Silencing Women

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Deepa Narayan speaks at TED Talks India: Nayi Baat (New Conversations), video recorded May 21- June 3, 2019, Mumbai, India. Photo: Amit Madheshiya / TED

What role do parents and society play in influencing women to remain silent throughout their lives? Too often, girls and women are told to stay “Chup” also known as “Stay Quiet” in English. In restricting, and constantly taunting women – without even realizing it, society is essentially preparing them for a cycle of abuse.

Deepa Narayan took it upon herself to explore the cycle of abuse and in doing so found that women and girls, especially in India are constantly “adjusting.” I’m sure you’ve heard the word. “Darling, just adjust a bit. Just adjust. No matter what happens, just adjust.” “Adjust” trains girls to be powerless, not to exist, not to be seen, not to have a self, and it trains boys to claim power and authority over the world. And in the meantime we keep talking about gender equality and women’s empowerment.

How sad is it that as a society we don’t even realize the level of negativity being imposed on the women and girls around us, or do we? How sad is it that we continue to stand on the sidelines as women are told they aren’t good enough, or that they should keep their mouths shut, or they aren’t qualified? As a result of her research, Deepa Narayan concluded on seven beliefs/habits that we as a society continue to instill in women and girls. These habits, although, disguised as good and beneficial in society are the same habits that have left us stagnant and complacent for so many years. Some of these were surprising for me to hear, and may have the same impact on you.

Habit # 1: You don’t have a body. As a society, we “Pretend” so many different things. Although a woman’s body is glamorized in the media, a woman’s body is a forbidden topic in every household. “Akangsha, who is 23, said, “In my family, we never spoke about the body, never.” This silence makes this topic forbidden and hence it is never openly spoken about. So many women for this same reason, reject their own bodies and in a sense her confidence continues to spiral downwards. There you go, society has created women that are taught to believe the their own body does not exist.

Habit # 2: Stay Quiet. In the first habit, it has been established that women don’t have a body. If women don’t have a body, how can they have a voice? From a young age, women are constantly told to keep their voices down, and to not speak up. So many times, they are told to “Let it Go.” In hearing this over and over again, women then become nervous and don’t say anything.

Habit # 3: Women are taught that their goal is to please everyone around them. Who has ever been around a people pleaser? In society, everyone wants to see women smiling, happy, positive while spreading good vibes….even if they aren’t internally happy. “Amisha, who is 18, said, “My father said, ‘If I don’t see you smiling, I don’t feel good.’” So she smiles. So her father is teaching her, my happiness is more important than your happiness. And in this business of trying to make everyone happy all the time, girls become afraid to make decisions.” This inability to wear their emotions on their sleeves pushes them further away from their own identity. They start identifying with other people, and they adapt to make others happy.

Habit # 4: A woman’s sexuality is suppressed. There is very minimal talk of the body, and so the topic of sexual desire is barely spoken about. Women have been made to feel guilty about their body, and are not taught how to say no. Hence, their sexuality is suppressed.

Habit # 5: Don’t trust women. Women hardly trust other women because they feel that their trust will ultimately be broken. In general, society encourages women to show their loyalty to men and their families.

Habit # 6: Duty over Desire. Many women wear different hats throughout the day. When women have fulfilled their duty as per society, they have very little energy left over for their desire. “By the time you fulfill duty, whatever little desire is left is also lost. And when sacrificing mothers have nothing left to say except talk about food — “Have you eaten? Khana kha liya? What will you eat?” — men like Saurabh, who is 24, call them “boring.” A woman becomes a residue.

Habit # 7: All the habits above create fear in women and cause them to become dependent on men. This causes the cycle to continue.

Have you experienced any of these habits without realizing it? The good part is, that if you see these habits being instilled into women and girls around you, you have the power to stop it!

Thank you for reading, I am sending a lot of positive vibes your way. You can watch Deepa’s TED Talk Here, which is the basis of this blog post:


Manisha Sareen


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