How many of you can relate to this as soon as you read the title? Be honest…
What is sexism anyway?
Oxford learners dictionary simply defines sexism as the unfair treatment of people, especially women, because of their sex.
How do you explain to desi parents that you want to end a marriage because your partner is sexist?
Jay believes that women will always be inferior to men. He prefers that women stick to their ideal roles as wife, mother, sister or daughter because they are nurturer and men are the protectors and maintainers of women.
My ambitious nature for success often times are in conflict with Jay’s beliefs because my qualities violate the norms that he was raised into. In Jay’s perspective, I should be staying home, cooking, cleaning and raising kids while he brings food to the table and provide for the family. According to psychology today, “past research has suggested that men who endorse these kinds of sexist views are more likely to accept violence against women or interfere with women’s career advancement.” In Jay’s case both of these facts are accurate.
Let me take you on a quick tour of his background. He was raised in a big family where he lived with his grandparents, his mom, dad, siblings, five uncles, their wives and children. They live in a six story building with families on each floor. The men are overly dominating while women had little to no say. Jay has witnessed his mother being silenced all the time. He has a great bond with his father and he sees nothing wrong with how his father treats his mom.
On the other hand, the mother portrays immense respect for someone (her spouse) who has treated her less of a human being for the most of her life. This is the unfortunate reality of majority of women in desi culture. They sacrifice, they compromise and they tolerate to a point where it becomes normal in their head. Women dedicate their lives to their spouses and sons without any expectation of receiving little to no respect in return. There were times when Jay’s mom would get yelled at because she tried to give her opinion about a matter. She was told to focus on cooking her food.
Jay is accustomed to or even comfortable with seeing verbal abuse and violence against women within his household. And this goes for all the women in his family, grandmother, aunts and female cousins. He has witnessed women being constantly silenced, controlled and criticized for not acting within the conventional roles assigned to appropriate sex.
All of Jay’s female cousins were married off as soon as they hit puberty. Some finished high school and some dropped out of college because their marriage was fixed. Their education held no value simply because they were girls and were expected to fulfill similar roles as their mothers. In contrast, Jay and his siblings and male cousins are highly educated and became doctors and engineers. This explains why Jay didn’t like the idea of me going to school to get my bachelors degree. It was even worse when his parents tried to talk me out of it.
His dad: “Why argue about something so simple? getting a education is not that important especially when your husband has a degree and a good job to take care of you.”
This also explains why Jay didn’t like the idea of me getting a job after I finished school. Then, his mom tried to talk me out of it.
His mom: “Okay you finished school as you wanted. Now try to settle down, have kids and make your own family. You don’t have to worry about earning money, leave that to him (the man of the family.)”
Most of you who doesn’t know me, I tend to do the opposite of what people tells me especially if someone says “I can’t do something” I immediately take it as a challenge and make it a goal to do it. So, I definitely got a job after I finished school despite of the things I had to hear afterwards.
While I understand where Jay is coming from and why he holds a sexist belief, but it is also up to him to change his view. It is true that many of our beliefs are not chosen, we are born into them, but as humans, we are always growing. Therefore, it is our responsibility to break free from the tyranny of biased beliefs that does injustice to others.
One afternoon, my parents and I finally sat down to talk about the issues that I was having with Jay. My mom said, “tell us everything that’s on your mind, we want to hear it.”
I took a deep breath and went on telling my parents just about everything I have told you guys. When I finished talking, a heavy silence settled over them. I scanned my mom and dad for a reaction but the silence hung in the air and they stared at me as if I had to give more valid reasons. It felt like an uneasy tension in the atmosphere.
Sure enough my mom says: that’s it?? He thinks you’re inferior to him. But you’re not and you know that. So, it doesn’t matter what he thinks.
Me: actually it does because there shouldn’t be hierarchy in a relationship and that bothers me.
Mom: But he doesn’t abuse you or hit you. There are so many women out there being abused by their husbands but they’re still trying to make it work. And you want to end it because of his traditional beliefs?
Me: That is a terrible example. I’m sure those women also feels trapped in their situations. And what Jay does to me is much more serious than you think. It is slowly affecting my mental health.
I can think of many examples, but I will give you three:
Once I was getting ready to go outside for shopping. Jay did not approve of the dress I wore, he thought it was too fitting on me. He told me to change it. Then I changed to another dress, he thought the neckline was too revealing. He told me to wear a scarf on top. He treats me like I am a property that he can control however he wants.
Another evening, I was talking to few of my friends on a group call. We were reminiscing about good times back in high school. I guess I seemed too happy. He gave me dirty looks and shut the door on me, giving me all the hints to hang up the phone. Jay becomes insecure when I speak to other people apart from family members.
Another example, one hot afternoon, I was complaining to him about this laundromat and how it was too hot in there that I almost fainted. But this kind lady offered me cold bottle of water so I felt better. Jay did not let me finish, instead he asks shockingly, “you went to do laundry alone? why didn’t you call me?” I told him that “you were at work.” He replies, “well you should have called your brother to come with you.” I was so frustrated, I answered back, “I don’t have to call anyone because I’m an adult, a grown woman who can go to the laundromat and do the laundry by herself.” In his perspective, I always need to be guarded and taken care of.
Mom: You can’t let these small things get to you. If I felt like you, I would have left your father a long time ago. His family and him never showed respect towards my household work, but I still held everything together.
My father was sitting right there while listening and somewhat agreeing to what mom said. At that moment I had a sudden realization which most of you call the “lightbulb moment.” I realized that it is never going to be a big deal for desi parents because my dad is also guilty of treating my mom unfairly and my mom has been so used to it that it’s normalized for her. Does that make my father a bad person? probably not because he has also witnessed his father treating his mom the same way. Sometimes we think that having a daughter might help men understand that classifying of women is unhealthy but it is not the case since this cycle continues. Unfortunately, thousands of couples in our culture are living their life without realizing that they’re likely being abused. At this point, it’s completely normal and definitely not a good enough reason to end a marriage.
After this, as you can imagine, how the conversation went between my parents and I. They were still baffled about how I can think of ending a marriage simply because my voice was being silenced and I wasn’t feeling respected. They thought I was being unreasonable. It’s very difficult for desi parents to understand how a partner can demean or damage your self esteem or mental health through words without leaving a bruise. Verbal abuse is not a big deal for desi parents because silencing women and depriving women of their natural rights has been the norm in our culture and society for the longest period of time.
It is time that women speak up against sexism instead of telling other women to compromise. The longer we tolerate, the longer we suffer. A daughter, wife, sister, mother or even a sex worker in the streets deserve to feel safe and respected. All people regardless of what their standing in life are worthy of being treated like a human being.
Sometimes abusive behavior does not necessarily cause pain or even leave a scar. But we must acknowledge the cycle of abuse whether it be emotional, physical, sexual or psychological. All of them are equally unhealthy. DO NOT make peace with anything or anyone that makes you feel less or miserable. Let us discontinue the cycle of abuse and sexist beliefs. You may not have the power to change their minds, but you do have the power to change your life.
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.Mahatma Gandhi