Conformity….its a word that puts the fear of God in me. So lets start with a clear definition of the word.
Conformity is a type of social influence involving a change in belief or behaviour in order to fit in with a group. This change is in response to real (involving the physical presence of others) or imagined (involving the pressure of social norms / expectations) group pressure.
As an ‘asian woman’, already two aspects of me that have been considered a hindrance at times, I have witnessed one time too many the shackles of conformity and how it reduces a person with a brain to a person with mush in their head. Maybe its just me, I don’t know. But I have been brought up to strongly believe that I am an individual with my own thoughts, my own wishes and my own values. I was fortunate enough to have a set of parents who never pushed me into doing anything based on what society deemed appropriate for me. If my career didn’t set along the path of the typical doctor, engineer or lawyer as is deemed high in asian society, it was not a problem as I was never felt to believe that following an alternate path in life would be wrong. If I wanted to wait to be married at an age that I deemed appropriate instead of being thrown in the direction of the first man who came to them with a proposal, hell did not break loose in our home. I was never one to follow trends or fads because others were doing it. It was always explained to me to do things that I felt were right for me as long as I was not hurting anyone. To live my life according to what made me happy. Not what made my friends, family or peers happy. Because if I made the mistake of living my life that way, I was never going to be content. Choosing who I wanted to marry was the biggest gift I was given by mum and dad. However equally if I gone to them to say that I was never going to get married, that too would have been fine with them. Because its my choice, my life and my happiness at stake. The pressures of society did not hinder my beliefs at any point in life.
Yet its sad to see how prevalent this conformity is in many a person’s life still today. Not every child is lucky to be blessed with open-minded family members and their lives are spent living under the burden of expectations of others, allowing others to decide whether they can be happy or not. The child who bears the burden of having to follow a career path purely because their parent decides that is the best for them after watching how their best friends child is performing. “You want to be a hair stylist? But you’re a boy. That is not what boys in our family do. What are people going to think?” or “see how so and so is doing so well? Why can’t you do better?” says the socially conformed mother or father and there dies the dreams and potential of a child who may have become one of the best hair designers in the world.
“You’ve been married for 5 years now..so when are you going to have a child?” asks the socially conformed mother in law not realising that perhaps the happily married couple don’t want to have any children at all. “But thats not the way things are done. You have to have a child. At least one” would be the typical retort. God forbid if that first child ends up being a girl. Then its back to the drawing board trying to bear a son because “we need someone to carry on the family name”
Uh why?? Oh because that is the way society tells us to be. Doesn’t matter if its going to make the couple happy in any way or not. Or the child they bear for that matter.
The funniest or maybe not so funny thing I experienced was having gone to a social gathering some years back. I had dressed up in clothes that I felt comfortable in and that suited my character and personality. Not one to wear much jewellery or terrible glamorous clothes, due to my simplicity, I was asked to change my attire completely to suit the need of what would be appropriate for the society! So wearing diamond rings on my fingers, gold bracelets and wearing designer clothes would have made me suddenly a better person to be around because that was the rule of the society I was mingling with? When I thought about it afterwards, I was horrified that I had allowed myself to conform that way as the entire time during the event, I ended up worrying more about whether I looked appropriate or was talking in a way that was acceptable rather than letting my hair down and having a damn good time. It was one of the most suffocating feelings of being told how to behave, to dress, how to speak (don’t speak Punjabi please, people will think you are illiterate) and I felt so sorry for any person who is asked to live their life that way. Thank goodness that was a temporary situation.
When a daughter or son goes to their family after marriage, unhappy that things have not worked out due to a number of reasons, proposing separation or divorce and that they feel that to be happy they need to break away, what are they told? “Oh but no one in our family has ever been divorced. You have to stay and make things work. What will people say?” killing off any chance for that person to ever see sight of happiness again. Settling for compromise instead. Its better to stay and endure a loveless marriage for the sake of what people will say rather than allowing the freedom to admit a mistake was made, things wont work out, and to part ways allowing an opportunity to obtain happiness elsewhere. “Oh have you heard about Mrs so and so..her son is divorced you know….” are the words of fear that cannot be accepted or heard by any parent who would happily accept watching their child suffer in silent misery in order to maintain a figure in society.
Heaven forbid if a son or daughter happens to be gay. Well then that’s it. The hawk eyes of the world are waiting to pass judgement immediately and rather than a parent even trying to understand or listen to their child in such a situation who is fighting to find their sexual identity, they are cut off from the family unless they conform to the norms of the society and try to go back to being normal. God I do hate that word normal. Especially when it’s decided by a third person as to what “normal” is.
As a mother of two boys, I strive hard to dispel this form of thinking in whichever way I can. When my son comes to me he wants to follow his dreams, I need to understand that he is an individual and not a sheep following in a herd of factory produced sheep. If he tells me he is not happy with something, before thinking what my peers or family members think I need to understand what he will need to be happy again. As parents we can advise, we can counsel and we can support but we need to do this according to the needs of our children and not based on the needs of society. Society will be the first to judge but they will not be there to help pick up the pieces when our children break down when they find it impossible to conform to whatever is considered normal in the world. We need to allow our children to be that square peg in the hole at times, because not everyone can fit into the perfect moulds of societal expectations. If my son is that square peg in the round hole and cannot fit in, then rather than throwing him to the wolves as a parent, I will need to stand tall and proud with him and welcome his peculiarities in entirety. Be it if he is thin or fat, intelligent or slow, simple or outgoing, an atheist or believer, whatever he is, I will need to ensure that he doesn’t fall victim of the curse of what “the world will say” or “what others deem him to be”. Until we don’t do this, we will carry on producing and creating single-minded, boring, uninteresting human beings who will wilt away and die in a corner somewhere rather than bloom into something that the world can really appreciate. As long as they don’t hurt anyone or bring disarray to the worlds equilibrium should we not just embrace their happiness and forget for once what people are going to say or think however hard this may seem?