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Girls will be Girls

Pre-conceived opinions are related to group judgments, hence difficult to break and
reshape. Patterns are formed on expectations resulting from social categorization. They
act as cognitive schemas in information processing and with time become stubborn
components in the behavior of all group members. To bring a change against tough and
tenacious elements of thought, extra effort is needed. It is not an easy job to convince a
large group of people holding a strong belief, it needs a conscious effort and courage to
tell people that basically some myths get oversimplified and they might be false and not
true. Gender discrimination may not have been a serious issue in our immediate family;
it was prevalent in our culture and held earnestly by the members of that particular group
to which I belonged. Culture, with great force, had made the difference between men
and women very clear, assigning roles accordingly to the gender they possessed. The
fact, that women all over the world were submissive to male authority, had made girls of
my group timid and shy, and with a doubtful existence, they lacked self-confidence.
Female gender exerted no influence regarding the decisions taken about their interests
and activities. Sometimes at a tender age, I could find my mother irritable, whispering
her dislike about many issues but like a good wife would follow the rule of the man in the
family. She was also expected to train her girls accordingly to those rules. Senior
members of the group were tough enough to implement their view in all the families that
were part of group cohesion, the protest would be ignored or dealt amicably. Silence
would prevail with deep spells of sadness, till the complete conditioning achieved. No
wonder women were enemies of their own gender. I remember at times, my mother
would get depressed while thinking about the gender of the fetus growing inside her
womb. Some old ladies from the extended family would visit us and make her
uncomfortable by telling her to abort the pregnancy, doubting that she was again
carrying a girl child after already having three of them. Luckily, the mother would ignore
the threats as she could never think of burying alive a girl-child or strangle her to death
before she was born.
Girls were not entitled to same privileges as the boys and it was commonly believed that
a girl’s place is best within the four walls of her home. Parents in our times used to
perpetuate gender stereotypes and stressed on the preservation of femininity that meant
being fragile, gentle, nice, and equipped with something more than reading writing and
arithmetic; they needed supplements like washing, dying techniques, cooking, art, and
crafts. Most of the schools meant for girls were clothed with materials that could take
good care of all multiple interests to prepare young girls for their future life adjustment.
They were trained to attain that ‘feminine ideal’ at any cost and moving away from the
model would bring a lot of guilt, not allowed even to play the games of their choice.
Ironically, in a bid to achieve the title of a well brought up girl, I was not permitted to play
cricket with my brothers and the boys next door. But the rebellion in me would steal
moments to indulge and go ahead. Knowing that if I ever acted out of hand, I surely
would be punished severely, I consciously would look for chances to prove that
stereotypes could be modified according to the need and necessity.

Games in earlier days were strictly gender- specific and cricket was considered
altogether a man’s game, strictly prohibited for girls, but for me playing with my brothers
on our home pitch was not a big deal. The courtyard would become our cricket field and
with a limited number of players from the neighborhood, we would roll the pitch and try to
make an even and flat surface, removing stones and pebbles with bare hands. I would
ignore mother’s occasional reminders warning me about my gender- deficit tragedy and
promise her all difficult domestic chores in return. She would tell me to wind up the game
before my father’s entry to home; he strictly had banned the game of cricket for me. He
had seen the rebellious trends in my behavior and remained over-cautious about the
same. When caught unaware, he would punish me and ask me to play with dolls
instead.
On that day, something unusual happened; without raising an alarm, he returned an
hour early from his office. Usually, mother would inform with a “hush” but something
went wrong with her built-in automatic alarming system. Without making others
conscious about his presence, my father perhaps watched the game for a while. I could
feel something dangerous while noticing the nervousness on the face of my bowler.
Sensing the situation, I tried to run from the scene. He followed me and brought me
back, ready to get thrashed, I shrank in my skin, he ordered me to be on the crease,
took the ball from my brother, rubbed it and starting bowling, out of excitement and
wonder, the wickets danced in the air and I was clean bowled. With broken stumps the
stereotype dissolved in the air too.

Women have come a long way but with all hype and glory in media via cinema and
advertising, much is needed to be done to break all those myths under which women are
systematically denied their rights and powers, deliberately.

Nighat Hafiz

Retired professor of psychology, higher education department at jandk state

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