Who is a “good woman”, I often wonder? If one is to go by society’s definition, then a good woman is one who is obedient, quiet, submissive, caring, selfless and virtuous. In case she is unmarried, it helps if she is a virgin. If she is married, it helps if she puts her career on the back burner and concentrates on her family and home instead. With these endless demands on our plate, the correct question to ask then is- is being a “good” woman worth all the fuss?
The problem with society’s definition of being a good woman is that it leaves a very narrow margin for women to exercise their agency. For instance, a good woman does as she is told- this could mean opting for science after your tenth board because that brings prestige to your parents, but then also giving up on your hard-earned degree and job to care for your family, because that too, gives your parents a reason to walk with their heads held high. The set of expectations from us differs on basis of our age and marital status, and we are to do what society feels is right, no matter how contradictory the norms are, and have a detrimental impact on our lives.
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I read a tweet today, which said: feminist thought prof in class today- “every woman is a bad woman. she has to do very good things in order to become a good woman. whereas every man, by default, is a good man. he has to do some awful things to become a bad man. a man becomes bad, a woman is bad.” And when you think about it, this does seem true.
The good woman stereotype
Women have to constantly work in order to appease society and be seen as “good”. One misstep and your hard-earned medal of goodness breaks into pieces. Choose a man to marry against your family’s wishes, publicly start dating with no intention to tie the knot with your partner, refuse to give up on your career after marriage and motherhood, refuse to live with your in-laws if you find their behaviour abusive and suddenly you become the woman who needs to be isolated and avoided. “Stay away from that woman, she is a bad influence,” you might hear such whispers when all you had actually done was to follow your heart and prioritise your well-being.
However, it might not be entirely true that men are “good” in the eyes of society by default and have to do something terrible to be seen as “bad”. Ask any boy who scores poor marks in exams, shows little career ambitions and you’ll stumble upon a thousand anxious parents who would want their raja betas to stay away from this kharaab ladka, who could deter them from their own goals. Men don’t have it as bad as women when it comes to gender norms, but we have to agree that like women, their lives too are spent living by the stereotypes that assign a value to their existence. What makes us “bad” differs, and therein lies the cruelty of this system.
Many of the above-mentioned parents in our society turn a blind eye if their son befriends a lecherous boy who harasses women, and shares intimate videos of women non-consensually, because boys will be boys and what harm can this behaviour do cause? Unless of course, the said boy goes and does something really awful like abusing a woman. So is our society’s definition of bad and good even worth spending a frown?
Must women let this misguided understanding of good behaviour ruin lives, spoil opportunities and fill us with a lifetime of resentment and regret? No. Dear women, don’t buy into all that fuss because social expectations are endless. So why not spend your time and energy doing what makes you happy? Shouldn’t feeling good matter more than being good?
Views expressed are the author’s own.