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The fear that there will be no one to validate their existence or suffering is what the world has always used to pit women against women.
FOPO – Fear of People’s Opinions.
I came across this term scrolling through Instagram, and the knot in my stomach tightened. There was an uneasy sense of knowing and realisation. I recognised this as a weapon wielded against women in particular, who have control over their life as any normal adult would.
While I am going to write mostly about this tactic used against women in families, I do want to clarify it is also often employed against men. Because God forbid boys grow into well-functioning adults who think reasonably, thus, setting a poor example to their male cousins or siblings. The ones who are being groomed to keep the patriarchy alive in the name of tradition. This has been said many times, and needs to be repeated more – Patriarchy affects men as much as it affects women.
Any woman who seems happy living her life independently digs at the patriarchal society’s self-esteem, which is very fragile. I say patriarchal society and not men because women can uphold patriarchy as well as men.
For example, a woman who gave birth to a son has the notion that someday she will be validated for her sacrifices by the girl, whom the son marries. This happens largely in Indian families. The notion often comes from a life lived surrounded by patriarchal toxicity where her opinions were dismissed or ridiculed because of her gender. Thus, she feared standing up for herself.
Why? FOPO! She lived a life not being able to voice what she wants and told herself that her time will come. That she will get her due for being what the society deems as an ideal woman. Her due being, showing the world her voice matters by taking away another woman’s voice.
There are two situations that could play out here. One – the daughter-in-law gives up her freedom due to some misguided advice about the good woman. She is someone who sacrifices her well being for the family and dedicates her life to support the husband and his family. From how she dresses to how long she can visit her parents, everything is up for a discussion!
Thus continuing the intergenerational trauma which conveniently goes unnoticed by the beholders of traditions. The ‘I went through it, why can’t you’ scenario constantly plays out, guilt tripping to control adults leading to mental health problems.
Or two, the girl questions the irrationality of the expectations and shakes things up. This results in bitterness, fear of never being validated, a sense of betrayal and desperation. All this leads to tactics such as embarrassing the daughter-in-law in front of everyone to make her conform. Again FOPO.
Both the options end up in strained unfulfilling relationships and hostility on both sides. By saying that another woman’s existence is not her own, are you not validating everything the world said about you?
How is being born a male or giving birth to one deemed an achievement? Especially when neither the boy nor the parents have no real control over the outcome? The clear winner in both the scenarios is patriarchy.
If only, she was taught as a little girl that she is enough. And if only she was told, she does not have to meet the entire world’s expectation to live a fulfilled life of love. If only she was told, taking away another woman’s voice will not make hers louder. And if only she was told, she needn’t fear her sister’s rise, for it’s the answer for all the lost voices, including hers.
The fear that there will be no one to validate their existence or suffering is what the world has always used to pit women against women. Until our self worth and happiness depends on constant approval and validation from others rather than finding it within ourselves, patriarchy will keep winning.
When two women choose different paths in life, it does not mean one woman looks down on the other. It just means that both of us are two different people, with two different bodies and minds capable of liking different things. This is not a competition, its coexistence.
If a woman wants to dress in pastel colours, that’s okay! Or if she wants to dress in vibrant colours, that’s okay too. Don’t pressure your sister, cousin, or any other women into dressing up like you do. Other women need not dress like you do to validate your style. Style is personal!
When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, wouldn’t you be taken aback if you saw someone else’s reflection instead of yours? Having another woman’s back can start with something as simple as respecting her choice of clothing.
Next time you go to a wedding or family get-together and a seemingly well-intentioned aunt or uncle makes unsavoury comments on a woman’s clothing, compliment it! If she is wearing a low-cut blouse, don’t ask her to change because you don’t want other people to target her.
The problem is not in her blouse but in people’s minds. You can have her back by giving her a compliment! Every time a woman breaks the toxic cycle and understands and accepts women who choose different paths are not enemies, patriarchy crumbles a little.
The world has a tough time comprehending the fact that a woman can choose what is good for her. Saying ‘No, enough is enough.’ Or taking a step to fight through our fears. And even standing shoulder to shoulder with our sisters is a roar to the world that our self worth is not up for debate. Men fighting patriarchy is a step in the right direction, but women refusing to uphold patriarchy is of the essence.
The people who call themselves your well-wishers would never tell you that your self worth depends on what other people think about you. While they themselves might have been victims, saying it’s okay for us to go through it comes from a place of bitterness and is not the path to healing.
Acknowledging each other’s likes and dislikes, and standing by those choices are different is going to take us closer to the finish line in achieving a better world.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Lipstick Under My Burkha
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