I am 33 and I still need approval
Sad but true, its 2017, we are living in the era of technology boom, human buying home somewhere in the space, men and women conquering the world together; and whether one living in the western part or in the oriental, there are still some of us facing the same questions over and over.
I am 33, I have a job, married and a mother. I am not financially depended on anyone. I am capable of taking decisions for myself, I have earned a certain amount of respect, recognition, social position, and yet I am always asked-whether have I taken “permission” to certain things.
Whatever I am today, very less can claim credit for this. Nothing was smooth for me, I did not have the liberty to chose what subject I want to study in high school, I was not allowed to dress the way I liked, I was not allowed to continue with my hobbies for those involved money and an full time attendant, I was always reminded of certain social and religious norms that I must conform to for the sake of my family’s reputation. Don’t think I belonged to an underprivileged family, but its true, my father was the first in his entire family to be ever educated and get into government job with the privilege of living in different parts of the world. To be fair, it is him and my two older brothers, who had exposure to multicultural and linguistic environment that might have contributed to their liberal views on not distinguishing between gender based roles. Also, I was the only little girl in my family, everyone loved me so much that people always refer to being as the “spoiled one”. Interestingly, whatever obstacles or restrictions I have ever faced in my life was never from the male members in my family. It was my mum, my aunts, grandma, my women colleagues or friends or any random women somehow I came across somewhere.
I always wondered and it still continues, why women pose threats for other women? Is it their years of being oppressed by the patriarch system that is now genetically passed on to next generations to be afraid of everything that goes against the traditional norms? Where is our sisters under the same hoods to stand for one another- right or wrong, but to support and give space so that we can together fight the other odds. Why restrict ourselves from within. The #heforshe campaign is an excellent idea, but to me, I feel we need more #sheforshe campaigns. By saying that I don’t mean to say go online, bring in ambassadors or spokes persons, going viral on social media or traditional media to promote this hashtag. Its not about trending hashtags, this is real life. Lets go old school. We need to talk to women from all sphere around us with compassion to understand their psyche and gradually make our point. We understand there was a time, when women didn’t have a voice (still in some parts they do not have one), they had to dress-up in certain ways, they were only meant to follow certain lifestyle serving their family and producing heirs only. The women heroes, very few in number, are not celebrated or talked of as opposed to their male counterparts. I am happy to see that Disney, Hollywood, Bollywood, writers and other influential media industry is now portraying strong, positive female roles and characters, and this is very much needed (though till date women centred books or movies are still considered as chick-flicks!), for not everyone has strong will to challenge the stereotypes, hence we need role models.
I love barbie but that doesn't mean I don’t like playing cars. So why not let our kids decide which toy they want to play with! I let my son pick his toys and clothing. He is a school going kid and since the day he has been going out of home, often I hear him commenting, don’t buy red toothbrush for me, that’s girly colour, I wont put vaseline/lotion on my body, those are for girls. No matter what I teach him at home saying there is nothing in particular that are meant only for boys or girls, I cant make the society to stop saying that and as a result from a very early age, he is now already learning to differentiate between boys and girls roles’, their so called strength and weakness, even segregating colours and toys based on gender! Sometime I get furious and yell at him. But is it really his fault? Shouldn't it be the role of the teachers in the kindergarten to make these things clear who are again female teachers in most cases!
So going back to my topic, you must be wondering how come an independent working mom in today’s world has issue with approvals! Well its not like my high school days anymore. Since I am no longer dependent on others for anything in my life, and considered as an adult, society now has different way of barring my free will. For instance, I know what type of clothing or lifestyle my husband likes that often conflicts with my choice. Now as a part of educated modern society men, he cant directly say or impose something on me, but I have to look at his eyes for his silent approval or disapproval after wearing those clothes or informing him about my certain decisions. I love to travel a lot, so either I have to choose a same gender traveller or travel alone, for once I travelled with a mixed gender group outside country, and informed him about it only on our way to the airport. He couldn't swallow the shock of having two guys in the group, whom obviously he knew very very well. He kept quiet the whole way, I felt insulted inside but didn't respond because there was nothing to respond as he didn't say anything. You can only argue or debate with someone if someone raises some questions, how can you fight with silent disapproval?
