It was a summer evening. A seven year old girl was sitting on the balcony of the ground floor apartment. She was looking at four-storey government housing across the street, trying to see inside other people’s apartment. Some balconies had orchids with hanging baskets; others had bamboo poles to dry their clothes. She saw two neighboring aunties talking from their balconies. It was indeed a boring, hot evening in Yangon.
The girl ran as fast as she could when she saw her mom coming back from the market, carrying a basket full of groceries for the next three days. It was only half a minute walk from the street to their home but the girl offered to carry the grocery basket from her mother. The basket wasn’t extremely heavy, but it was definitely not light for a seven year old.
The girl wanted her mother to appreciate her being able to carry a heavy basket even though she was a girl. Extremely popular opinion she grew up with was that boys were strong and girls were weak. When they grew up, parents could rely on sons more than they could on daughters. The girl hated the idea. She wanted to be a reliable and strong daughter for her parents, just like any son could ever be.
In front of their apartment was a front yard, used for multipurpose but mainly a playground for kids in the neighborhood those days. It was also a display stage where bored people on the balconies inquisitively looking at other people on the street, secretly judging them, and gossiping with family members or neighbors later. The girl wanted her neighbors to notice that she was carrying a heavy basket for her mom despite being a young girl. She wanted everyone to see that she was capable of doing what other boys could do. Back then, her world was just her family, and neighbors from 32 other apartments.
Looking back at it, I pity the girl who I was, trying to get approval from grownups, wanting to be as strong and capable as a boy, thinking she should have been born as a boy, and hating her existence as a girl.
What’s worse is that the little girl was still in me. She came out at times when I thought she no longer existed. She came out and pressured me to study harder than boys in class. She came out and kept comparing me with male colleagues regardless of our capabilities and capacities. She came out and forced me to focus on my career because it’s a man’s world. She came out and scowled at girls who asked men’s help to open water bottles or carry their heavy bags. She came out and laughed at girlfriends who decided to get married and settle down. She came out and judged other girls who lived their lives in different ways. She came out and told me that if I behaved more like a boy, I’d be better than other girls.
Little did I know, she was a little demon, making my judgements, visions and perspectives blurry. It took thorough self-reflection to get this little girl off my back. I am ashamed that I let this girl affect my behaviors, decisions and outlook in life before. How did I have the audacity to call myself a feminist when deep down I wasn’t able to embrace my being as a woman? How did I have the audacity to call myself a feminist when I looked down on women who got married and raised adorable babies? How was I going to empower fellow women when I kept judging them for their life choices? I was guilty, but I needed this realization before I called myself a feminist.
So who bred this little demon in me? The answer is none other than the patriarchal society that raised me, including grownups who told me not to be playful like a boy, the matriculation exam that required more points for girls to score to get into good universities, taxi drivers who made fun of women drivers who drives not as fast as they do, men with audacity and opportunities to belittle and undermine women in any possible way. The patriarchy is too systematic that women can’t afford the division among us. It took almost 26 years for me to figure this out.
In Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Meg March told Jo March, “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they are unimportant.” The line enlightened me. I am important. My friends are important. All women are important. Womanhood is important.
Now that I have kicked that little demon off my life, I have come to accept and appreciate the beautiful womanhood, and respect other women’s decisions on their lives. I needed an extra effort to appreciate what I have, and I’m glad I’m on the right track.