‘Your silence will not protect you’
– Audre Lorde
Most of us women spend a large part of our lives afraid. Afraid of speaking up. What happens when we speak up? What happens when we say we dislike something? What happens when we disagree with a larger sentiment? We get bullied. We get called names. We get labelled.
Every time we sit back and decide to not engage, we are not ‘letting it go’. Rather, we are going a huge disservice to the loud women who came before us and made it possible for us to have bag very choice. Before these women, we did not have the choice. We weren’t considered important enough to be ‘allowed’ to engage.
Growing up, we are told to ‘not make a big deal of it’. It could be somebody groping us on a crowded bus. It could be an arranged marriage where the prospective groom’s family evaluate us on our skin colour and body. It could be a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner. It could be a toxic friendship. It could be a stranger on the road passing an obscene comment about our breasts. It could be cyber bullying.
What do we do? We choose to not engage and to not make a ‘scene’. To put our safety before everything else, right? Unfortunately, thats not how choice works. When we choose, we also need to be aware of where the impetus for these choices come from.
Nobody likes a woman who is a threat to existing, established norms and institutions. The ‘demure and soft eyed’ woman is held as the ideal and her loud and opinionated sister is the threat. Do we really think that being the doe eyed woman is going to protect us? That our silence is going to protect us? No. Take a look around. Patriarchal violence (emotional, sexual, physical) does not spare any woman. The demure woman is going to be groped in her ‘decent’ clothing just as readily as her loud sister in a pair of jeans is going to be. Staying quiet will not protect us. It just leaves us defenceless and voiceless. That was the original plan, wasn’t it?
Who are we so afraid of offending? Every time we ignore casual misogny (it could be WhatsApp forward in a family group about women before marriage and after or a stray dialogue in a movie) we are actually doing more than we realise to undo the work of all those loud woman who fought to give us what we take for granted today.
What is misogny anyway? You know that hilarious forward your office college sent you about women looking ‘sexy’ till they find a man and putting on weight after marriage? Or that comment your aunt made on your wedding day to your husband ‘she is your property/responsibility’ in all concern and relief? it is really not their fault. This is what they have been conditioned to believe just as we have been conditioned to agree and to take pride in that ‘protection’. This is not an us vs them debate. We are all in this together.
The idea that a girl is a liability and needs to be guarded and protected does not mean we are cherished. It means we are owned.
We have been told that women who disagree and are opinionated are unattractive. Nobody likes a loud woman. If I had to choose between being liked by everybody and walking back home from the school bus stop without somebody whistling at me or saying ‘hey switty, want to party’ , I wonder what I would choose. Dramatic as it may sound, that is the choice.
We see a male comedian in a movie make a casually sexist comment about a woman. We laugh / ignore it / dismiss it as reality and move on. This is the scary part. The idea that a woman is free target for anybody to comment about is so much a part of our everyday lives that we see nothing strange in it. The other disturbing outcome is that we start seeing ourselves through those eyes too. We don’t want to wear a certain dress because we wonder if somebody will find it ‘slutty’ or ‘desperate’. what about this dress is problematic? let us think about that for a minute.
Is the dress aesthetically or ideologically against what we were raised to think ‘good girls’ dress like? Is it the kind of dress that invites ‘unwanted attention’? Is it the kind of dress that threatens peoples comfort zones and makes them uncomfortable with how comfortable we are in our own skin? Is it that dress that make makes us look so ‘desperate and cheap’ that the nice men we were hoping to chat up with are going to think we are ‘sluts’?
Do we also believe that following the ‘rules’ will to keep us and our daughters safe? These thing do not happen to women like us?
You and I could be that woman. We ARE that woman. We don’t need anybody celebrating us for our ability to reproduce or to ‘bear fruit’. We all know how our worth in society is directly tied to our reproductive capabilities, don’t we? What we need is to be heard.
The next time we choose to not speak up, we may want to think of the effort of the loud women everywhere whose efforts and voices have made it possible for us to exercise this right to a choice. We come on the back of a history that saw women as wealth and trade objects. How much have things really changed?
The fact that we have some basic freedom (and that too not in every part of the world) to vote, to have legal identity, right to inheritance, speech, choice, education and much else is because of every loud and annoying woman out there who confront the system, ask questions and dare to disagree. The choice is really ours.