Close your eyes. You are a girl and at a public place. Look around, sit next to a woman. You are not supposed to sit randomly next to an unknown man, or any man for that matter. Good girls do not do that. Sit, but not too abruptly though. Sit with your legs crossed, even if that is uncomfortable to you. It is not very nice otherwise. You hear a conversation and actively want to take part in it? Do not. Nobody needs to hear your opinions. Look down, fix your dress. Straighten out your orna, you must be wearing one at all times. Do that, but do not draw too much attention. Be graceful, be more feminine.
This sadly isn’t just narrative, it has been the reality for most women around us for as long as they can remember. Society has created an image of this “ideal woman” and in some way or the other forced women to conform to them. Under the pressure of this “perfectly” sculpted concept built by rather ancient norms, we have slowly been crammed into a prison of what we should be. While all genders feel pressured to behave or be a certain way, this article discusses the small but painful things that women have to deal with on an almost daily basis. People have now taken it upon themselves the burdensome responsibility to inform us when we are doing something what is fundamentally wrong. Be it the way we talk, the way we walk or the way we dress, we are somehow violating everyone else’s femininity, along with ours.
HOW WE SHOULD CARRY OURSELVES
You see, in order to be considered a respectable lady of a respectable house, there’s a certain way you have to carry yourself. There are rules. You can’t just prance about being yourself. That would be absolutely disgusting and unladylike. Women must always dress to impress. And if you don’t, leave it to everyone to mention it and let you know how the right way a woman should dress.
Sheikh Warda Mariam, student of Communication and Media Studies, says, “Everyday, someone or the other will voice their displeasure with my outfit.”
Unfortunately, that is the kind of world we live in. Our attire, to someone or the other, be it man or woman, is never okay. It is either too loose or not loose enough; too colourful or not colourful enough. You just cannot win.
OUR FUTURE PLANS MUST ALIGN WITH SOCIETY’S VIEWS
Your plans and how you decide to live your life has to be fitting with the fact that you are a woman. What you study has to be feminine. Yes, of course that’s a thing. There are “feminine majors”.
Tasfia Wasel Kabir, a graduate of University of Dhaka, mentions she has been told, “Why study engineering? Go for a major more fitting for women. Such as English or Botany.”
Then comes the more exciting time in life to choose a career, be prepared for there is a very important aspect of it you have not even considered yet: the possibility that someday in the future you may have a husband and children that you may have to give more time to.
Did not think of that one, did you? So, when you are picking out a career, be sure to pick one that will be suitable for your yet-to-exist children.
Another question that Naushaba Rahman*, an undergraduate student of English, reminds us of is, “You don’t know how to cook yet? But you are already so old. How will you feed others?” Because if it is not you, then who?
No, this is not something you should learn because it is a life skill that everyone ought to know. You need it because it is one of your fundamental purposes of a woman.
WE MUST BEHAVE LIKE A SNOWFLAKE
Very close to the euphemisms that often represent it, societal expectations of femininity now asks women to embody a “snowflake”. Delicate and fragile; who cares about comfort or feasibility?
“I have been constantly told that ‘girls from decent households do not speak loudly’,” says Maliha Mashiat, student of Media Studies and Journalism, when asked about the matter. It doesn’t stop there though.
Along with speaking softly, you must also make sure to look as presentable as possible, always. Maybe not presentable in your taste though, just the way it is expected of you. It doesn’t matter if you are comfortable or satisfied. You must remember to be modest, fashionable and cultured everyday through your kameez. You must also remember not to wear each kameez more than once, you know, to maintain your image.
Proma Kibria, currently living in Japan to attain her undergraduate degree, says, “I always feel confused about ‘feminine’ clothing. It’s difficult to find an attire that suits societal expectations and also allows you to not be judged by people around. Wear too much traditional clothing—and you’re unfashionable. Wear too many western outfits—and you aren’t modest enough. Apart from that, there’s the expectation that I will be wearing make-up every time I go outside the house.”
You must wear make-up though. If not, you will be asked if you’re feeling sick or if it’s “that time of the month” because you look pale and the colour of your cheeks do not match those of cherries.
HOW WE ARE EXPECTED TO TRAVEL
The roads are obviously filled with people with malicious intentions, in fact the entire world is. But it is obviously you who is responsible for your safety or lack thereof. You must look back at least ten times each minute to ensure that you aren’t being followed. You must also ask the cab driver or even the rickshaw puller to stop at a distance from your house so that they do not know exactly where you live. And then you must be on the lookout throughout the entire walk to your house.
Unless an auntie finds you first, at which point the entire narrative shifts to you being dropped away from home by a strange man. That is not very decent; that is not very feminine either.
“If we want to travel safe, we must be accompanied by people. If we want to travel by ourselves and then things go south, we were being too carefree and irresponsible. Whatever it is, seems like there is no correct answer,” says Anika Tasfia*, a young professional.
So, whether you are safe or not, you are at fault of something or the other, but one thing remains constant, we are at fault for violating our femininity.
WE MUST MAINTAIN A POLITE ETIQUETTE
Do you have opinions? The answer should always be “no”. How can you have opinions, share them, and still be considered a woman?
Confident and assertive men in a professional setting are said to be cutthroat and are often applauded for these skills. However, women are belittled and called names for having these exact qualities.
Umana Haque, studying at a renowned English medium school in Dhaka, says, “I’ve encountered lots of men who are just as vocal and assertive as me but aren’t criticised for it. It’s not the same with women. We’re asked to tone it down.”
Opinions are obviously never welcome, but neither is your voice. If you must speak, keep your voice low and your head down, for that is polite and that is more feminine. Let your male co-worker steal your ideas and “mansplain” the idea back to you in front of your boss, which is the right option, or sometimes the only option. While he looks smart, you look obedient, that’s right, you are now feminine. Don’t even think about calling him out for stealing your idea though, you will become the designated diva then. Now, that’s not nice either.
Being the ideal woman in a society filled with such a horrid concept of what it is, is difficult. Things are changing, but it just feels like they are not changing fast enough. No matter how people paint the situation out to be, it is a simple matter of people not knowing when to stop commenting. It’s as simple as people minding their own business. For a lot of the times, strangely enough, these comments are made by other women. We’re all on the same side here, and if we don’t stand united in respecting each other’s choices and opinions, how can we expect anyone else to?
*Names have been changed for privacy
Syeda Erum Noor is dangerously oblivious and has no sense of time. Send help at firstname.lastname@example.org
Syeda Afrin Tarannum would choose ‘The Script’ over ‘G-Eazy’ any day. Continue ignoring her taste in music on email@example.com