Posted by Sucharita Maji
I have seen my mom stopping me when I wanted to retaliate to one of my hostile cousins. All of my friends (sadly, all of them are girls) had suggested that I suppress my anger and not complain when I was openly body shamed by my colleague. I have seen my sister being a matter of gossip for being overly straightforward and not very ‘womanly’ to her husband. I have heard how ambitious and extroverted women are often suggested to ‘calm their tits’ in organisations and how they are forced to laugh at the super-sexist jokes of their male colleagues. Probably these are the inputs from the society that force me and all of us to silence our opinions and emotions in order to be liked or to be a ‘good woman’.
In 1991, Dana Crawley Jack, a renowned clinical psychology researcher, observed that clinically depressed women have a pattern in their relationship dynamics. They tend to silence their emotions, opinions, and thoughts in their intimate-partner relationships, often to be liked or to avoid conflicts. The game of relationships, therefore, is not devoid of the gender hierarchy. It should not come as a surprise to us that often we see women (married/unmarried), who are in a relationship, have been silencing themselves for years after years.
It should not come as a surprise to us that often we see women (married/unmarried), who are in a relationship, have been silencing themselves for years after years.
In fact, some of them follow this same old pattern when they change their partners. Sounds similar? Most of us have a few of these women in our inner circle, right? As a consequence of this silencing, women often develop a sense of loss of self (Isn’t it obvious?). This might gradually result in a number of mental ailments such as anxiety, depression and so on. This also explains why women are almost twice more likely to suffer from depression than men.
But the question is, why do women involve in self-silencing? Prof. Jack argues that the motivation to silence oneself in a relationship mostly comes from the gender-role socialisation, that is, the way we learn to be a woman. As I mentioned, the power dynamics within the relationship is not free from the existing gender stature of the society, thereafter, women are even expected to behave in a particular manner even in the most intimate relationship. The given gender script of the society works pretty much like an ‘over-eye’ for the women and they feel the compulsion to conform to that. In fact, the constraint is so intense that they experience a tremendous level of guilt when they cannot abide by the over-eye. Moreover, the fear of losing affection from the partner, the apprehension of getting bashed by the muscles, and most importantly, the anxiety of losing a shelter among the financially dependent women (fear of annihilation), somehow convince a woman to shut her mouth and shut it in a womanly manner.
The over-eye makes women define care in terms of sacrifice, that is, they feel they need to sacrifice their work, career, interest, and dreams if they care. And who doesn’t know, care is women’s thing, right?
Do we stop being ourselves even in the most intimate relationships to follow the given gender scripts?
Now, one might ask, if keeping shut helps in making a good home, then what is so bad about suppressing oneself? Self-silencing would not only lead to a lot of psychological disorders like depression, to begin with, it also tells a whole lot of stories about the quality of the relationship. Women who are not sure about the stability of the relationship or find it dysfunctional are definitely those who will silence more. Women also tend to experience a lot of unpleasant sex-practices (including unwanted and unprotected sex) as a consequence of silencing their opinions and preferences.
Self-silencing is more problematic since it leads to a feeling of a divided self. When a woman silences, she feels awful about not being the real self and at the same time wants to conform to the good woman rulebook. Therefore, there is a lot of hassles within oneself, which is tiring, anxiety-producing, and no one deserves it.
What do we do now? Do we stop being ourselves even in the most intimate relationships to follow the given gender scripts? Do we end up doing a lot of sacrifices to prove our commitment, our love? Do we suffer and cry alone? No. I think raising your voice and being the real you sound better.
Sucharita is a psychology researcher at IIT kanpur, who is interested in organizational psychology and gender. Besides being a coffee lover, she enjoys travelling, writing, and talking to people. She can be followed on Facebook.