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FREEDOM OF NOT HAVING TO CHOOSE 𑁋 BREAKING THE DICHOTOMY OF FEMININITY AND AMBITION

Making choices is integral to life. We choose several crucial actions on a daily basis. We choose to wake up and to live one more day every day. Yet not everything is easy to choose, especially between the things that define oneself and one’s life. These choices, however, are not alike for everyone, as these are the reflection of one’s inherited privilege more so than anything else. We as women, certainly have very limited choices and paradoxically a greater pressure to choose as soon as possible. Our society expects an ideal woman to be “perfect amount of feminine,” i.e. neither to be “too ambitious” nor “too feminine.” Much ironically, however, the only choice of labels that it offers us is the same- “too ambitious” or “too feminine.” And even more blindsiding is the fact that both these labels for women are frowned upon in popular circles. 

This might seem confusing at first, but it will become clearer as we see the agenda behind all of this. There is no such thing as being the “perfect amount of feminine.” The idea is to set a bar so abstract that no woman is ever able to achieve the superficial standards of perfection set by society. And when a rebellion to this is sought, the only options available are either to become too ambitious and lose oneself or to become too feminine and lose ambition. The patriarchal set-up finds its victory in forcing us into believing this dichotomy of ambition and femininity. This dichotomy, which presupposes exclusivity from one another, is a result of equating the feminine traits with weakness, submission, vulnerability and aimlessness. The opposite of this thus becomes ambition equated with masculinity.

But the real question then is—do we want to uphold this dichotomy? There are days when I want to apply eyeliner and do my eye-makeup but something pulls me back. I sometimes want to wear pink, but I don’t want to be judged for wearing pink. I want to wear heels and not want to be called “too into her looks.” I want to learn cooking, stitching and decorating because that’s what I love. On the other hand, I also sometimes want to not comb my hair, wear a t-shirt and shorts, sit in front of my laptop, accomplish everything for the day and still be “feminine,” because that is how I identify myself. I don’t want to choose between my identity and my ambitions when I can have both. Obviously, society doesn’t want me to know this, because it doesn’t want a woman to have a sense of completion within herself.

Society has conditioned women into believing that they can’t pursue their dreams, or more specifically, the dreams that are worthy of being pursued from the patriarchal point of view while being feminine. Your one move towards self-care can get you labelled as a “typical girl,” categorically devoid of an aim or purpose. But if you are not selfless enough to consider giving up toiling for your own dreams to support those of others, you will still be looked down upon and ridiculed. This creates a very difficult situation for women, one where whatever she chooses to do will never be “right enough.” The root cause of the social dilemma lies in what society has come to regard as feminine. 

Consider femininity to be a box. Femininity itself has been historically associated with insignificance and impact-lessness. Anyone who falls inside the lines of this box will automatically be considered the same by society. However, everyone who falls in this category (i.e. females) is considered to be “deserving” of this discriminatory treatment, and the ones who decide to step out of this box are considered to be breaking the set-norms of the ideal social setup and are considered to be unruly and savage. Women are supposed to live inside this box whose lines have been drawn very carefully by men, but neither place, inside or outside, accept women as individuals with their own agency.

This box needs to be broken, as femininity can’t be contained within a set framework. Being feminine is being oneself. It means accepting one’s identity without trying to compress it. It means to love oneself despite all the flaws. Choices are indeed integral to life, but being feminine is not a choice, it is an identity. It means to go beyond choices and live one’s life on their own terms. It means to be ambitious and still be sensitive. It means to achieve everything one can without having to bother about superficial social constructs. And above everything, it means to be comfortable in one’s own skin. It is a long journey, but it is worth it.

Anushka Pareek

Delhi North '23

History Major student at Miranda House, DU. A firm believer in the concept of serendipity.
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