Every conversation with my mother starts with the reminder that I am a woman and ends with a realisation that my mother is, after all, a woman too, caught up in the stereotypes that she enforces on me. And I am sure I am not alone in this because it is very common, at least in India, for mothers to stereotype their daughters and criticise them according to the patriarchal male gaze. And we become so used to it that many stereotypes slip into our lives like a lost piece of a puzzle. Here is where we need to ring an alarm, question our mothers and make them remove the blindfold of patriarchy they have been carrying for so long. After all, the bigger problem is the internalised patriarchy and misogyny that oppresses mothers and daughters alike.
Here are some ways in which mothers stereotype daughters. Read them, relate them to your lives and find solutions to pull each other out from the slur of patriarchy.
- Dress Properly
Some mothers ask their daughters to dress in traditional wears like salwar and kurta because that is considered to be synonymous to being sanskari and decent. While there are mothers who want their daughters to wear western clothes. Kurta and salwar for them become synonymous to old-fashioned and boring while western clothes, a symbol of modernity. Our mothers have been brought up in the times when women were forced to wear a kurta. So for them, it has become symbolic of an enforced norm. They want their daughters to have an easy life, by either conforming to the norm or by defying it. But remember it is always you who should decide what modernity and happiness mean to you.
- Put on the fairness cream and avoid going out in the sun
Again our mothers were brought up in a society where fairness was synonymous to marriageability, intelligence and popularity. And this stereotype hasn’t changed even today which is why our mothers cannot get rid of their internalisation. They want their daughters to be conventionally beautiful so that they can get a good life partner. But dear mothers, marriage isn’t the only marker of success in life. And a marriage that is based on nothing but skin colour has no guarantee of success either. By conforming to such social stereotypes aren’t you pushing your daughters towards a life of failures and uncertainties?
- Don’t let your bra or bra straps be visible
The major reason behind this is society’s stereotype that sexualises a woman’s breasts and so the bras. Visible bra strap or going bra-less is seen as blasphemous as women’s sexuality, which should be repressed and invisible, is ‘exposed’ in the public. The woman will then be labelled as indecent, unsanskari and even a slut. So mothers will automatically not want their daughter to be on the receiving ends of this blaming and shaming. They not only ask them to hide their bras but also cover their breasts with dupatta. But dear mothers, it is the society’s fault if it feels entitled to put labels and pass judgement on women’s bodies, not your daughter’s. Your daughter and you have the freedom to wear or discard whatever you want and to own your bodies and sexuality without being answerable to anyone.
- Don’t say the word period
Mother’s stereotypes related to periods are very common and certainly more than one. From the day daughters get their first period, mothers raise red flags of period myths and taboos. Rather than explaining the daughters about period, mothers tell them about the silence around it. They ask their daughters to not talk about period with anyone, not enter into holy places within and outside the house and not touch pickle or food in the kitchen. But dear mothers, period is natural and important for a woman’s health. It is certainly not impure; even Goddesses bleed. Rather than forcing your daughters to internalise a part of themselves as impure, why don’t you teach them what period is? And also teach that they should love themselves unconditionally.
- You should be religious and perform puja
Now that we are in the middle of the festive season, many daughters would have been forced to observe Navratri fasts and be a part of regular pujas. While there would be some women who had the freedom to have a choice in this. Traditionally, the onus of following the religious rituals fall on women. A woman who observes fasts is seen as sanskaari and sacrificial person who lives for other’s happiness. Dear mothers, it is good to teach your daughters about standing by what they believe. But don’t force the beliefs on them. Whether it is religion or life, daughters should have the freedom to make a choice and choose their happiness and so do you.
- You should study and work harder.
It is common for mothers who support their daughters to pressurise them to act, behave or pursue certain things in order to be respected and empowered. They expect them to be good not only in studies and a particular field of career but housework also. They tend to forget daughters’ own dreams, desires and expectations from life. Although the intention of the mothers is to see their daughters empowered, they have internalised that it is a privilege for women and they have to sacrifice and toil hard for it. It is also possible that mothers want to see their dreams fulfilled vicariously through their daughters. But what kind of empowerment is it if women do not have the freedom to own their life choices? Dear mothers, why don’t you give a restart to your life and chase your dreams rather than forcing them on your daughters? To dream and succeed is your right and it is never too late.
7. No sex before marriage
Mothers don’t even educate their daughters about sex, let alone giving the freedom to express sexual desires. Sex or sexual desires are seen as a male domain with women having no agency in it. If the daughter has an active sex life, she is criticised by her mother because she strayed away from her sanskaar and limits. And if the daughter is harassed, even then mothers tend to restrict their daughters asking them to be quiet, dress properly and better not step out. And if it happens after marriage, it is not seen as a concern at all. Dear mothers, why don’t you tell your daughters that there is a difference between sex with consent and harassment? A woman has sexual freedom and agency to say no, why don’t you internalise this and teach your daughters too?
8. Marry Early
Mothers often force their daughters to marry early, have children and settle in life because that is the only definition of a happy life that they have internalised. Career, they say, is secondary and should be chosen according to the marriage life and to sustain in a marriage, women should be ready to compromise. But dear mothers aren’t you happy that your daughter has a dream? Aren’t you happy to see her excel and jump in elation without having to compromise with anything? Then why do you think she is not enough for herself? Wouldn’t you be happy that your daughter will be successful enough to support herself and you financially and emotionally on her own? Let her grow and marriage wait.
For ages, the mother-daughter relationship has been perceived as a medium to reinforce patriarchal stereotypes. We are criticised by our mothers because our mothers were oppressed by their mothers. But if we make it a point to change the ideas of the mother-daughter relationship, help our mothers understand the value of a woman’s individuality, both in their personal lives and of their daughters’, then a new definition and era of sisterhood and feminism will reach its epoch. Because strong mothers raise strong daughters.