Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Well-behaved women?

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 17 November 2010)

There is a certain etiquette little girls are taught from young and they take these lessons into adulthood. For example, well-behaved women do what they are told, regardless of what they truly want to do.

Well-behaved women know to keep their mouths shut on issues of politics and other important matters that men have long managed. Well-behaved women cook dinner every day, clean the house, raise the children and are waiting at the door with a kiss when their husband comes home – not because she wants to do these things, but because society has told her that she must do these things or she is not a good woman.

For the woman who does want to be what society defines as a good woman, more power to you. But there are so many women who do not want this life and feel trapped, because this is what society still expects from them. In these women, there is potential wasted and intellect stifled. Life as one of these women is so unfulfilling.

However, the most dangerous social standard imposed on women is the one that says she must allow the man in her life to abuse her if he so desires. She is to take the blows without crying out for help. She must listen to the verbal assassinations without expecting words of love. She must resign herself to the torture of her abuser without whispering a word of dissent lest she disgrace the man.

The woman also remains silent about the abuse she receives because it will embarrass her. You see, social tradition also says that if a man beats a woman, it must be because she did something to provoke it. She was not good enough somehow. Not a good enough cook, not a good enough maid, not a good enough wife – not a good enough human.

Let’s tie this all together to get a realistic look at the world in which so many women live. Social tradition not only imposes impossibly restrictive lives on women, but in this diminutive world she is also tortured physically, verbally and emotionally – and is then too ashamed to ask for help because all of it must be her fault.

That this type of social ill still exists in 2010 is intolerable. That as a human race, half of our species is still subjected to such a deplorable quality of life is indefensible. That so many vital resources are lost because women are not allowed to reach their fullest potential is self-destructive.

I know there are some who get upset when I talk about freeing women from this unendurable lifestyle. Why mess with traditions that have worked so well for millennia? I mess with these traditions because they do not work. These traditions have enslaved and tortured half of the human population for too long and it is time for them to be obsolete.

Just because a tradition has existed for thousands of years does not make that tradition a just or good practice. Humans have long followed practices that are detrimental to the species, such as slavery, wars, human sacrifice, mass deforestation and many more. It is my opinion that the subjection of women for countless centuries is the most injurious tradition the human race has ever practiced.

My all-time favourite quote is, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” I like this quote for several reasons. Firstly, it looks convention right in the face and dismisses it. Secondly, it states an important truth that women should know, because if a woman remains locked up in the small world forced upon her by patriarchy, she would rarely be able to “make history.”

Another reason I like this quote is because it challenges me to learn more, to be more and to do more. It also reminds me that I am not alone in my “misbehaving” ways since there are many, many women who have made history and are still making history even today. If it is behaving badly to ignore suffocating traditions, then so be it. I would rather die knowing I reached my fullest potential in life than to curtsy to archaic customs simply to appease some small, egotistical minds.

Another of my favourite quotes is, “A clean house is the sign of a wasted life.” Women are so full of guilt all of the time. We feel guilty when the house is not clean, when the laundry is not done, if the dinner is not cooked, if we are not at the house when our teenagers get home from school. There is so much guilt because there are so many responsibilities – more than what one person should have to bear. And no woman should have to bear all these alone, regardless of what social standards say.

This quote allows me to disregard that guilt and focus on more important things than folding laundry or chopping onions. The house gets clean eventually, if not by me then by others who live in the house – and my potential is realised and I find fulfilment in ways that washing dishes will never give me.

Are women behaving badly when they want to push themselves intellectually and otherwise? No one would ever say such a thing about a man. Yet that guilt creeps up again and insists that such desires are not noble, but instead selfish. Nonsense!

Next week, on November 25, there is going to be a rally at the Georgetown Cricket Club Ground, Bourda, to support survivors and victims of domestic violence. It is being held on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to make a statement that regardless of what social tradition mandates, we will gather on that day to “Break the Silence and Say No to Violence”.

On this day, we make a stand together in unity against the violence. This is one archaic social practice that is on its way out the door.

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