By Rumy Agarwal
February 2, 2015
I hate myself for saying this — I really and truly do — but the fact is that I consider myself blessed and lucky simply because I haven’t borne a daughter! I say this despite the undeniable truth that a daughter is one of the most beautiful gifts of God, a wonderful miracle — loving, caring and truly amazing. A daughter brightens your day and warms your heart like no one else can. And yet…. I am glad that I do not have one.
If I had a daughter, I’d get a panic attack every time she left the house, imagining all kinds of horrible things happening to her. I’d bite my nails in anxiety till she came home, thinking that something seismic and awful was happening to her. I’d throw a fit if her clothes showed some skin for fear that she’d be ravaged by wolves lurking at every corner. And every time her phone rang I’d wonder if it’s a guy and whether he’s the kind who can take care of her. I mean, I’d be miserable!! AND SO WOULD SHE!! Is that the kind of life I’d like for my daughter?
But could I make things any different if I did have a daughter? Maybe, maybe not. But I’d definitely have tried to raise her in a way that she’d have guts and gumption without losing the soft essence of her femininity, she’d know the right from the wrong and follow her heart, be comfortable in her own skin even if she were not perceived as beautiful by conventional standards, she’d dress like a lady and wear her best accessories – her smile and confidence. I’d ask her to know that the world didn’t see the inside of you, it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, the sorrows that lay masked by skin and bone. It is as simple, as absurd, as cruel as that. At the same time, people do remember how you made them feel — so she should definitely choose to be kind to others, always. I know I AM being self-contradictory but I just want her to be realistic — and reality IS often contradictory.
And yes, I’d have to tell her that there’d be choppy waters when she must know that she’d have to settle for things which go against her beliefs of right and wrong because those beliefs are meant for a perfect world where right is right and wrong is wrong, with no greys in between; but this is not a perfect world and she will at times have to do—for her own sake—things she does not believe in.
In our society, girls receive mixed messages all the time––on the one hand, they’re told that they can do anything and are no less than boys in any way (and girls have proved it too). At the same time, they are subjected to misogynistic gender-policing—“girls shouldn’t do this” or “girls shouldn’t wear such clothes”; yes, it is highly unfair and grossly annoying, but it cannot be wished away. Besides, we do not necessarily have to be on one side of the spectrum, a happy balance can always be worked out! Like I’d definitely want my daughter to be decently dressed—NOT grandmotherly but NEITHER coquettishly; I’d like her to have the courage to move about on her own but not to do foolhardy things like staying out late or going to unknown destinations alone; and I’d surely encourage her to value the person, and not the gender, when making friends, but at the same time I’d ask her to look out for any red flags in a male friend’s behaviour because, after all, to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed. And why should I be considered mothballed in pre-historic mustiness for asking her to set herself her own curfews when there ARE lecherous bastards out there with out-of-control libidos, and when even God has made her physically vulnerable? Sure, she MUST learn self-defence tactics, but all said and done, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and looking out for her own safety doesn’t make her narrow-minded and old-fashioned, does it?
Cold Wave Sweeps North India
Ah, the perils of teaching true values to a daughter—after all this, I’d actually have to teach her about gender equality, in the sense that if she is given the freedom to follow her dreams, choose her career just as if she were a son, then she must not expect the “privileges” that come along with gender discrimination—boys lifting her luggage or standing in queue for her etc because if gender is not about division of dreams, it is NOT a rigid demarcation of labour either. Tough call, darling… but that’s how it is.
If I had a daughter, I would tell her that she’s here to blaze her own trail and not to live by others’ rules, that talent and capability transcend X and Y chromosomes and she ought to measure herself by who she is, and to celebrate her strengths. I would tell her that many a time life will script itself differently than what she had planned but she should be able to take it on the chin and roll with the punches so that even if life comes up lemons she can still make lemonade!!
Though I’d always like to be in full lioness mode defending her cub, I know that I’d have to let her grow and find her wings, make her mistakes and learn from them, and learn to live with tough stuff at times. But I would like her to know that even though failures, rejections or difficult life events may seem insurmountable at the time they happen, they are just a new beginning and she should open her heart and let these new experiences in.
I have read and enjoyed fairy tales while I was growing up and I’d like her to do the same. But yes, I’d like to add a ‘disclaimer’ too—marriage is not to be something that she “has” to engage in and I’d prefer that she doesn’t wait for a knight in shining armour to come and fulfil all her dreams ; she has to look for strength within her to deal with the bumps and curves on life’s road, grow up to be her own person and stand on her own feet and also figure out for herself what she wants in a friend, companion, and partner .
And yes, I’d have to set an example that she could follow—I’d have to be kind, caring and well-mannered in dealing with everyone, including the rude salesman at a shop or the slow-moving waiter at a restaurant or the inconsiderate car driver on the road because I know that my daughter would be watching me and learn to deal with people the way I’d be dealing with them.
Alas, all of the above is hypothetical for me because, like I said, I have not been blessed with a daughter. BUT I do have two sons and I MUST teach them to treat others’ daughters’ right! Boys, I know, are growing up in a culture where girls are not only under scrutiny but have also to shoulder the “blame” for the misdemeanour of boys! Of course, we parents need to protect our girls, but we also have to start teaching our boys how to do the same because, no matter what, “boys will be boys” is no excuse. It is never OK to disrespect girls, and it is their job, as gentlemen, to see that that doesn’t happen. Fortunately, I have spelt out the basics for my sons by telling them that respecting girls means that they must remember that girls are persons with feelings and are not objects, they should be listened to, their limits must be respected and their reputation must be protected, not marred.
I hope I have been able to instil the right values in my sons, not only for their own sake but for the sake of the precious daughters of our society. And yes, I know my husband is doing a huge bit by respecting me because sons have, and will always, emulate their father—he will always be the best school for them.