In India, when a girl is born, her parents start saving up. Buying gold, opening fixed deposit accounts, you name it. You’ll now be thinking, “That’s wonderful! Such loving parents ❤“. Well, think again.
Here’s a clue – this is NOT her college fund.
They are saving for her (eventual) marriage!
Amusing, right? Why would parents worry about a wedding, when a baby is just born? Shouldn’t they be thinking along the lines of, “Who will wake up for the 3am feed?“, ” What are we going to name her?“, “Look at her tiny nose and fingers and toes!“, “Oh, she is sooo cute!” ????. Sure these thoughts are in their minds. Along with gems like, “OMG! How do we pay for her wedding?” and “I must guard her like a hawk so she doesn’t ‘besmirch’ the family name“. Because, in India, a family’s reputation rests solely on the frail shoulders of the little baby girl!! ????
A vast majority of the Indian subcontinent still prefer a son. I know some folks whose faces fell, right after hearing they had a healthy baby girl. And some others, who preferred not to marry from a family consisting entirely of daughters – because – the women may not be capable of producing a male child! Imagine such thoughts, in this day and age!
A girl is a responsibility to the Indian family. Even if her parents don’t see it that way, the relatives will ensure that her parents eventually fall into this line of thinking. She is on ‘loan’ to them, and her ‘real home’ is supposedly with her husband (and in-laws). Her parents’ duty is simply to ensure she is brought up a well-mannered woman, who doesn’t bring a ‘bad name’ to the family.
From the time she can walk and talk, she hears – “Sit properly!” , “Cross your legs when seated!“, “Stop playing in the sun, no one likes a girl with dark skin“. If she fools around too much, then it is, “You are a girl! Behave like one“. I am curious – is there an instruction manual to explain life rules that apply to females of Indian descent? ????
According to local wisdom, an educated girl may become too ‘difficult to handle‘ after marriage ????. Subscribers to this archaic theory believe that, once educated, a woman may begin to think for herself and not silently accept everything dumped on her. When educated, it is often so she can secure a good match (read ‘husband’), rather than for her benefit or so she can support herself in life.
At home, she is ‘privileged‘ to learn the secrets of cooking and cleaning along with her mother. Her brother is frequently given a free-pass by parents citing, “Oh, he has lots to study“. Obviously a boy’s education is more important than a girl’s, and he doesn’t need to spend time learning life skills! And this ideology imparted to him in childhood towards girls, carries on for the rest of his life.
After working so hard for an education, does she get to pursue a job? Not necessarily. She may have a great job before marrying. After marriage, her holding a ‘job’ may be deemed unsuitable to her husband’s family circumstances. So much so that in India, this is a question of paramount importance to ask the groom’s family when they come to ‘see’ her as part of the bride-seeing ceremony. A strange family decides whether a woman gets to go to work while her own family watches in silence, and tells her “Just adjust my dear. It’s for your good future”.
I know women who were brilliant at their jobs, and then settled down to a life of domestic duties after marriage. Why? Because their husbands didn’t want a wife who went out to work. I know girls who were stopped from learning to dance – all in the name of “What will others’ think?“. Choosing to stop doing something that brings them joy, or to stop working and supporting themselves as they no longer felt fulfilled by it, is something the woman should be able to decide. But having to cave in to pressure from others, and then being made to feel like it was their own choice and for the good of the family – this is how many women are put under invisible shackles by society.
What of women who decide they want to choose their own partner? God forbid! Either cast out, labelled black sheep of the family, or both – she is forever a warning to future generations.
Alright. Now the Indian daughter is (presumably) enjoying wedded bliss. What’s next?
A month into marriage, well-intentioned relatives descend
like locusts and ask that dreaded question – “Vishesham vallathum undo?“. Apologies for reverting to my mother-tongue, for there is no other phrase that sounds perfectly innocuous and yet deadly to the new bride! The literal translation is “Is there any news?”. The so-called ‘news’ everyone is awaiting is that of her pregnancy. Regardless of the answer, there is nothing for them to do; but they will persist in asking the question every time they meet the girl or her parents. Strangely enough, they don’t usually ask this to her husband. Hmm….must be because human pregnancies are achieved via parthenogenesis*????
