“Can you at least wear a three fourth pair of pants instead of those shorts? Your hair was so long and beautiful, why did you cut it? Why do you have so much make-up on at home? Lost a little weight since the last time I saw you, have you stopped eating? You used to wear a bindi every day, what happened? Why have you started dressing like this these days?”
If these do not sound familiar to you as a woman, this definitely will-
“Have you no shame?”
In patriarchal societies, all institutions of society- family, school, university, religion, caste, government and economy serve as an instrument to control a woman’s autonomy and sexuality. All the institutions interplay so perfectly to condition a woman into subservience by building a notion of ‘good girl’ and ‘bad girl’. This conditioning of several generations has resulted in many women also acting as gatekeepers of this same patriarchy that gives them an illusion of choice.
But who decides who is a ‘good girl’ and who is a ‘bad’ one? Men, of course. It does not concern their body, their mind, their spirituality, their life- so how could they not make rules for the same?
The lockdown induced by the Pandemic has brought people closer, quite literally- cramped up in little spaces with already blurred boundaries for personal spaces and privacy. I never felt the pinch at home until the arrival of my Chittappa (paternal uncle), for a short and suffocating visit to our place. Appa(father), although with his own set of problematic opinions, has always been careful in terms of commenting on my agency- however, my Chittappa made up for his share of remarks as well.
Within the first 5 minutes of his visit- he commented on my hair, which is an extremely short pixie cut after I chopped off 8 inches of my hair. Shortly after, he commented on my shorts, my long-manicured nails painted Red, my weight-loss, my tattoos and piercings. Glazing words that were intended to slut-shame in the syrup of apparent ‘concern’, he says to me, “If the family does not correct your behaviour, who will? All these things will not suit you when you are married.” Fuming, I was about to retort when Amma gently touched my arm, urging me to keep my calm.
To maintain peace in households with conflicting ideologies, women are often asked to ‘agree to disagree’ or ‘read up more about it and have a conversation after’ or told that they will ‘understand later’. These unsaid rules Amma did not particularly protest, neither did I because I lacked the energy. Until- my beloved Chitappa, living under my roof, said that the next morning, he wanted to see me in a pair of full pants, hair pinned up and ‘no need for unnecessary makeup’.
This was when I realized that men hate it when women take the center stage- with their sense of style, makeup, ability to hold political conversations, discuss the economy, anything at all. That is why they ask you to dress ‘modestly’, tone down the make-up, speak softly, and ‘agree to disagree’. To reduce the space you take up until it’s no more than the size of your rib cage.
So, I did the most natural thing- it was time to bring out my boldest eye shadow palette from Sephora, iron my shortest pair of shorts, throw the bra, comb and bobby pins out of the window. Petty as it was- it was truly liberating. Amma was a little shocked- but I could see from the little curve in the corner of her lips that she was proud of her little runt.
What’s the worst that can happen, you’ll get a bad review in the matrimonial circles?
Then you ask yourself, “Is that really bad?’