Text: Sahara Sharma
When her fiancée’s parents disrespect her father, Shristi is infuriated. She wants to confront them, but I won’t let her. I’d rather have her stay home, sulk a little and when she gets hold of her emotions, she can go have a decent conversation and hopefully sort things out.That way nobody gets hurt and anyways good girls don’t go around fighting with people. Shristi is the lead character in a script I am working on and I have had to stop her on multiple occasions because this girl tends to follow her heart. I have had to stop her from doing things simply because that’s just not what good girls do.
I like this phase when I am developing characters, the freedom to create, to maybe live all the lives I otherwise don’t get to. And as my characters come to life, they tell me so much about myself.
Another thing I enjoy when working on a script is to imagine the industry actors as my characters. I scroll through various social media pages, spending hours looking at the faces, and think of how they would play my character. It was on one of my recent scouting episodes that I stumbled upon this video: a female actor was discussing workplace harassment and in between somewhere she said, “I don’t confront people regardless of how badly they treat me because that’s just how I am.” She went on to imply that this was because she was a good girl.
I felt terrible for her, I was angry, and I knew it was wrong to keep silent. But then it hit me that I was doing the same thing. I too took pride in enduring the trauma rather than standing up for myself. I too would rather be the good girl than be the troublemaker.
I’ve done this while in school when a teacher slapped me in front of other people for something I hadn’t done, and I stayed silent. At work when my boss showed blatant favoritism and gave someone else an opportunity that I had worked so hard for, I remained silent. And when strangers violated my basic rights and dignity through street harassment, I remained silent.
As I watched this actor – a strong, independent and successful woman – take pride in shutting up, I started questioning myself. Just how important is being a good girl to me? Where do I draw the line? How much am I willing to put up with only to preserve this good girl image? And, most importantly why is it so important to be a good girl?
I can trace back my conditioning to being a good girl to my childhood days, when the elders would bless me with ‘gyani hunu’ or ‘jaile pani ramro kura haru sunna paios’. When someone in their formative years hears the same thing over and over again, they understandably take it for the truth. As did I! Society had conditioned me to seek the approval of others and to do things that make other people happy. And their saying good things about me became my ultimate validation.
Basically I, like most youths in our culture, am trained into believing that thinking about one self is wrong.
Throughout my younger years, I took pride in being the good girl. I could cook, I was tidy, and had excellent grades in school; I never went out, never spoke loudly and was always courteous with people – elder and younger. I really put in all I had to… to be the good girl. And why wouldn’t I? The society rewarded me. Neighbours praised me and my parents faces gleamed. I was a straight A student and my teachers asked other students to “learn something” from me.
But as I collected the applause, I never questioned what really made me happy. I had learned to keep everything perfect on the outside, and never to take a look at what I was on the inside.
It took me travelling across two continents and being far from my culture to understand who I am and what makes me happy. And this didn’t come easy; unlearning was difficult and messy and I still struggle sometimes to put myself before others.
If my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that my perfect grades and my neighbours validation have had very little impact, but my social conditioning affects me every day. It manifests in the way I think about myself, in everyday decisions, and also in my work. I always have a hard time allowing my female lead have the fun she wants to. I still find myself erasing ideas for being a little too loud, too angry, too mean, too much!
Women all over the world are taught and rewarded to be the society’s idea of good while the society continues to treat us as lesser beings. Patriarchy indoctrinates us into believing that we’re not right in thinking about ourselves or putting ourselves first. And when we break the shackles and when we understand, they fear that we will disrupt the status quo. We might just dismantle patriarchy.
… And for what it’s worth, Shristi has decided she’s not going to sulk within the confinements of her room. She’s going to call Raj and demand an explanation. She is going to stand up for herself even if that means she’s not a good girl.