Continuing the family line also seems to be the sole responsibility of a woman. Women are often blamed for failing to give birth to the all-so-desired male ‘heir’. This must be why women are referred to as ‘goddesses’ by the Indian media, since a woman can apparently choose the sex of her unborn child. Many families have persisted in producing progeny till the desired gender (i.e. male) could be achieved, regardless of how many times the woman had to give birth to attain this state.
And thus the vicious cycle begins anew.
Sometimes, the sole purpose of an Indian woman appears to be: be born, stay home, be good and obedient; marry; stay at her ‘real home’ and be good and obedient; and bear sons.
I’ve heard it on a movie once – “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai” – meaning that a girl by herself is like an open safe. She is (supposedly) game for anyone. She must virtually fear for her life if she goes out after dark. In spite of being a country that prides itself on its cultural richness, many men haven’t imbibed that ‘culture’. To them, culture is a woman who stays home after night, has no boyfriends and marries at the right age to someone chosen by their family. If ever found alone or with a member of the opposite sex (maybe she is hurrying home after a day of classes or work, or after buying groceries, or even after a movie with friends) at night, then she is the antithesis of their ‘culture’ who must be punished and ostracised.
What I’ve described here is merely a tip of many icebergs faced by women in India everyday. There are visible and invisible restrictions imposed on them – through family, society, religion, employers, legislation, and even by self.
Is there an escape? Will anything ever change?
Maybe. If parents mold sons into men that respect women, and do not objectify them.
Maybe. If women of the country stop accepting the current state of affairs, and try to change the system by being the change.
Maybe. If men were to challenge the patriarchy that diminishes a woman’s rights, and support them more.
Maybe. If society stops accepting men/boy with the adage “Boys will be boys”, and instead hold them accountable for their actions.
It will take the concerted effort of several generations and education, before women can even hope to be freed from several of these confinements. But most of all, I think, women must begin standing up for themselves and other women to break off the chains. Unless we want something for ourselves, no one else will want it for us.
Be the light for others to follow.
*parthenogenesis: human conception without fertilisation by man
Would you raise your child differently from the culture you grew up in because of his/her gender?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by World Mom Veena Davis of Singapore.
Photo Credit: Japan Experna
I have used swear words for much of my adult life. I grew up in a culture where swearing was normal and common in conversation. Then I moved across the county to an area that had a very different vibe. One of my first impressions was: “No one here drinks or swears.” Now I know that is not true. It just wasn’t flaunted in the way to which I was accustomed.
I started reeling in my potty mouth because I felt I was coming on too strong. However, I learned over time that many adults in my new locale swore. They just did it privately or with certain people. Still, this experience prompted me to look at how I used language and to fine tune my filter.
Once I had children, I tightened things even further. Before I go on, I want to say I have plenty of friends who swear in front of their kids. I am not judging that. Every home has its own rhythm, and there are many ways to approach a subject. I am reflecting on my own journey.
Part of my decision to abstain from swearing in front of my kids as much as possible came from the fact that I tend to be an all or nothing person. I find it hard to moderate things. If I am going to swear, I am not holding back. Another aspect of this had to do with where to draw the lines. As the mom, I have the ability to shape the culture in my home, and while I want kids to express feelings, I also want them to be thoughtful about how to do it most effectively. Swear words are great because they put a fine point on things like nothing else. That power is undeniable. And because of that, I decided instead of not allowing certain words, I would categorize them as power words and establish some ground rules around them.
Power words for me are more than swears. Power words are anything, good or bad, that merit caution and thought.
On the negative side, this includes name calling (i.e. stupid, idiot, jerk) or overly dramatic statements. Hearing something like “I hate this show” gives me pause. When one of my kids says “hate,” we talk about it. They aren’t in trouble, but we explore the meaning of the word and think on if it’s the best choice for that situation. Sometimes it is. Often it isn’t.
