Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for January, 2022 is Our Evolving Relationship With Feminism. We invite submissions on the many changing aspects of the feminist discourse, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
The hype surrounding the new year is the reflection of our genuine excitement to be a better version of ourselves, in the hopes of a better life. The fact that we all love the idea of “new year, new me” is a clear indication that we are not satisfied with who we have been for the past years. Everyone wants to be “more” in their new year’s resolutions: more fit, more empathic, more focused, more wealthy. In this regard, I am no different from anybody else. I want to be “more me” rather than just confirm to anyone else’s expectation of me.
Everyone loves hearing stories about the day they were born – how their father perhaps waited for hours at the hospital wards, how their siblings reacted when they first saw them and how their mother felt when she held them for the first time. I have heard the stories of “the day I was born” a million times while growing up and each time, I wished it would end differently.
“I turned the other way and cried when the doctor said it was a girl,” my mother would always say, followed by, “So, be better than a boy and prove me wrong.”
I guess she thought it would motivate me to work and study more diligently. If that was her intention, it worked! I spent my childhood seeking her approval and trying to win her love. Be it studies, sports or simple tasks around the house, I always made sure I did everything better than a boy would do. But the journey did something else too.
It instilled “I have to prove I am better than a boy” as my default mental setting. I now feel compelled to be a multi tasking superwoman who can do everything a girl is “supposed” to be good, at as well as anything boys can do. I have to be the responsible daughter who holds the family together. I also have to be the dutiful son who provides for the family. I must be tough and self-sufficient.
Guilt and shame began to dominate me as I struggled to keep up with this incessant drive to prove myself and match my family’s expectations. Low self-esteem pushed me to the brink of isolation and loneliness. It had an impact on my schooling, employment, and personal relationships. For the longest time, I have always found myself wondering “Am I good enough?” “Am I worth it?”, “Am I lovable?”, “What do I bring to the table?”, “Why would anybody want me?”.
Soon I realized that the social norms that caused my mother’s disappointment at my birth do not have the power to define me. It’s pointless to carry the weight of other people’s expectations. I am my own person, and gender preconceptions should have no bearing on my growth or life experiences.
Now I ask different questions, “Why is being a girl not enough?”, “Why are sons more valued than daughters?”, “Why does my gender define me?”, “Why are daughters a burden and sons, treasures?”
Turns out, there are no reasonable answers. Inequality and oppression are embedded in our society. Conventions and stereotypical ideas of what girls, queer individuals and boys should be, are built and structured to preserve the power imbalance that keeps women and other marginalised genders at the bottom of the social ladder.
I know I am not the only girl whose arrival was not welcomed in this world. There are millions of girls out there whose story started exactly the way mine did, who have to prove their worth every single day and work twice as hard to get basic rights. I too, want to write my own story, regardless of the moulds I break along the way.
So, in the new year, I vow to break free from my default setting and strive toward establishing my own place in society – free of preconceived notions about where I belong. I have nothing to prove to anyone, nobody has the power to ascribe worth to me. I am good enough and I know it.
Featured Illustration: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India