportionately target women's behaviour. Even when you are lucky to have a couple of liberties, they come with extensive guidelines. Want to travel? Let society tell you how. Want to hang out with friends? Let us have that conversation on how to talk politely. Want to stay out at night? Hah! that’s not on the list.
Society sexualises young girls and then teaches them to contain their sexuality so as not to make others uncomfortable; they are taught to do everything in a manner that pleases men. Do you want to counter that? If yes, then do only if you are a man. Otherwise, shh! Don’t speak.
Etiquettes for women and our society's obsession with controlling our lives
When a young girl is told keep quite when the elders are talking, you are basically telling her that her voice doesn’t matter. And so in the future, if something bad ever happens to her she won’t speak up. Guess what, who benefited from the silence of that woman? Everyone but her.
The concept of etiquette has been woven into women’s need for self-expression and is particularly designed to control it. This is a paradox every woman should be aware of; while there are a thousand stipulations on the ways in which they can behave, there’s also the expectation to have a lively personality.
The onus of decency has always fallen on the woman, while vulgarity is okay for the opposite gender, because men will be men.
Under the guise of politeness, courtesy and ‘being nice,’ arbitrary rules that shame women for their instincts run rampant, unquestioned. Here the onus of decency has always fallen on the woman, while men can enjoy vulgarity and endangering women.
Controlling women through a prepared series of etiquettes is not a modern trend. Centuries have passed since the first etiquette books were written. The one aspect that remains exact is that society still makes women feel like they live in borrowed spaces as if allowing their mobility in the outside world was a mistake; while constantly reproaching them for violating the rules of etiquette. It won’t be an exaggeration if one would say that the ghosts of patriarchy still haunt contemporary society.
But why don’t we question this rule book of etiquettes? Why cannot a woman speak loud if she wants to? Why does society have the power to dictate the manner a woman should sit? Why does society so desperately want to control women’s behaviour? And further, why doesn’t anyone question it?
Women are really tired. They are. Just to attain the social position of humans, we fought for centuries. And now it’s enough. You have controlled and perhaps puppetry since the dawn of civilization. But can you just stop for once? And no, I am not speaking that loud (pun intended)
Views expressed are author’s own.