A positive that comes from this attention to speech is that when emotions run hot in our house (and they do get hot), for the most part, we don’t call each other names or throw around negative power words. It’s not a perfect system, but when things break down, we take time to sort it out and find better language to communicate what is really going on.
On the other hand, I don’t leave my kids in a bubble. On a hike with my son, I taught him all the core swear words and their meanings. He’s going to hear them around, and many he already had and just didn’t understand. This subversive lesson was hand in hand with a discussion on the appropriate time and place to use them, if at all, with the caution to not use words of which you don’t know the meaning. A year or two later, after one particularly rough day at middle school involving some nasty behavior from another student, I pulled out some particular swears to sum up the situation. My son paused and said, “Yes, Mom! That’s exactly what it’s like. It’s a **bleepity bleep**.” We then had a conversation about the meat of the issue. It’s not that we can’t use these words, but I never want those words to be all that there is.
Plus, these power word conversations have been a bridge to addressing more racially and sexually charged language with my kids. It gives us a framework. When I started this process ten years ago, I did not envision the open hostility expressed daily in current American society. I think these lessons on power words are even more important now, as much for me as for my kids. I don’t know if I am preparing my children appropriately, but at least between us, we can talk (and swear) with thought and purpose.
Do you swear in front of your children? How does swearing work in your culture?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Tara B.
The author serving as a substitute teacher at a local Chinese-language school in San Diego
I’ve served as a judge at some local children’s Chinese-language speech and recitation contests on several occasions. I still remember my first time. I saw a little boy in a suit and tie, speaking with a crisp voice, saying, “Summer is my favorite season because the sunny days are cheerful and inspire me to do great things for my people.” When speaking, he raised his two fists high in the air.
Then I saw a little girl in a dress and high heels, who with a clear but shy voice said, “Winter is my favorite season because it reminds me the Chinese fairy tale ‘Snow Child,’ a story that describes the noble sentiments of Chinese people.” Then she wiped her eyes in an exaggerated way.
These children were all born in the United States, of Chinese descent. They spoke Chinese in crisp, clear voices, but the speech content was confusing. I really wanted to ask the girl what she meant by “the noble sentiments of Chinese people,” or the boy what “great things” he was going to do for his people. I got the impression that most of the scripts were written by parents.
After the young children spoke, the older kids stepped onstage. A couple of teenagers in T-shirts and shorts hesitantly walked up, muttering things like, “We should respect our teachers, because…because Chinese people believe in their teachers, well I’m American, not Chinese, but… oh well, let’s just respect our teachers” or, “We should respect our parents because…because they are too old to understand anything we say…let’s just listen to them when we are home.”
It was funny to see young people of Chinese appearance speaking with such strong American accents – so strong that I could barely understand them. Nine out of ten parents sitting in the auditorium frowned, clearly not enjoying the speech. Were they sad because their teenagers were not speaking Chinese as well as they had in elementary school? Were they worried because their children’s speech was not good enough to get them into college?
While considering how to score, I thought of my own child. He was then nine months old. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would be able to tell the fairy tale Snow Child in fluent Mandarin Chinese. Would he become an American kid with an American accent and complain that “Mom is too old to understand anything I say”?
I frowned, like all the parents in the auditorium.
In my family, we speak Chinese at home and English at work or school. My son was a late talker, but our pediatrician comforted us, saying that although bilingual kids can be slow to speak at the beginning, they usually catch up quickly. He encouraged us to insist on speaking Chinese at home.
We tried to create a Chinese-only environment at home with hopes that my son’s first word my son would a Chinese word. But the hope came to naught: his first word was an English word he learned at the daycare: “Daddy”. This was my first failure in raising a bilingual child. In spite of this, we continue to speak Chinese at home. Every night we read bed time stories together in Chinese. By the time he was three, my son could speak fluent Chinese, and tell “Snow Child” and many other fairy tales without help. I was very proud.
