The Breakthrough Voice 10th August, 2020

“What Will People Say” – When Are We Getting Rid Of This?.

Why is a woman or a girl pressurized or browbeaten into silence even if any mishap occurs? Why does women’s sexuality need to be controlled by parents and society as well? Why does this axiom exist – “what will people say?” 

Some movies are made to confront us with reality, wherein real-life incidents portrayed on reel demonstrate the consequences of actions. I will start with a quick review of the movie What Will People Say – the story of Nisha, the teenage daughter of a Pakistani immigrant family in Norway. She lived her life to the fullest and secretly maintained parallel lives – enjoying with her Norwegian friends and also behaving favourably with her parents.

Her traditionalist parents always wanted her daughter’s upbringing in accordance with Pakistani cultural norms, though they have been living in modern secular society. Her usual life turned into a pandemonium when her father caught her with a boy in her bedroom and he started beating the boy mercilessly despite her screaming that nothing happened between them. Her father, after a word with some of his Pakistani friends, decided to send her back to Pakistan to stay with her aunt’s family to set an example for other Pakistani girls to remind them about where they come from before doing ‘anything’.

There are various incidents in the whole movie which were notable and very relatable. Some of which are – Nisha accepting the fact that she has to stay in Pakistan with no choice and gradually adapting to life there. She was harassed by the police when she was caught with her cousin in a public space and they forcefully made an incriminating video of hers. Her aunt’s family blamed her for this and accused her of chasing the cousin, though it was the cousin who had shown interest in her in the first place.

To make matters worse, her father was convinced that it was his daughter’s fault and also cursed her birth and found no other option than to take her back to Norway. She was never asked what she had been through, or how she spent these years without her family – but only accused of spoiled the family reputation. It was not enough when they decided to get her married against her will – but the groom’s mother also said that Nisha has to only manage household work with no need to continue her education as the groom was earning enough.

What Will People Say majorly signified the essence of trust. How important it is to trust and understand your child, carefully listen to them, create an environment of equal space and voice for everyone – which hinders the third person from interfering in personal affairs. It shows the devastating life of a girl just because her parents never bothered about her. They instead were worried about what society would say. 

Why have we always been considered a liability and statements like “beti to paraayi hoti hain” prevail?

This movie is relatable when we talk about the real situation of a girl in a country like India – where on one hand, women are worshipped and labelled as ‘goddess’ and on the other hand people choose abortion and have to ask before a child is born as to whether it is a girl or a boy. Why have we always been considered a liability and statements like “beti to paraayi hoti hain” prevail? While in fact – they are breaking glass ceilings and proving themselves in so many fields. Let’s break this down some more.

Social Segregation of Gender

The imperative question is the existence of the mentality that forces a girl to think carefully before taking any action and worry about family reputation before her own wellbeing. Society separates behaviour and qualities into masculine and feminine. It exhibits the vitality of learning cooking and other household chores on girls and the importance of education and getting a reputed job for a boy. Girls are to play with dolls or kitchen sets and boys are given toys that enable creativity and constructive abilities. Boys are discouraged from crying and girls are stereotyped as sentimental and emotional. Jobs, attire, behaviour – everything is predefined and if a girl resists any of it, it boils down to a societal perspective – “What will people say?” 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is one of the important issues where a survivor really needs support from parents. Unfortunately, many parents do not support their child in such cases. They think it could ruin their ‘image’ and blame would be placed on the child and as such – it’s considered better to hush up the incident rather than talk about it. It is also visible in the movie where Nisha was harassed by the police and instead of supporting her – her family bribed the police and later blamed her for everything that happened.

The imperative question is the existence of the mentality that forces a girl to think carefully before taking any action and worry about family reputation before her own wellbeing.

The question is why the idea of silently tolerating everything as opposed to freely sharing our feelings has been inculcated in our minds? It is prevalent in our Indian society where any kind of harassment is not recognized either because girls have never been provided with the kind of environment that lets them be vocal in the family or even if they try to speak up, they are hushed up with threats of early marriage or being forced to drop out from school. Recently, I interviewed some of my friends where I asked about experiencing harassment and many said they were unsupported by their parents.

Women’s Sexuality

Sexuality has always been under the surveillance of parental control. There are a number of reasons given to curb the sexual desires of women – such as the fear of unplanned pregnancies, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and the whole question of ‘family reputation’. It is explicitly visualized in the movie when Nisha’s mother was accusing her of being excluded from birthdays, marriages or other occasions. If a girl expresses or fulfils her sexual desires, she is called abusive and derogatory words and if a boy does the same then he will be applauded. The concept of marriage also plays an important role in controlling sexual behaviour due to the notion that a girl can only have sexual intimacy with her husband.

Conclusion and the Way Forward

The question is what matters the most to parents – their daughter’s happiness and health or some random person outside the family who has nothing better to do than to judge, gossip and condemn? Another question is why and till when are we supposed to keep quiet? It’s high time to recognize the notion of ‘what will people say’ as one of the most problematic aspects of Indian society.

What matters to parents – their daughter’s happiness and health or some random person outside the family who has nothing better to do than to judge, gossip and condemn?

Here are some of the initiatives that we as a society can take to rectify this: 

Talking it out is one of a major solution to many problems. It is very important for parents to talk to their children and provide an equal space without having biases. We should be able to talk about sensitive topics such as relationships, bodies, abuse, consent and distinguishing between right and wrong.

We should always make survivors feel that it’s not their fault if something goes wrong. We should provide women and girls with an environment where they can open up and freely share their feelings, experiences or the ups and downs of their lives. Instead of thinking about people around us, we should enable women and girls – let her nourish her goals, let her do whatever she wants to do, let her fly and appreciate all her achievements, whether small or big. 

We should teach her to say no instead of tolerating everything that happens to her, be it in her personal or professional life. We should teach boys the importance of respecting all women and girls. We should try to boost confidence in her so that she can counter if someone harasses or bullies her. When we learn to break silences and the tendency to interfere in others’ lives – only then we can begin walking the path towards equality.

Also Read: Dear Mom & Dad – Trust Me And Trust Your Parenting

Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: WordPress

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