A 10-year-old cousin of my friend was given a mobile phone to be able to stay in touch with her parents, as she lives with her grandmother. She was also provided an internet connection on her phone to work on her school projects. What came along were social media apps that kept her occupied.
She eventually started updating twenty four hour statuses on WhatsApp. These statuses were initially only about ‘cute animals’ and ‘amazing facts’ that she would come across perhaps while working on her projects. One day, however, she uploaded a status that was a song from the recently released Bollywood movie ‘Judwaa 2’. It created an uproar in her family, as her parents thought this might make the people viewing her status brand her as a ‘bigdi hui ladki’.
The lyrics of the song go as follows, “Kab mummy daddy mere tu patayega, kab band baaja leke ghar ayega (When will you woo my parents, when will you come to marry me),” which according to ‘accepted norms’ should not interest a young child like her. She definitely should not be putting it out as her WhatsApp story, these norms demand.
While my friend and I were worried about the amount of time she must have wasted on searching or downloading the video and how a young child like her could prioritise her internet use, the other elder relatives in her family chose to focus on a different issue. We told her why she should befriend books and not her phone, why she should spent time in the library instead of the internet. Her parents, on the other hand, kept asking her if she knew what the song meant and what her status could make people think of her. They even checked if she had guy friends who would come across her status, and were worried about the impression she would make on them through the song.
For a 10-year-old, maybe it is important to know about societal norms or specific gender roles, but why scare her into believing that society will not consider her a ‘good girl’ if she behaves in a particular way or likes any particular song, dance form, or movie?
Sociologists talk about gender-norms that govern acceptable behaviour for different sexes. When a girl deviates from these norms, she becomes a part of the ‘bigdi hui ladki’ category, while she is just trying to be herself. For a young girl like my friend’s cousin, this means that her family believes uploading such songs would sketch her as a bad character.
Ever since my childhood, even I have been a very ‘susheel and sanskaari’ daughter, abiding by all the rules and regulations set by my parents or elders. But today, when I look back, I realise that a lot of it was only to please my elders and to be in their good books. Rather than understanding the various consequences a situation could lead to, the only consequence that bothered me was if I would be branded a ‘bad girl’. That is how I decided how to act in society.
I guess that’s where these norms go wrong. The branding of an individual as a ‘spoilt brat’, based on a few actions that we don’t find socially acceptable, reflects the prejudices we carry. This is not limited to judging people on the basis of their looks, dress, attitude, and behaviour, but also parameters like the kind of books they read, the kind of movies they watch, and the kind of songs they listen to.
I believe we should prioritise how we should behave by deciding what is important for us in the future. Society is going to judge you and label you any which way. If it runs out of parameters, it can always create new ones – like it did for my friend’s cousin.