But my pride didn’t last for long. Just a couple of months ago, his preschool teacher told me that he had a hitting problem. The theory was that because my son didn’t speak English as well as other kids, his ability to stand up for himself in arguments was limited, and he turned to physical means of expressing himself.
The teacher suggested that we set an “English time” at home to help my son improve his English. I didn’t like the idea: the more I exposed him to English, the less chance he got to speak Chinese. Didn’t he speak a whole lot of English at school already?
But the hitting problem got worse. After consulting our pediatrician and therapist, I finally gave in and started a daily English storytime at home. Kids are really like sponges, and his English improved in no time. He stopped hitting his preschool classmates, but his Chinese language skills went backwards.
I started to understand why I kept seeing the same thing at Chinese speech and recitation contests: the younger the children are, the better their Chinese language skills are. I started to understand that my hope of raising a bilingual child fluent in Chinese might once again come to naught.
I worked as a staff writer at a local Chinese-language newspaper when I was young. Many times, I interviewed outstanding second or third generation Chinese-Americans. When I asked them for a Chinese name for publishing purpose, they often said, “I don’t remember my Chinese name.”
A Chinese-American anti-death penalty activist once “drew” down her Chinese name for me after an interview. I couldn’t read the symbols she had drawn. I tried to guess and wrote down two characters next to her drawing. She read my writing and happily announced, “Yes, that’s my name!”
When the article was published the next day, I got a phone call in the newsroom from an old lady speaking Chinese with a sweet Beijing accent. She identified herself as the mother of the anti-death penalty activist, and said that I had gotten her daughter’s name wrong. I apologized, and she said, “That’s okay, I understand. My daughter must have made the mistake herself. She never remembered her Chinese name. But I just want to let you know.” Then she was silent. “Hello! Hello?” I said, not sure if I should hang up. Then she started to talk again, asking me where I was from, if I was married, and if I had children.
At that time I was married but there were no children yet. The old lady aid earnestly, “Take my advice. When you have your own kids, always speak Chinese to them.”
“Sure, sure,” I said, just saying that to make her happy.
Through the years I’ve seen many second generation Chinese-Americans struggling to learn Chinese.
Since having my own child, I often think of the old lady and her daughter who couldn’t remember her own Chinese name. The thought is almost painful.
It is not just the America-born children who are struggling. The away-from-home adults are also struggling. I am a professional writer who was born to Chinese parents and raised in Taiwan, but who has spent her entire adulthood in the States. I struggled to improve my English during my first years in the United States. Now I write English more then Chinese. I can clearly see that I no longer speak Chinese as well as I used to. When I was in my twenties, I was eager to get rid of my Chinese accent. Now I’m desperate to maintain my Chinese language skill.
My son will soon be four, old enough to go to the Chinese language school. I decided to let him start this fall. He doesn’t like the idea of going to school on weekends, and asks, “Why do I have to learn Chinese?”
I didn’t know how to explain the concept of culture to a toddler. I just told him, “So you can read ‘Journey to the West’.” The other night I read him the chapter “Monkey Subdues White-Skeleton Demon” from the classic novel. He wanted to know if the Monkey eventually returned to his teacher Xuanzang. I wouldn’t tell him. I told him that he will read it one day by himself.
I still hope to raise a bilingual child who speaks fluent English and at least understandable Chinese. I don’t expect him to love the Chinese language right away. Language is always first a tool and then an art. I hope my son will first learn how to use the tool, and then, maybe one day, he’ll truly fall in love with the art.
Are you raising a bilingual child? How do you manage the cultural balance between more than one language?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by T0-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: David Sprouse.
There’s a reality that’s been gnawing at me for a long time. I’m talking about the pressures that face women – unwanted pressures from society.
As soon as you hit the age of 25, people start asking, “When will you get married?” After your wedding they will ask, “When is ‘our’ firstborn arriving?” If your firstborn child is a baby girl, they will ask, “So when are you giving ‘us’ a boy?” And if your firstborn is a boy, they will ask you, “When are you giving ‘us’ a second child?” Even if you are lucky enough to give them all of that, they will demand a third, fourth and fifth child, because you must give them a namesake. In my African culture, we name our children after our relatives. It is a great honor to have a child named after you. Therefore, every relative will constantly put pressure on you to have more children so that you can give them a namesake.
