I discovered my interest for reading books that talks about dismantling the patriarchy and hierarchical relationships. Some of these books built the person that I am today. If you want a good read then I strongly recommend these books below, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit.
While I was working on my degree, I have worked numerous jobs which opened me to different experiences. What I’ve recognized is that women are faced with lots of challenges at workplaces. Sexism has a big impact at work. Most workplaces are driven by the patriarchal mindset. Women aren’t supported enough and their hard work is undervalued. Even in general, women’s opinions in important matters are not considered as important as their male counterparts.
Having to meet new people through my jobs and school has taught me a lot about their experiences which led me to become more aware of my surroundings and I began to question a lot of things starting with sexist behaviors at home.
If you belong to a desi family, then you know having a voice is problematic and can get you in a lot of trouble. But it is important to stay committed to what you believe in. Apparently, there’s a a lot of patriarchy and gender discrimination in a Brown household. The roles are quite clear, the man brings food to the table which makes my father the head of the household. My mother cooks and clean, raises her children and runs the household. She is considered a housewife.
Surprisingly, I began to notice a lot of things that I haven’t noticed before. My mother was constantly being degraded by her in-laws because her family was poor and uneducated. They never missed an opportunity to put her down. You would think that at least her husband would defend her, but in this case, I found my father as being the least supportive partner to his wife.
This is when I started to observe that my mother was constantly being criticized and her opinions were disregarded by my father. I often pondered, how does an amazing father like mine be such a terrible husband to his wife? This is the same man who left his country in search of a better life to raise his family and children. I mean we are talking about the same man who saved money for his daughters education instead of their prospective marriages. He believed everyone deserved the rights to education, not just boys.
Sometimes I wonder if things were always like this. I’ve always seen my parents happy and respectful to one another. My younger self was deceived by their happy faces. I decided to speak to my mom about it. How do you deal with a spouse who constantly insults you to prove his superiority over you? She responded, “By remaining silent. That’s what women like us do because we are illiterate. We depend on our father or husband or we’ll go hungry.” To this day, it amazes me to think how strong women like her have to be in order to survive.
Then, I started noticing this pattern of hierarchy in many brown families whether it be my father, uncles, brothers, cousins, friends or neighbors, they all perceived women more or less as inferior. That was the time, I told myself If I was going to change anything, I must first start with my own family. I refused to inherit the silence of my mother even if it meant things are going to get odd with my father. I will stand up for what’s right.
There was a feeling of great transformation that took over me. I started to become vocal about sexist behaviors at home and in my community. I stood up for my mother and called out my father for ignoring her opinions. It was shocking when he said to me, “I never devalued you because I know I have educated you well enough and you’re intelligent.” He really believed that it would make me feel better. I answered back, “yes education is important but does that justify mistreating someone for their lack of education? You should be worthy of better treatment no matter what.” He stood silent and disappointed. For the first time, he knew that I was not so proud of him.
That was the moment I learned to be myself unapologetically. And if someone cannot speak up, I will become their voice and stand up for them. Therefore, I started this journey by being vocal first for my mother, then my aunt and other women in my life.