Let young girls chase their own dreams
Growing up in Bangladesh, we have heard our aunts complaining often saying things like: “Ami toh khali amar bacchader jonno beche achi” and “Ami toh poristhitir shikar.”
Indeed, this is the story of many women in our society who, despite having received formal education, were not bestowed with the opportunity to follow their own path.
In a deeply patriarchal society like ours, since early childhood, girls are taught to be conformists -- to always abide by a particular set of rules that bhodro girls have followed over generations.
For Bangladeshi parents, the greatest reward they can achieve is when their daughter is labelled bhodro meye by their circle of family and friends, and no other achievement of the daughter in any field is deemed comparable to that.
Gender-neutral parenting is very rare in our society, if not unheard of.
Hence, the training on how to achieve the bhodro award comes with the birth certificate for the girl. They are taught how to speak, sit, talk, and walk in the manner that will classify the girl as decent.
Girls are supposed to be soft-spoken and incapable of swearing. Girls are forced to like pink to be ladylike, even if blue is their favourite colour, and not allowed to play video games but only with dolls.
They are taught that the only moral way of life is through following social norms, and that a proper woman is someone who grows up waiting for marriage and children.
By their teenage years, girls have already encountered so many sexist remarks that such comments have become embedded as a part of life in their tender minds.
With overprotective parents, a confined environment at home, coupled with the fact that the formal schooling system in this country often gives very limited opportunities for self-exploration, girls are often unable to discover their passions, interests, way of life, and develop their own set of morals and faith throughout their teenage years.
Coming to early adulthood, even if they are lucky to be able to discover their passion or way of life, they are often too scared to express themselves fully due to having been always taught that the ideal way of life is through following the “bhodro” standards set by the society.
Even when they have mustered enough courage to express themselves, in a society where guardians often teach their children to follow societal norms and every action no matter what gets judged by the society as “or ki aita kora uchit hoisilo” -- the hardships faced by a young woman not being a conformist more often than not forces the girl to forget her dreams and instead follow the path set for her by societal norms.
This vicious cycle, compromising women in their way of life and instead following social norms, causes many women to live their dreams through their children.
This, in turn, implies that the children of those women are forced to live the dreams of the mother, and not their own dreams.
Evolving times call for embracing of individuality rather than blindly following social norms. If we expect everyone to follow the same path, then this endless process of compromising on your dreams will continue.
Women’s primary purpose of existence should not be to please people and compromise on life for others. We should encourage our young women to be bold enough to stand up for themselves.
Maliha Ahmed previously worked in research at BIDS and BIGD. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.