Every parent is right in worrying about how their children’s life will pan out. From the time they hold their little hands, parents promise to themselves to provide the best life for their newborns. However, this concern becomes a roadblock in the growth of the children when it transforms into controlling behaviour. Although this is true for every gender, it is daughters whose lives are policed more by their parents, as compared to sons. And do you know the reason behind it? I think you have already guessed it.
The identity of a daughter in our society is not of an individual who has the right to live on her terms. They are perceived as ghar ki izzat, paraya dhan. Women are stereotyped as frail creatures, as a result, parents believe they are susceptible to abuse and violence. Thus they keep a close watch on the trajectory of a woman’s life. Society has conditioned Indian parents to feel responsible for the sexual safety of their daughters and to model them into ideal women- who will marry on time, breed babies and then look after their family. In doing so, parents are told they will be fulfilling not only their duty as a parent but as a member of society too.
Just imagine, every morning when a parent opens a newspaper, all they find is the incidents of crime against women and how they haven’t decreased despite all the promises made by the government. This automatically builds a fear in their heart which comes out as the urge to control their daughter’s life entirely. They become so concerned about her life and safety that they forget about her freedom. Obviously, this behaviour plants seeds of resentment in their daughter's heart.
Here are seven ways in which parents upset their daughters even though they don’t intend to:
One of the most common ways in which parents control their daughters is by imposing curfew timings. They also keep a check on their locations, their friends and the work they are out for. Because of the curfew timings, she is more aware of the ticking clock than the environment around her. Her focus is constantly distracted by the fact that if she is late to get back home, she'll be questioned by her parents. Ultimately, the daughter is neither able to focus on her studies, career or life nor able to build the confidence required for fighting patriarchal challenges. She also develops a frictional relationship with her parents who allow their sons to be out at late hours.
But dear parents, crime against women doesn’t see the time. It can happen anywhere and at any hour of the day. If you want to keep your daughters safe, then make them strong enough to oppose any sort of injustice. Rather than controlling the daughters, consider conditioning sons to respect women.
Policing the clothes of a woman is not new in our society. Women’s clothing has always been blamed for the increasing crimes against women. Consequently, parents too bring home this unfair and illogical concept to keep their daughters safe. Some parents do not let their daughters wear anything apart from traditional outfits. Others might allow them the freedom to wear western clothes but only on some conditions- you can wear shorts inside the home but not outside, you can wear dresses but not around men, you can wear jeans but they shouldn't be ripped and you can wear a top as long as you mind its neckline.
Time and again, women have pointed it out that it is not our clothes but our objectification by male gaze that needs to be policed. No matter what a woman wears, it doesn't deter a man from abusing, harassing or raping her, if he thinks he is entitled to predatory behaviour due to his gender and can get away unpunished.
Suggested Reading: When Will Schools Stop Policing Girls For Predatory Behaviour Of Men?
The best way, according to society, to save a daughter’s izzat and life is getting her ">married at the right age. When a daughter gets married, it is her husband who is accountable for her safety. An unmarried daughter is also stands the risk of inviting unwanted male attention from predators who think that she is open to sexual advances since she is single. Due to such stigmas, parent urge their daughters to get married as soon as possible. While daughters who have different plans for their life, feel oppressed in their own homes. They feel utterly helpless when their parents don’t respect their consent and their ambitions.
Instead of curtailing women's freedom, why can't parents focus on encouraging daughters to study further and gain economic independence so that they are not seen as a burden, either by their wards or their husbands.
Not allowing the freedom to work
This also brings us to how rarely do parents allow their daughters to work. Their duty to ‘empower’ their daughters ends at providing them with education and getting them married to a good and rich household. Working women are shamed for running away from their responsibility of doing domestic work and being selfish and greedy for money. Moreover, many families don’t accept working women as their bahus because they refuse to conform to the patriarchal norms. Any parent who wants a respectful life for their daughter ultimately falls into this trap (unless they are aware of it) and restricts their daughter’s freedom to seek a career.
Of course, no woman will be happy to not be able to achieve a goal that she always dreamt of. Moreover, she also feels discriminated against when their brothers or other male relatives are allowed to do the same work.
Choosing the right career
Even if some parents allow their daughters to have a career, there is a condition that the career should of parents’ choice. I wanted to be a journalist. But my mother always criticised my ambitions by saying that female journalists get raped often, journalism is a tough job and women cannot manage family along with it and that not many families would want to bring in a journalist bahu. Even though I knew that my mother said all this out of concern for my life and my future, I felt really helpless. Similarly, many daughters like me are forced to give up their dreams for the sake of patriarchal norms.
Women can excel in any field of their choice, all they need is a support system by their side. Instead of holding back daughters, why can't parents find families and grooms who are on the same wavelength and see working women as equal breadwinners?
Forcing daughters into the kitchen
A woman’s primary duty, according to society, is to cook, clean and serve. A woman’s character and worth are measured on the basis of their expertise in the so-called primary duty. So parents who certainly want their daughters to be liked by everyone force them into the kitchen. While learning basic kitchen and cleaning skills are important for every person, daughters have to be expert at it. Some parents do not let their sons enter the kitchen which makes the daughters feel discriminated against. This becomes even more saddening when parents expect their daughters to prioritise kitchen duties over studies or work. Many parents do not send their daughters to school because they think that learning housework is more important for them.
But parents do not realise that in the bid to make their daughters perfect wife materials, they are raising the next target of patriarchal oppression.
Saving money for daughter’s marriage rather than education
When I was still in my school years, my parents started collecting money, ornaments and utensils required for my dowry in future. Their reasoning was that they wanted to collect all this beforehand so that future financial crises won’t affect my marriage prospects. Even though my parents provided me with the best education, it could not justify their early investments in my marriage plans. Till today I do not see marriage as a part of my future but my parents still save for my dowry and a grand wedding. Similarly, parents of other daughters too invest in their grand wedding more than their education and empowerment. They prioritise a good wedding over a good education for a daughter. And daughters on the other hand are left wondering why couldn’t their parents use that money to give her and the family a better lifestyle?
Dear parents, we understand your stress of raising a daughter in a patriarchal society. But please do not deprive your daughters of their ambitions and basic rights. Don't let them smell the fear that society has sowed in you. Use that fear to understand the injustice that women face in society and raise your daughters to be different. If you let them be who they want to, your daughters won't internalise silence and restriction as a part of their lives. Their first reaction to every patriarchal challenge will be to not bow down or compromise just like they never did while achieving their goals. A bird is meant to fly. It cannot spend its entire life in a cage because of the hunter eyeing it.
Views expressed are the author's own.