In search of the perfect girl … as approved by our society
Bhodro (Adj): Conforming with generally accepted standards of respectable or moral behaviour.
The above definition has been stolen from the English meaning of “decent.” But it doesn’t quite do justice to the Bangla word, bhodro, or the more popular gender-specific phrase, bhodro meye.
So what is a “bhodro meye”? What makes one and what breaks one? What are the rewards, and who are the judges?
And why, most importantly, why? Why do we insist on this arbitrary variable to calibrate young women, this primitive and redundant spectrometer of goodness that has no value in the real world? Why?
A bhodro meye seems to be a golden pedestal, the most sought after prize in our little homogenous society, and girls are raised to aim for it with all their heart and might in this win-or-lose-all war.
With the threat of our cultural giant of a neighbour leering at us from our TV screens and the ever-present need of us to prove our religious moral ground to society, we have morphed decency into this mutant philosophy of only pretending to be good.
There seems to be a pervasive thin layer of pretend decency, and women are taught to adhere to it, regardless of a moral compass, and true lessons get entirely lost.
We are so bent on teaching women to look bhodro that being good at heart often get bypassed.
Here is my own version of what a bhodro meye is today:
1. One who does not drink or smoke. Because, that is now the fat, black line separating good from the bad. But lying and being deceitful is acceptable, as long as you have mastered the art of “kotha shunano.” In other words, pretence must be your middle name. From praising something you don’t really like, to adding that extra oomph to gossip when retelling it, it’s all in the flare.
And if you must vent at a folly, you just do so with grace, hiding it into the folds of conversation so only the intended person will feel the prick. Now that is true art.
2. One who covers well. But skin-tight clothing is, of course, acceptable. And of course, you can always dictate your sexuality with your eyes, hips and just the way you jut out your curvy bits when walking or talking, but please don’t wear a sleeveless blouse because you will be immediately stripped of you bhodroness.
2a. One who only wears revealing clothing after marriage because we all know all sins of a married woman is forgiven. Besides, you are your husband’s property now, am I right?
Young girls need to be reminded, daily if need be, that they can grow up to be absolutely anybody they want to be and they need not worry about their eligibility for a good husband
3. One who is soft-spoken, doesn’t raise her voice, or doesn’t laugh “heartily.” Sits with her knees together and always maintains her chin pointing downward.
But it’s absolutely fine to be downright mean and horrendous to anybody belonging to a less-fortunate social background. From wiggling dainty noses at people who don’t live in the “cool” tri-state (if there is such a thing) to being outright disrespectful to your chauffeur/maid who is twice your age. All that is fine as long as you know when to perfectly pronounce your salams and not talk back. Woman, never talk back.
4. One who does not give their opinion when not asked for (a woman will never be asked for her opinion of course. Nor her consent. But that’s another story). But gossip? Oh, gossip is the juice this society runs on. Just as long as it’s people you are speaking of, you are good.
5. One who only studies or always has her universe centred on her home. A bhodro girl doesn’t have passion for art or music, doesn’t feel the need to go to concerts or experience new places or cultures (or just go out).
You do not feel the need to “live” life and hence will not have any qualm in just living from one day to the next in a perfect little bubble. You may not have one ounce to add to any conversation apart from gossip or assignments or recipes, but that is OK. We don’t raise our girls to be worldly.
We are all familiar with these. We have all been told by Aunty A at weddings to fix our achol or by Aunty B to sit with our knees together or by Aunty C to not laugh so loud.
As if these are the true lessons of life. As if coy women talking softly, dripping in society-dictated femininity is what moves the world and will save it someday. It won’t.
You don’t need to be a bra-flinging short-haired feminist to save it either. You don’t need to be defined at all. There is no one mould that you must conform to in order to amount to something.
Young girls need to be taught that they can be superheroes too, that there are other colours than pink, that having super awesome cars for toys are perfectly normal, that bruised knees don’t hurt that bad when you are on your favourite big girl bicycle.
Young girls need to be reminded, daily if need be, that they can grow up to be absolutely anybody they want to be and they need not worry about their eligibility for a good husband.
Young women don’t need diet plans and fairness advice. They need not worry about which dirty joke is not feminine enough or which degree will threaten prospective husbands. What they need is encouragement to take that math course at university or that offshore program.
They need to be told that it doesn’t matter how long their dupatta is or how silky their hair is, what matters is what weight they bring with them or how much grit they carry, because life will need a lot of stomping onto unforgiving ground to make a mark. Life is not gender biased. It will fling the same misery and hardship at everyone.
At the end of the day, bhodroness will not buy you a meal or get you a job or save you. The truest lesson of all is that you do not need to be a certain kind of a woman to be good. You do not need to be coloured in the hues society decides on to be deemed worthy of respect.
You can be loud, quiet, shy, funny, bold, strong, skinny, plump, long-haired, short-haired, with makeup, without makeup, outgoing, a homebody, or any combination of anything you like, as long as you let yourself do the choosing. Because when the going gets tough, you will need to pick up that shining armour and wear it yourself.
Nudrat Lohani Nabi is a client service representative at Jagar Ltd in Sydney, Australia.