Day in and day out, we play our roles – mother, daughter, wife, friend, sister, and so on. Without formal training, we have somehow managed to register the scripts. Mothers should be nurturing, daughters should be obedient, wives should be home makers, friends should be confidantes, and sisters should be loyal. Sometimes, we leave off a role temporarily to take up another, depending on circumstances. One role, however, is perpetually being called for: woman – all day, every day.
Every society has a script for woman. Some say she’s a delicate flower, others mark her temptress. Some prefer her silent, others sociable. Some like her covered up, others want her in various stages of undress. Most agree she’s second- class material. She is often draped in country ( with wars waged across her body) and culture ( with time preserved in the way she carries herself). Morality too finds a woman’s behavior a convenient measuring stick – is she “ repressed”? “ Liberated”? You can tell a lot about the values of a people by whether their women drive or not.
She should be as aesthetically pleasing as physically possible ( in keeping with popular standards). She should have a suitable ( admirably employed) romantic partner ( male) whom she will eventually marry ( at a reasonably young age). She should love babies ( and bear some at some point). She should have an instinct for cooking and a not- so secret love for feeding people, especially ones related to her.
She should not expect to find a Prince Charming ( because real life is not like that) but, rather, try to be understanding of the male condition ( it’s just not in his nature to be interested in your life or be faithful). She should not expect Mr. Every Man to understand the female condition, however (she’s unrealistic, remember?).
She is someone’s muse, someone’s stimulating conversation, someone’s soul saving angel, someone’s breath of fresh air just waiting to happen. She doesn’t have hopes and dreams of her own.
She is “ feminine” and “ womanly”, unfathomable and quaint. She is not standard.
Should she venture out into politics, she must speak from a man’s perspective, tackling issues that are pertinent to men. She should understand that it is divisive to bring up matters that are problematic for her gender. Because even though she counts for a little more than half the world’s population, her opinions, preferences and problems, for all intents and purposes, really belong to an obscure minority. Unity means working towards goals that matter to the people who matter.
When she refuses to play along, when she questions the script, she is marked as an angry woman ( man- hater) or pitied as a poor specimen ( inadequate).
Role playing is not insidious in itself. It helps to move social interactions along somewhat smoothly. What we should be wary of, however, is when the scripts are harmful and when we let others write them for us. We don’t have to follow other people’s scripts. We can be deliberate about our roles. It starts with asking ‘ why?’ when confronted with a ‘ should’. Evaluate the pros and cons of going through with certain societal expectations of yourself. Be prepared to be not appreciated for your boldness. It is understandably awkward for others when we do not play the roles they were expecting.
Do you ever get tired of playing along? Have you ever found yourself doing something completely unorthodox, somewhat “ unwomanly” every now and again? How do you change the script?
Originally published in the Guyana Times, October 2011