I want you to grow up to be free. I don’t know what that means but I hope you will. Yes, “hope”. “Hope” because I doubt if I will have the courage to let you be different. I do not know what to tell you when you come home and ask me, “mamma, why does the teacher have two different prizes for quiz competition – one for the best boy and other for the best girl” or “Why did the teacher ask me to colour my dress pink and papa’s dress blue?” I would want to tell you that that is how we engender gender differences in school, but then stop short of it because I would not have the heart to paint a grim picture of the world to you so young. To be very honest, “not have the heart” is only a cover-up of my cowardice. I would not have the courage to ask you to question your teachers and defy norms that you do not feel right about, lest you should be ostracized and ridiculed. Because I want to see you get “good education”. You will ask me, like you always do, what is “good education”? I will tell you good education is that which gets you good jobs. Like mamma and papa’s. Not satisfied, you will ask me what a “good job” is. I will tell you that a good job is that which can give you a good life. Relentless as you are, you will ask me what “good life” is. If I still have patience, if I haven’t chastened you for asking so many questions, I will tell you a good life is a life where you are happy. “But going to school makes me unhappy!”, you will say. I will tell you it makes you unhappy now but will make you happy later, not knowing that I am implicitly assuming that your school and I are right and you are wrong. You will ask me how do I know that what makes you unhappy now can make you happy later? I will tell you to trust me because I am more experienced and wiser. What I am telling you is to not question my authority. What you will learn, by hearing such things over and over and over again, is to not question any authority.
I mean no harm. But I am torn between my wish to see you happy and my instinct to protect you. I will tell you to go out in the world and do what you like doing so long as you are within “reasonable” limits. You will time and again question me what those reasonable limits are. Does that mean you cannot play basketball after 7 ? Does it mean you stand up for your friends till as long as you are not hurt? Does it mean to participate in candlelight marches but not confront wretches who pass lewd remarks at you? Yes, I will tell you. “Ignore” them and walk faster. Whatever you do, do not confront them. I will be worried sick if you decide to dress differently, I don’t even mean scantily, I mean differently. Don’t I know that rapes are more crimes of punishing the victim than lust? That some women are punished for being different, for not playing the “roles” they are meant to, for not being “good girls” and submitting to patriarchy?
Maybe I’ll enroll you into Karate class. But what about subtle violence that is not physical? However much we may have tried to systematically quell your adventurous spirit, you will still come and ask us uncomfortable questions, like why do you have breasts and a uterus? I will smile at your naiveté and tell you that is because you are a woman, and someday you will give birth to a baby. You, in your youthful chutzpah, will ask me what if you would not want any babies. I will laugh it away and tell you, partly amused and partly bewildered, that of course everyone has babies and that it is nature’s norm, God’s will. “Is God male?”, you will ask. I will tell you I do not know. For once I will admit I do not know. But that’s only because it was easier to tell you I did not know than to tell you that you have a choice.
Because all choices have repercussions. When you make a choice you take responsibility for its consequences. For instance, when you decide to not marry, you have to fight the lecherous advances of men who think you are therefore available on demand. Why blame the men only? You will also have to forego expectations of support from the women in your society because they will think you to be a whore who corrupts the minds of those lecherous men who happen to be their husbands. “Why then does she not get married?”, “Why does she come so late at night?”, they will whisper behind your back, in voices so self-righteous that even the most sanctimonious of priests will be put to shame. They will never understand why you were working till late night. Your ambition will only feed their stereotype of the “immoral, ambitious” woman. Even at work your “professional” and “educated” women colleagues will collude against you for being the “ladder-climbing, cut-throat, bitch” who can do well because she does not have the responsibilities that they have, secretly congratulating themselves for having made all the right "sacrifices". The men will think you made it because of you-know-what. They will conveniently not factor in all the time you have to make to get your flush fixed and pay your bills. Speaking of bills, if you do happen to fall in love with someone, the bank will not allow you to open a joint account because you are not married. How many demons - from neighbors to state - will you fight for making that one choice? Like I said, I only care for your good. So I ask you to “adapt”, “adjust”, “compromise” a bit, because I could not change a thing in my own life time.
The truth is, little girl, that before I blame a screwed-up world, I confess that I am not as sorted as I would like you to believe me to be. That I do not know how to raise you up to be a woman who makes a difference without facing the consequences of it. And I do not have the courage to see you become another victim of standing up. I know, you probably are asking, “What right did you have to bring me into this world then.” Because of course, everyone has babies, and well, they all grow up just fine.