Why can’t we propagate the idea that our daughters have a choice between wearing glass slippers and shattering glass ceilings or that they could do both? The question is elucidated by the idea that women are taught to be perfect, fragile and helpless. They aren’t taught to be fearless and fierce. They don’t have the choice to act in ways that don’t comply with their rigidly defined gender roles. “You should be lady-like,” “No, don’t be emotional,” “don’t talk back” “there is no need to study further, eventually you are going to be a homemaker,” “you should know how to cook,” “What have you done to your body? No one will marry you. Fix yourself.” These ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’, are examples of ‘tyranny of the shoulds’ a concept introduced by Karen Horney, a renowned psychoanalyst. She used this term to demonstrate how human beings strive to gravitate towards the ‘ideal self’ and completely mould into it. But who defines the ‘ideal self’? It is derived from the ideologies and the norms promulgated by the renowned social institutions of society. Women all their lives are constantly struggling to fit into the narrow holes of society.
The focus is on women as ‘daughters’ when it comes to teaching because the manifestation of gender starts with primary socialisation, which begins in childhood. Since a child is born, gender roles are passively reinforced through culture, toys, books, sports and schooling. Throughout the process, the daughters are instilled with the belief system of ‘playing it safe’. They are taught to be cautious and impeccable. Instead of embracing fear and risks, they are taught to avoid them. Similarly, Reshma Saujani, an American lawyer, mentions a study conducted by Carol Dweck, in her TED Talk ‘teach girls bravery not perfection’. The idea extracted from the study was that even among young boys and girls, it isn’t a matter of ability to do a difficult task. Rather, it is a question of how boys and girls approach a challenge. Boys get exhilarated whereas girls tend to become anxious and give up in the face of a demanding situation because of the fear of failing. Through the lens of scrutiny and degradation, society picks apart and controls a woman’s confidence. This is one of the main reasons for staggering differences in the economic, social and political participation of men and women.
Hence, it becomes necessary to teach daughters to embrace their inner selves. Instead of undermining their ability to perform and make decisions, teach them how to speak up even when faced with contrary viewpoint. Instead of moulding them to meet societal expectations, create spaces for them so that they don’t seek affirmation from outside. Instead of inculcating doubt and shame in them, teach them how to love themselves for who they are. Instead of defining conditions of worth for them, encourage them to give themselves worth on their own terms. Instead of pigeonholing them into the direction of wearing golden slippers or shattering glass ceilings, teach them to be their favourite kind of ‘wonder woman’. So that when they wake up every morning and see their reflection in the mirror they are able to see someone who is a conqueror with remarkable courage yet humble and caring at the same time.
Especially in Pakistan, a nation characterised with patriarchal norms and culture, it is crucial for women to have an exceptionally high self-esteem and a more logical mind to avoid naysayers and to be their own advocates. Parents, peers, schools and other primary sources of socialisation should stop raising women with caution, while encouraging boys to be rough and brave. Bravery is a learned behaviour that comes with practice, irrespective of gender. Parents and others need to undo the socialisation of fear and perfection. Women also have the responsibility to cheer and push other women to discover their inner-gangsters!
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2017.