I know it’s ironic, but such are we women – consistently quick to put down our own kind! It can be snide comments regarding a lack of achievement, our appearance, domestic capabilities… the list could go on and on. Although some of these behaviours are reinforced by male attitudes to women, surely we females are strong enough to stand firm and not just repeat the cycle that fosters these sentiments?
I worried when first starting to write this piece that I would be seen as yet another woman-basher – exactly the type of person I am writing against. But I’m not speaking against women, I’m speaking out against the culture that we are subservient to in the South Asian community and the attitudes that result from it.
There are several ways in which South Asian women pass judgment over one another, but there is one in particular that gets to me – how we value other females. A woman needs to marry, needs to have children (preferably a son(s)), needs to look after her husband and family; anything else is largely disregarded if those ‘basic needs’ aren’t met and anything less is failure, whilst in contrast a single, well-educated South Asian man is deemed perfectly successful.
So when does being a female start to mean that you are second class? Sadly it is still from birth. Despite the supportive upbringing I had, I remember as a child being told not to ‘congratulate’ someone if they’d had a baby girl – the reason being that although we did not discriminate, they may not be quite so happy upon having a daughter. Looking back, that is not an attitude that I am at all comfortable with and perhaps it is why I have yet to be invited to a Lohri party celebrating the birth of a girl. I have to admit that when I was pregnant, I was desperately planning such a party were I to have a daughter; when I had a boy I decided to ‘rebel’ by not having a Lohri party at all.
What’s so funny about the preference of a male over a female is that both women and men in the South Asian community continue to hold the mother responsible for bearing a son, or not – when in fact it is sperm that determines a child’s gender! It is almost never going to be the woman’s ‘fault’ that she has a daughter. I work as a biologist and although I’m qualified to explain this process, I continue to encounter far too many South Asian women who refuse to believe this is true – a sign of the mistaken beliefs that prop up these attitudes.
So why do women support the notion that it is better to be male? Is it from an informed position – women endure more hardships/discriminations and so do not wish that to be experienced by another? Probably not. I think the answer (and in turn the change) lies in our underlying practical concerns. Many South Asian women think of the dowry that will need to be paid in 20-30 years’ time as the ‘wedding gift’ that accompanies a bride. A perfect reason to stop the dowry nonsense and extravagant weddings – these costs should now be split equally.
Furthermore, many South Asian women sneer at the thought of raising a child only for them to leave the family and take on another name. In this day and age that is out-dated thinking and the mark of a society that has not been able to see how the World really is. If they still think that a male is likely to be a better earner and look after them in old age, they should take a look around at the number of female graduates and children who take equal care of their parents in retirement.
Most worryingly I think many South Asians still worry about the potential ‘shame’ that a daughter could bring on the family. It is a wonder that these same people don’t seem to care so much about their sons who bring shame on the family.
I would like to hope that attitudes are beginning to change, respecting that a female’s role is far more than that of a domestic nature or associated with financial overhangs. I struggle to think of a genuine reason not to celebrate my gender; I am proud to be a woman, I am proud of the things I have achieved and I want every woman to feel the same and nurture it in our daughters to come. Whatever the justification that is still being used to keep our fellow women down, I suggest we say them aloud amongst one another and then think of ways to remedy our concerns. We can teach our children to become independent and well-balanced adults, both male and female. We can change the attitudes that make women our own worst enemies.