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Liberal with Life, Conservative with Love

Being a first generation Indian-American, I grew up believing that our counterpart, the Indian-American man, grew up with the same open mindedness that we learned in school and through living life in America. However, as much as we like to suppress it, many young boys and girls grew up subconsciously picking up the Indian mentality. No one truly imagined that they would grow up to be like their hot-tempered father, or subjugated mother. On a general basis, most of us grew up thinking the complete opposite: that we would not do the same things to our children. As I grow older, however, I begin to see that the patterns and stereotypes are not actually eradicated.

“Females, in contrast, are socialized from an early age to be self-sacrificing, docile, accommodating, nurturing, altruistic, adaptive, tolerant, and religious, and to value family above all.”

As adults and first generation Indian-Americans, we feel liberated with our white collared jobs and ability to afford things we never grew up with. What is upsetting is that we often don’t realize we are trying to overcompensate for being subtly, but surely, discriminated. Although there are families that are more modern and liberal, it is not uncommon to have the stereotypical Indian father and mother. As Kumar and Rohatgi state in their article, “Male children are raised to be assertive, less tolerant, independent, self-reliant, demanding, and domineering. Females, in contrast, are socialized from an early age to be self-sacrificing, docile, accommodating, nurturing, altruistic, adaptive, tolerant, and religious, and to value family above all.” Numerous books, movies, and Indian soap operas revolve around this particular situation. It is, unfortunately, a part of our culture. It is up to our generation, Generation Y, to make the change. Saying, however, is always easier than doing.

“Look at the way boys are raised in any culture, especially eastern cultures. We teach them that they are superior and have a right to get what they want, even if it means using violence to get it. How many times have we heard these phrases uttered to boys and men: ‘Don’t cry like a girl, be a man; Don’t be afraid of a woman, just put her in her place.’ Then we wonder why an educated, cultured boy would hit his wife or girlfriend! Once this kind of attitude towards women sets in, no amount of college education can erase it. Besides, the process of immigration and acculturation can put additional stress on a relationship. The pressures of ‘making it’ in the US, coupled with easy access to alcohol and the absence of extended family support, may exacerbate a potentially violent relationship” (Riti).

“…it doesn’t go to say that men are completely in the fault. We all know that there are those women who sit at home, have never worked a day in their lives, but somehow still want Gucci-this and Fendi-that.”

Now, after all this it doesn’t go to say that men are completely in the fault. We all know that there are those women who sit at home, have never worked a day in their lives, but somehow still want Gucci-this and Fendi-that. That may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the more likely demands from these mothers and wives would be their yearly trips to India, which would consist of spending an ample amount of money on jewelry, new saris, and the like. The man is seen as the breadwinner, the one who should provide all, and the one who should always prevail in all situations. This causes a lot of tension for the fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and boyfriends, because they have to live up to the typecast that has been set out for them for years. However, these temperaments were instilled in us from when we were children. We only learn what we see. Hindi films of women falling blindly in love with men, or having Amrish Puri scare his on-screen daughters into getting married to the man of his choice… we have grown up on this. We may have been more open minded and accepting when we were young, but we eventually often grew up to forget a bit of our true selves.

As writer Carol Gilligan talks about her in her book, The Birth of Pleasure, to assimilate into society, we as human beings lose our true ‘voices’. “The similarity of girls’ voices across vast distances of culture and time, the constancy of girls’ resistance to losing their natural voices at adolescence, and the observation of a similar pattern of natural voice, then resistance and dissociation at an earlier time in boys’ development, around the ages of four and five,” (Gilligan 7). This could not be truer and more disappointing for our culture. Losing your own personality can only prevent us from blossoming to our full potential. What we are capable of as a culture is unbelievable and amazing, we just have to learn to acknowledge and strive for it.

“There will always be the meek and shy girl going through life waiting for her rishta (matchmaking process) to be made by her parents, and the egotistical, patriarchal personality type male will always be in existence.”

Inequalities within the South Asian community will always exist. There will always be the meek and shy girl going through life waiting for her rishta (matchmaking process) to be made by her parents, and the egotistical, patriarchal personality type male will always be in existence. As strong South Asian women, we should not expect things such as expensive dinners and outrageous gifts, rather, we should learn to create a balance with our counterpart. Being independent, strong willed, and focused sets a good example for those younger than us, and if we make the active choice to be role models we can be the mold that young girls look up to. Men can help alter the stereotype by being more conscious of their actions. Learning to be more open and accepting of emotions can help them understand and internalize many difficulties and help them accept and understand situations better.

Nonetheless, we must embrace those who choose to be independent and powerful in their own respect. One way is by supporting the changes that are being made, and the changes that have yet to be made in our South Asian community. Learning to accept, acknowledge, and embrace the changes in our community is the first step to creating a stronger identity and changing the typecasts that have shed shadows on us for many years. We are the change we wish to see in the world, as Gandhiji once said, and it is up to us to make it happen. — Natasha Torki

Gilligan, Carol. The Birth of Pleasure. New York: Random House, Inc. , 2003.

India: Family Life and Family Values. 2008.2008

Riti, M.D. Rediff. 8 March 2003. 2008

2 thoughts on “Liberal with Life, Conservative with Love

  1. As a developing young south asian female, I take offense to alot of what this article asserts. While I concede that many of the sociological and gender struggles do still exist. The diaspora is relatively young within the United States where “Gucci this, and Fendi that” became a reality. Our community has assimilated more so that any other ethnic minority but to ignore the changes and the differences that have affected so many south asian females completely undermines your argument and a lot of accomplishments that have thus far been made. To claim that “Inequalities within the South Asian community will always exist.” is not only preemptive but will such an attitude will hinder future progress.
    regards,
    Purvi a.k.a. a not so meek or shy girl going through life waiting for her rishta

  2. I found this article offensive, just as the commentator before me. I think it was the tone of the article that bothered me. The “meek shy girl going through life waiting for her rishta” makes it seem like every south asian girl, is hopelessly miserable with no control of her future. And the alpha male type, of the hot temepered male, “alpha male”, exists in every race of people. The article should have has a more focused theme.

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