We Are Expected to Apologise Now for What We Were Encouraged to Be
Growing up in the 20th and 21st centuries saw many little girls being told to dream big, to study hard and believe that we could be the best. Of course interspersed in this narrative was the usual ‘sit like a girl, walk like a girl’ and the learning of some sort of domestic skill. Navigating this space was not easy. Climbing rooftops and walls was not what girls did but we did it. Wearing shorts was not exactly kosher but we were bought and dressed in them. We rode bicycles, did sports, got sunburned (God forbid) and stood up to people who tried to box us in.
Our teenage years saw us rioting in school – we were loud, boisterous, opinionated. We also swore (gasp). We believed we could be anything. Our ambitions were to be pilots, singers, politicians etc. Not really ‘girl’ stuff but we had dreams. Some of us even went so far as to do A/L subjects that would feed these dreams.
Yet somewhere down the line, adulthood happened. And suddenly there was this world which did not really like women like us. There were the higher education institutes with their gendered notions of behaviour (cheeththa dresses vs jeans, Colombo vs the Hoi Polloi) and the office spaces were worse. These were the bastions of patriarchy. Some guarded over decades. Walking into them gave a rather ominous feeling. CEOs were men. Managers were majority men. Secretaries (now PAs) were women.
Yet we were educated. We had degrees. We were smart, intelligent women. Fresh out of some utopian world we wanted to belong to and instead thrust into the mechanisms of patriarchy too deeply embedded to change. Our dress code, our behaviour had to be according to what is accepted. I am not talking about places like banks where you have uniforms. These are corporate bastions. Women had to sashay their way to the top or bark their way there. There was no in between.
It’s still the same.
Women are expected to behave in certain ways. You are expected to play the femme fatale. To toss your hair, shake your hips and get the job done. Or be the bitch. The bitch that barks, stamps her feet and gets the job done. Precious few places understand that women should be left to their own devices. Endless are the comments on your attire, appearance, behaviour and work. You will always take minutes. You will be expected to organize the food. You will be in charge of cleaning the place. You will be the embodiment of the ‘woman’ that these patriarchal products see in their own homes – their mothers. God forbid if you drink or smoke (Is this how ‘decent’ women behave?) while the lechers will be shamelessly groping their way around.
Now in your 30s, you will be questioned as to why you aren’t married. You will be told you are ‘too independent’. What the fuck is ‘too independent’? Do you ever use that to describe a man? No. What’s wrong with being independent? You don’t need a man. Instead you want (or don’t want) a man. And that is a problem.
Coz patriarchy builds men to be providers and women to be dependent on them. This is why it’s fucked up. No one understands till they are sitting in that quagmire wondering how the devil to get out of the mess. Now it’s a case of almost apologizing for being who we are. For being strong. For being able to stand alone. Even in that patriarchal dark hole that you will meet regularly. For being financially independent. These are now crimes against humanity in your purported quest for marriage. Now our mothers and fathers are questioning if they did us a disservice by making us that 1% that goes against the grain. That believed that we could and still do.
I bloody well think not. Honestly it’s painful to be in the minority but I ain’t apologizing for who I am. For better or worse this is who I am. I am as smart and intelligent as the men I work with (if not more). I will change a plug, cut branches, cook, do the laundry, make music, study, do a sport and go for a pedicure. Yea I am a kaleidoscope. Not just some bloody mirror. Deal with it.