That’s Just The Way It Is: My Voice of Evolution Radio Exchange
By Alanna Ginsberg, Intern, August 2015
Back in July as part of my internship, I did a radio drama exchange through the Voice of Evolution Radio with Bandana, a girl my age who lives in India. We became “pen pals” through The Other Side, and wrote monologues to perform for each other over the radio.
I wrote a monologue about what society taught me as a young girl; beauty standards, gender expectations, and inequalities between girls and boys. In my speech, I recounted instances from my childhood when I started to notice that girls were treated differently from boys. Boys were allowed to run and play and grow while girls were held back and restricted. Girls were treated as if they were delicate while boys always seemed to get away with so much more. I noticed that kids’ clothes and toys were divided into “boys” and “girls” categories and color coded into blue and pink. Blue was considered a “boy color” and pink was considered a “girl color.” If a girl wanted to play with a “boy’s toy,” it was considered wrong. It was my earliest introduction to gender inequalities and expectations. At that time, my society was teaching me that I should limit myself, giving the boys all the room to grow. I started to question why, and nobody had an answer for me. They would tell me, “That’s just the way it is,” a conviction that I decided on as the title for my radio monologue.
I went on to discuss a particularly frustrating time in my life: my early teens. Around the time girls start middle school, they’re taught that their developing bodies were inappropriate. I told Bandana that as soon as I started developing breasts, I was told to cover them up. Adults were always telling me that the clothes I wore were too revealing and I had to dress more modestly. It felt like I was being punished just for having breasts, and I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal. Later on in life, I realized that it was because my body made people uncomfortable. My society continued to limit me as I grew older by telling me that my body was inappropriate and obscene. For years, I felt I had to hide.
My monologue was about a young girl realizing that life was unfair and having to accept things the way they were, growing up with her society’s expectations for girls drilled into her head. Likewise, Bandana wrote a speech about what is expected of girls in Indian society. She told me that in her community, most of the girls are expected to do home chores instead of going to school. “Where I live,” she said, “people hardly give any importance to education for girls.” That’s one way her society limits girls.
Bandana revealed to me a lot about the expectations for girls that her society had taught her. In her society, girls are not allowed to speak their mind. A girl must do what her father or husband says, and she is considered a burden if she asks for anything else. She told me, “Where I live, men dominate society.”
Girls can’t choose their own path for the future. They’re expected to do housework and have an arranged marriage. Most marriages are arranged, and those that aren’t may be frowned upon by the community. The dowry system is also a problem that girls face in India. When a girl gets married, her parents are supposed to give goods or money to her in-laws. To me, the idea of dowries has always sounded like girls were being reduced to business transactions instead of actual people. Bandana hates that system in her community and, in her own words, thinks “this is pathetic.”
What really blows my mind about what I learned [about Indian society] is that Bandana is actually one of the lucky ones. She is lucky enough to have parents who support her without caring about society’s expectations for girls. She has been lucky enough to go to an all girls school, and then work at the Call Centre at the Pardada Pardadi School for girls in Anupshahr. They want something different for her and they support her through her education and career goals. Not every girl has the opportunities she’s had.
Our radio show really showed us the differences between both of our cultures, but also showed us some of the unexpected similarities. In the discussion that followed, Bandana and I shared our thoughts on what was said. She was surprised to learn that the color-coding of girls and boys into pink and blue was also done here in the United States, and we talked about how gendered color has become pretty much universal.
We also talked about clothing and how women are expected to cover up their chests in India as well. Both Indian and American societies have their ideas of what’s “inappropriate” for a woman to wear. Here in the U.S., for example, it’s considered scandalous to reveal too much of a woman’s chest, especially for young girls. In India, even a woman wearing jeans is thought to be “asking for it.” The female body is seen as distracting and tempting to men in both societies, and both societies limit girls in how they dress. These ideas of what’s inappropriate are based on the male gaze, and women in both societies are expected to dress modestly for the sake of men.
I found out that Bandana and I thought the same way about a lot of things. Both our societies have taught us ideas that we’ve had to work hard to unlearn. We both believe women should be able to get an education and choose their own path if they want, we both think the dowry system is ridiculous, and we both live in societies dominated by men in one way or another.
The most important similarity between Bandana and myself, I think, is that we are both incredibly lucky. We both have opportunities to choose what we want for ourselves, and we both have the unwavering love and support from our families who have allowed us to pursue our own interests.
To listen to the show and learn more about Voice of Evolution Radio, click here