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Shaming women for asserting themselves and calling them ‘bad’ girls happens all the time. But I would rather do my thing than be one of the good girls!
There is something about Indian society and its obsession with good girls. We often tell young girls that if you are silent and giving, you are good. And then, you are loved. In other words, we tell young girls that if you are good, you would be loved. Good basically means being nice, polite and giving.
Growing up in the ’90’s these were the lessons taught to me. Good girls are not taught that boundaries are to be drawn. They are there for everyone, and she is loved by everyone. And popular media stressed on this thought.
I must have been in Class 4 when I watched Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Madhuri Dixit was the girl I wanted to be. She never spoke out when she had to marry her brother-in-law. She accepted it. She was the nice, good girl, whom everyone loved. And finally the dog in the movie helps her out. So, if you are the good girl, things finally work out for you. You are always under that grace. And you have to be ‘good enough’.
When I graduated from Madhuri to Kajol in DDLJ, Raj who is the epitome of a dream lover, wants Simran to be the good daughter and not to disobey Babuji. He not only insists upon it, but makes sure that he won’t marry her until Babuji agrees.
So good girls stay silent, are kind, good and, they are finally given it all, as they stay good. This is the subtle message that little girls learn. This was what society taught little girls then, which is seeing some changes now.
When these little girls grow up and when things don’t work out as it did for Madhuri Dixit, it induces a feeling of guilt, of not being good enough. Culturally, we are a very guilt inducing society. I am yet to meet a man or woman who is not guilty of something or the other. And guilt has never ever done any good to the society. It induces the need to be punished, and robs away an individual of self love. Thus, leaving a self violating individual and a violent society.
Haven’t we created an extremely violent society? We need a reason to be angry. Now that we have social media, we spur more venom, because it gives us the advantage of anonymity. Everyone is so angry these days and no one seems to listen. We are all in a reactive mode. Yes, that’s what we have reduced a generation to.
I was one of the good girls. There was a time, if someone would be angry with me, I would take that as a personal failure. Despite being educated in one of the premier institutions of India, I took time to let go of conditioning. In my third year of college, I was in love with an emotionally unavailable boy. When he treated me badly, I cried to my friends that all I wanted was to be a good girl. Was I not good enough to be loved or to be treated well? That is what conditioning does.
I have since come a long way. I have learnt that if someone is behaving crazy, it is their problem and I need to walk away. Recently, I have started to become bitter and angry by the day. But then, I am the good girl who would still pick up the phone and listen to your woes, even when my editor would be fuming over a deadline. Good girls always help. Don’t they? Oh! I forgot to mention here, if you have a toothache or heartache, you can call me anytime. I will give you two straight hours. The truth is I may have resented things so much, but I will still be there smiling with faked calmness.
It’s a great thing to be there for friends. You love them and they do too. But we need to understand that not all love is healthy. We have put love on the highest pedestal. But no one ever teaches us, that love is like food and not all kinds will nurture you. Culturally, a good woman is supposed to accommodate all. Have you noticed how much we celebrate the silent suffering women? We love the woman who gives up everything. Sacrifice should be her synonym.
We worship Sita, who was banished by her own husband. She suffered immensely for no fault of her own. Finally she just asks mother earth to take her away. Sita never asked anything from Ram. She goes through an “Agni Pariksha” to prove her worth, and this circle of a woman needing to prove herself still continues. As if just by being ourselves is never enough. There is a constant fight of being too thin, too fat, too loud, too bossy and may be, we are all running the race of proving ourselves good enough, like Sita did, when she took the Agni Pariksha. Sita started it and tragically, we all are paying till date.
We criticise Ekta Kapoor for her regressive serials, for the Tulsi and Parvati she created. But let’s face it, she nailed our mentalities on the screen. The sacrificial woman was always there on the pedestal, Ekta just got them into our living rooms.
Coming back to myself, now that I am not the quintessential good girl, I have drawn new boundaries. I refuse the discomfort some people bring with them. I have stopped being accommodative. Also, we are taught not to be vocal about our needs. Though girls are equally educated these days, you don’t find many women negotiating salaries. That’s cultural conditioning. You don’t ask too much. You don’t become the greedy women.
My life was like sitting in a well-laid tea party. It looked so perfect. I looked so pretty. But then, it was dinner time, I was craving for a full meal. No matter how well the cookies and pastries were served, it was dinner time and I was hungry. I was unable to walk out of something so comfortable, but my needs were different and growing. I still sat at the same table. I was angry, I was bitter and I was agonizing myself, until I stood up and said that I need to go.
Walking away from something that was supposedly for you, will raise a few eyebrows. And when you have always let people in and you suddenly shut a few doors, it will invite some conflict. When you are the so called good woman, you are always there for others, even if they are being toxic to you. So, when you draw boundaries and claim your space, many people who enjoyed the privilege of your space will be angry. When you ask and assert who you are after years and years of accommodating others, people will be angry, not because they care about you, but because they have lost the privilege which they took for granted.
We are not very used to seeing women who are assertive, rich, successful and are unapologetic about anything. In this country being a woman itself is a sign of apology. So, when you see a woman speaking out, making her presence felt and not asking for your permission, she is mostly called crazy, bitch or a witch.
Sometime back, I received a marriage proposal, which I politely refused. The gentleman called me a book-hugging feminist, whose mind is ruined by a few crazy women and editors who publish my work. I was this crazy, lonely girl who would sit in her room alone and write whatever stories she felt like writing.
That day, I just laughed as I walked out of the restaurant. He was trying to sell me shame and guilt. But I was no more the good woman and I had nothing to prove. I walked with my head held high to a sense of freedom and joy I never knew before.
I thanked my stars, that I was no more the good woman!
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Published here earlier.
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Proud Indian. Senior Writer at Women's Web. Columnist. Book Reviewer. Street Theatre - Aatish. Dreamer.
Paromita love your writing! Midway between a post I know that it’s written by you! All your articles. And kudos to not being the good girl. May you inspire many
You are a brilliant writer Paromita ! From the moment I first read your posts a couple of years ago on womensweb, I’ve been a fan! I felt your strong and poignant voice in your words- exquisitely beautiful, brutally honest and completely riveting all at once!! You are an artist par excellence with words, in the depth of meaning of what your artistry conveys!! Way to go!!! May you go from strength to strength!! As far as this post goes…its the wonder of life itself… to live and to learn… to weather the journey and slowly understand the meaning of each step of the way. Every step of pain and joy brings us blissfully closer to who we are and who we want to be…what can be more amazing than that!!!
Absolutely brilliant line of thinking. Kudos to you for nailing it that being a girl is an apology in india. I have always tried to be good and accomodate everyone and be there for everyone, but in the end it is me who has suffered the most. And when i started asserting myself, I have become the bad bad girl, self centered and mean. But it will be a long time before I will be able to break the shackles of goodness of decades.
Your thoughts are so beautifully penned!! 🙂
Indian society and it’s obsession with being a good girl indeed makes one shortsighted and judgemental.
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