In my country, there is a certain celebrity news anchor who recently married an equally famous gospel musician. The wedding was in December of last year, just eight short months ago. Since then, the public has been DEMANDING that the lovely couple give them a child. The public reacted horribly when the woman recently shared an old photo of herself on social media. It was a throwback photo of herself as a teenager in high school, reminiscing of the good times she had in her youth. The photo somehow made it to a popular online entertainment and gossip site, and the comments that followed the post were shocking.
“Stop showing us photos of your past, we want to see photos of you pregnant!” the commentators yelled.
“So now you are showing us photos of when you were a girl? Why not of now? Are you trying to hide something? Are you barren?” another asked.
“Give your husband a child now otherwise he will go looking elsewhere,” another said.
“If you’re having problems getting pregnant, inbox me. I’ll sort you out,” another offered.
Hundreds of comments followed, all of a similar nature.
It made me sad. Why does society put so much pressure on people? On couples? On women? What if the couple is not able to have a child? Or if they have been trying, unsuccessfully? What if they have suffered pregnancy loss – something they may not want to openly talk about? Or if they do not even want a child in the first place? Is it the public’s business? Society’s business? Their relatives’ business? Or is it between the husband and wife?
Seriously, as women, we have a lot to deal with, and we do not need societal pressure adding to our nightmares. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we face. In a society where a woman’s worth is valued by her reproductive prowess, it is indeed sad. In my culture, a woman may have achieved many notable feats and broken the glass ceilings over her head, but if she is not married (or, even worse, does not have a child), then she may just be nothing. Society will be harsh on her. That is, if they even recognize her.
But you know what else is interesting? Who is this society that we are talking about? Who are these people?
It is you and me. Us. We are the society. We are the same people who, when we meet a friend who got married over a year ago, will, while shaking her hand, be staring at her belly, trying to catch a glimpse of how swollen it is. Or whether it is swollen at all. Sometimes we do it consciously, sometimes we don’t even notice we are doing it. It just comes naturally. And then we talk with our other girlfriends saying “Lucy is not getting any younger, I wonder when she’s planning to start having babies.” That’s the pressure I’m talking about.
We all need to be a lot more sensitive to what fellow women go through. I hope you and I can make the difference.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.
Photo courtesy of Frank Douwes / Flickr.
I recently attended a wedding and observed one of our local customs that gave me pause. In a Nigerian wedding, there it is tradition for elders to offer marital advice to the new couple during the ceremony. Interestingly, in most cases, all the advice is directed to the bride. Is this because people believe that a man is hardwired with knowledge of how to make marriage work? Or because they feel there is no reason for a man to know anything about making marriage work? Or is it simply because most of the wedding attendees who give advice happen to be women? I watched as speaker after speaker gave the couple advice, consistently directed only to the bride.
Since the groom at this particular wedding received no advice, I thought I would offer some, just for grooms.
- Don’t be afraid to say I AM SORRY. Your wife may forgive easily, but this is no reason to keep offending her deliberately. Apologies should be sincere, and you should never apologize just for the sake of it.
- Make your wife feel important. Treat her like she matters, and be considerate of her feelings. Respect begets respect. My husband once said to me, “We are not just spouses we are friends.” Be sure to build a strong friendship with your spouse.
- Make family decisions together. Communication is key in every marriage! Don’t try to shield your wife from troubling situations. Instead, let her know what is going on whether with work, and let her share your burden.
- Be grateful. Appreciate your wife for all that she does, and never ever take her for granted. Always recognize her for her contribution to the family, work and household.
For marriage to work beautifully, I believe that BOTH parties must make a conscious effort. Most of all, the couple must set goals together, and review them regularly.
What advice would you give to a groom? Is it the same advice you would give to a bride? What are the wedding customs where you live?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Aisha Yesufu in Nigeria.
Photo credit to the author.