My previous job often involved late work hours and travel outside Dhaka, my team comprised of equal number of men and women and my job mostly involved working with the guys, also being a free-spirited person I always had a loads of guy friends from childhood. People outside my work life when saw my Facebook posts related to late night works with guys and a few or no girls in the frame, I saw them frowning, some even asked, how does your mother-in-law react to this sort of work life? Is your husband okay with you being absent from family leaving your son for days? Who takes care of household chores and cooking? You are busier than the man of your home! And believe me, all the persons asking these questions are mostly from my own gender!
Let me shed some light outside friends and family life on how random people determines your role and capability as a woman. I guess, a good number of women can relate to this very ordinary yet stupidest attitude. I applied for my passport after several years of being married and my husband didn't apply at the same time. So when the police for verification, he met us both, took my business card, asked few questions about our profession, address, parents etc. Then suddenly he started acting uncomfortable and requested me to get out of the room for few minutes for he needs to talk to my husband in private! This was something new for me and was too curious to know whats actually going on! Might be he is not comfortable to ask for “mishti khawar taka” in front of me so I left the room. To my utter shock, the conversation that took place between them as I heard from my husband was-
Police officer: why is your wife applying for the passport alone?
Husband: Because she needs it to travel.
PO: Of course, but shouldn't you be applying together for that since you don’t have one?
H: I will apply when I need one, at the moment she needs it.
PO: So you are giving her permission to travel without you all by herself?
H: Is that relevant? because, I know about her whereabouts, I am present in front of you, so why this suspicion?
PO: Oh no, please don’t mind, we have to fill out this section in our investigation form when the applicant is a woman stating either her father, brother or husband has consent for her getting a passport!
I felt so low and humiliated as a citizen of this republic country where our prime minister, opposition leader, speaker and so many others in the decision making panel are all women and yet the form still requires a man’s approval to issue a passport for the adult female member of that family!
Next shock came when I was in the immigration queue for the first time. Obviously for a new passport holder, the immigration officer needs a little bit time to enter all the information in the system and asks few questions about travel purpose, companions- this is mandatory and their job. But seeing two women traveller without any male guardian, our immigration officer took almost 10 minutes interrogating us asking- why are we travelling all by ourselves? why the husbands are not with us? what is so important to go for holidays without spouse, if not a official trip? how many children we have? who will look after our children? its not safe for women to travel without male guardians? did we properly take permissions or just taking decisions all by ourselves? I tried to politely answer to all the questions but at one point I lost it and said, “Sir, we both are adult, we are professionals, we have taken leave from office and got the visa submitting proper documents, your duty is to check whether all our papers are alright or not, not investigating about our guardians”. He then mockingly replied, “adult bolei to shob shomosha, bipod to adult deri hoy, jhamelay porle tokhon ke dayitto nibe?” (being adult is all the problem, so many things can happen to young ladies and then whose gonna take responsibilities?). That’s not all, I faced similar questions as a brown female Muslim tourist when I encountered locals in a foreign land, from my social acquaintances in my own land and even from my own family where everyone ends up wondering of how generous my husband/in-laws are of “approving” me travelling alone or with friends!!
Approval is not only required to dress up or travel, it is also required for every step we take. I remember that moment when I first got the email being accepted in one of the renowned universities in the world for further studies, before applying for which I did not consult anyone due to lack of confidence. I ran to give this information to my closest family member, unfortunately there were no praiseworthy words waiting for me, it was the most unpleasant reaction-“oh okay” with the shock in eyes that might mean several things but one thing for sure was- “you want to leave for an year to study and didn't even bother to ask about it!”
If I go on, explaining every little incidents like this, that as modern day privileged women we face everyday, but refuse to acknowledge to prove that we are civilised, our family and friends are supportive, faking an entire life of being educated and independent, it would be hard for me to conclude this post. I know there are far more important agendas out there that need to be addressed to empower girls and women, but as we call ourselves the empowered one campaigning for the rest, how often we feel that while looking at the mirror when nobody is around? Its true that I don’t formally ask for permission or approval for any of my decisions except for suggestions (sometimes) that I warmly welcome, but I do constantly live with the fear, what if my next step pisses my family members off? what if I again see the disapproval in their eyes for my decisions or hear just the word-”okay” for conquering another milestone in my life! As women, being discouraged for most things in our life, we know we wont be applauded for everything we do, but is it too much to ask for at least a little smile and appreciative tone from your closed ones when you share your dreams and success with them and a little motivation when you fail at something?
How old do I need to be to make my own choices without having to think of getting an approval from this damn society?