By Vuthy Pisey,
Do you believe that in our culture gender plays a very important role in determining our life? Especially if you are a girl, your gender determines how you would dress, what toy you should play with, what character you should have and what you should and should not do.
As a kid, a girl is not supposed to play with gun toys but to dress up like a doll or play pretend cooking and serving food instead because she is supposed to be feminine and obedient to avoid developing any kind of rebellious or aggressive behavior. A girl is taught to be gentle, to watch out her behavior, to listen to other people instead of getting into a fight.
As she grows up, gender has a powerful influence over her life – behavior, career, relationship, dreams and many more. At home, she is instructed to help with household chores such as cooking, cleaning and washing, while a boy may go to watch movies or play games because the household chores are a girl’s duties and not a boy’s. In many major decisions, she is taught not to reason with elders or voice her opinions, especially if they are men, but to listen and do as she is told because a girl is supposed to be quiet and obedient to avoid worsening the situation. During every party or ceremony, a woman is busy all night and day. She has to wake up in the early morning to buy food, cook, prepare everything and even clean up after eating, while men may socialize and enjoy eating and drinking.
At work or in public, a woman is taught not to make physical contact with the opposite sex, not to talk about love or sexual topics, not to wear sexy dresses, not to go out late at night and so forth. All of these are for the same reasons: to avoid provoking sexual feelings from men by looking like an easy woman and to protect her from being judged or get hurt by men.
In a relationship, a man can freely talk, hang out or start a romantic relationship with as many women as he wishes, while a woman will be discriminated against and judged if she is in a relationship or just hangs out with different men because a woman is supposed to be pure. If a man acts affectionately toward a woman and says, “I love you”, that man is praised as brave for showing his true feelings, while a woman is not supposed to show any affection or romantic feelings toward a man first because that would make her lose her dignity, pureness and innocence which she is supposed to embody.
When a woman reaches a certain age for marriage, preferably between 22 to 27 years old and crucially when she turns 30, the woman will be pressured to get married and start a family. Otherwise, she would be labelled as a ‘left-over’ woman and as someone who does not fulfill her duties as a daughter to bring pride to her family by marrying into a good family.
After getting married, the husband is encouraged to focus on his career, pursue a higher degree and reach for his dream, while the wife is advised to focus on family. As a result, she loses her opportunity to pursue a higher degree and abandons her dream due to the words, “Why study and work so much? After all, a woman’s main duty is to raise the kids and take care of her family.”
I believe most women in conservative societies are growing up with that culture. These practices are the norm that pass on from one generation to another. You may feel that it is normal and nothing is wrong with that, is there? The parents, family and society may advise and discipline a woman in these ways for many good intentions such as to protect her from being gossiped or threatened by men, to prepare her for the future role and duties as a good wife or mother and to save her dignity and pride as a woman. However, I sincerely request you to put yourself in a girl’s or woman’s shoes and feel how this culture has set a certain limit on her freedom in life?
As a woman who has grown up in a culture of gender inequality myself, I have experienced challenges that other women have gone through just because they were woman and I would never have my daughter live such a life.
If I have a daughter, I will give her all the freedom and chances to do what she wants to do, not what others and society think she should do. I will dress her up in any color and style, ask her to play with all kinds of toys, allow her to choose if she wants to be a princess or a heroine. At school, she will be encouraged to play any kind of sport or activity a boy would. I would encourage her to reason or even get into a fight with a boy if she must, to freely and fairly make friends and compete with a boy because she has every equal right to have her voice heard and be exposed to different experiences just like a boy.
When she grows up to be a woman, she may dress up or hang out at night as long as she can ensure her own safety and dignity. I will teach her household chores under one condition which is to give her the skills to live comfortably independent, so it is her own choice to do them and never because of punishment or pressure. Regarding her career, I will support her to aim as high as she is able to and to pursue her dream. In a relationship, I will never judge how many men she has hanged out with or dated. Instead, I will teach her to stay true to her heart instead of what people might say because she has every right to find her own happiness and fight for her love.
What I must have from her is that she must respect her own love and worth. Of course, marriage must be a choice and not an obligation and she may get married only when she herself thinks she is ready. In every decision she may makes or challenges she might faces, I will always give her my blessing, support and courage to pursue what she believes in. Last but not least, I will proudly tell her that being a woman is something to be proud of and never a disturbance to limit what she should or should not do and that being a woman will never be an invisible handcuff to make her feel insecure, inferior or incapable.
I acknowledge that what I have described above may not be the case for every woman or family. Yet, I strongly believe that every woman has more or less experienced the scenarios I have mentioned at some point in her life, where she was suffocated with the pressure from family and society because she is a woman. For the sake of women, I urge parents to reconsider how they have brought up their daughter and society to value the crucial role a woman has to contribute. A woman has every right and capability to live freely, happily and equally like a man.
Let me know your thoughts on how gender inequality has affected your life, your experience with it and how you want society to change their attitude towards women.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.