Trapped feeling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2003, 12:00am

'Ask him out,' commands my friend, Deeksha. I choke on my chocolate syrup-covered raspberry sorbet, his favourite.

I sputter indignantly, but all semblance of coherency escapes me. I can only stare at her in awe.

She continues, oblivious of my near-death experience: 'Tell him that you like him.'

The shock kicks my brain into action. 'No way! You're insane. I can't do that.'

'Why not? What's wrong with you, Cynthia? Be a liberated woman.' I pause. I thought I already was a liberated woman. I've always stood firmly for gender equality, that women should have equal rights in the workplace and at home. I've always believed that women are just as capable as men in every respect, that they deserve the same opportunities to protect themselves, educate themselves and achieve their dreams. I still do.

Liberation must mean a very different thing in Kuwait, where Deeksha is from. Or, perhaps I have been under the veil of self-deception all this time, unconscious of the fact that my feet are bound in the chains of my culture.

According to the booming mantra echoing between my ears, self-respecting females do not make the first move, ever. Then again, self-respecting females probably don't stock their refrigerator with raspberry sorbet, strawberries, chocolate syrup and whipped cream on the off-chance that the One (what my roommate, Chelsea, persists in calling him ever since he dressed up as Neo for Halloween) will show up on their doorstep with a ravenous hunger for dessert.

If I ask him out, he would lose all respect for me. He'd think I'm easy, desperate, obsessed. If he says 'yes', I would be plagued by self-doubt, never quite sure if he agreed because it was convenient or because he really liked me. If he says 'no', I would - simply put - be humiliated and the beginnings of a beautiful friendship would be stained. It's a lose-lose situation, unless I opt for the route of inertia.

Yet isn't this passivity precisely what our ancestors fought so hard to eradicate? Isn't emancipation about freeing oneself from traditional preconceptions of what should and shouldn't be? Why is the liberated woman still suffocated by societal standards?

Like thick smog on a humid day, there is no respite except within the air-conditioned sanctuary of four thick walls. But there she's trapped.

Ms Yeung is a student at the University of Pennsylvania