What does it take for a woman to be called bad? To be called a difficult woman? The bare minimum or even nothing at all. A woman could be so much as simply laughing a little louder than usual and she would be scrutinised with a judgmental eye. Overstepping even the thinnest lines of the conventional norms of morality that women are expected to subscribe to – thanks patriarchy! – is a sin for us.
So really, any kind of independent choice a woman makes is a nail in the coffin for her to be considered ‘difficult.’
There’s a famous quote by English primatologist Jane Goodall that never ceases to go out of relevance. She said, “It actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. That’s why there are so many of us.”
The quote is a scathing exposition of how the experience of being a ‘woman’ in a culture that prizes male dominance works to our disadvantage. There is no end to women who have been rulebreakers throughout history – by demanding rights to work and vote, by choosing career over motherhood, by asserting agency through dress. And though they may have gone down in the books with legacies of inspiration, would they have been revered the same during their lifetimes?
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Every time a woman challenges traditions dominant in an era, she poses an obvious difficulty – that of endangering the patriarchal status quo. The hierarchy favours men always; the privilege permits them to exercise freedoms of morality, conduct, sexuality in society, all of which are taboo for women.
The sexist double standards are always out and proud on flamboyant display. For instance, a male family member participating in a discussion about politics at home is looked at with awe, as an intellectual. A woman similarly putting opinions forward is called ‘fast’ or ‘moofat.’ A man prioritising career over marriage is held up as ambitious, whereas a woman doing exactly the same is dubbed selfish.
It doesn’t even take women anything different than regular to be crucified. All we need to do is dare to do as men do.
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Indian society, with its watertight standards of morality, especially marginalises its women by binding them to archaic norms of gender. Since childhood, we are conditioned into working our way around first kitchen sets and then kitchens, in obeisance of what are understood to be the ‘ideal’ family traditions and values.
If we rebel for the freedom to carve our own career paths or choose whom we want to spend our lives with, you can best believe we will face nothing less than near ostracisation from the family. Why must the responsibility to uphold the family dignity rest on the shoulders of its daughters? And anyway, why are we still subscribing to dated notions of what dignity constitutes? Are these ideas of dignity anything else but a blueprint for how to keep women ‘in check’?
You know, despite the overload of regulations and restrictions women have to dwell under, it’s not hard to figure out that life worth living exists beyond that threshold. So women, if we will have to break that barrier and be difficult, to claim what’s truly ours.
Views expressed are the author’s own.