"Dream Big But Not Too Big" Why Are Women Taught To Aspire In Limits?

Author Bonnie Garmus and SheThePeople founder Shaili Chopra discussed the boundaries imposed on women's aspirations. While we are surreptitiously moving towards a more progressive society, what is keeping women from exploring their best selves?

Tanya Savkoor
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lessons in chemistry

Image: Shaili Chopra Instagram

Hearing the intriguing story of Bonnie Garmus, the litterateur behind Lessons In Chemistry, Shaili Chopra could not help but wonder, "There are always limits for women, aren't there?" Chopra, the founder of SheThePeople and Gytree, possessed a discerning look as the writer continued to narrate the story of her life, one that almost every woman can relate to. "Dream big," little girls are taught, proposing the possibility of fathomless aspirations. However, when the dreams are at the precipice of coming true, the enthusiastic girls' wings are trimmed and they're reminded, "But wait... Not that big!"


Women often find themselves contending with not-so-subtle limitations that stifle their ambitions. The walls around their thoughts continue to inch closer as they attempt to explore the possibilities of living an unleashed future. At the Jaipur Literature Festival, Bonnie Garmus and Shaili Chopra sat down for a riveting chat on the expectations from women, imposed right from a young age.

Why Do Women's Dreams Always Come With A Clause?

"We were always raised to be ambitious; but within limits," Bonnie Garmus said, describing her life as a young girl and an aspiring writer. "I could aspire to be an Editor at a publishing house, but I could never aspire to be the CEO. That would be off limits," she exemplified. Hearing this, interviewer Shaili Chopra stirred a conversation on why women are expected to be aspirational within bounds. 

Garmus narrated, "There are always limits for women. All of my sisters were limited in very profound ways. My mother was stopped from becoming more than a nurse. It was just something that they (endured as) 'Well, that's the way it is'." The writer continued, "Except I would always say, 'Why don't we change it?'"


People often say, "Women are women's worst enemies," describing the patriarchal burden that is passed down several generations. However, the real enemy is the endurance of negativity that women have learnt to conventionalise over the years. The clichéd "It is what it is" mindset has restrained several women from breaking out of the toxic cycle that is keeping them from learning their full potential.

Despite today's women slowly crawling their way to a better future, the limits imposed on them keep them in the same loop of waiting for a breakthrough. For example, take women's participation in the workforce. While more women are climbing their way up the career ladder, the gender pay gap, limited healthcare and childcare services, and societal expectations for work-life balance (read: familial duties) leave cracks and bends in the ladder, pushing them down to the first step.

Not just in the bigger picture, but also within the walls of their home, girls are taught from a young age, to continue enduring adversities as "strong women" instead of making life better for them. Acknowledging and dealing with the challenges instead of avoiding them can foster an environment where women truly feel strengthened. It is important to let go of hackneyed expectations and dismantle the cage built around women's dreams.

Women Writers Bonnie Garmus Aspirations Of Women