We have a multitude of cultures and traditions on how to raise a woman in this country. These range from extreme forms of coercion and exploitation (such as child marriage, sexual and domestic slavery) to newer, modified 21st-century versions where girls and boys are treated equally, and are given equal opportunities and the freedom to choose. But it is not that simple.
I come from a healthy, sane, equality-loving family. My parents believe in equal rights for both men and women. However, so far, the rest of the range of the gender spectrum seems to be non-existential for them – and I am trying to bring it to the table.
My mother is the bread-winner of my family, and my father is neither a home maker nor does he contribute to the family income. He has his own line of work, in which he is well-acclaimed – and that’s why my mother married him. He keeps his finances limited to himself. It was a well-understood love marriage. They both shared the responsibilities of parenting.
Even though my mother makes money, she is not the ‘cover-page’ of my family. Neither is my father, for that matter. We have a mixture of patriarchal and matriarchal conditioning. A majority of the women in our country do not have access to education or even free will – things which I enjoyed thoroughly.
But, as I said before, it’s not that simple. My brother and me have had equal opportunities to pursue our dreams, but the ‘terms and conditions’ of these opportunities were different for us. And that’s where it hit me.
Let me give you one simple example. If I was given a scooter, it would be expected that I would take care of it for a minimum of one year. But, if my brother got it, it would be expected that he wouldn’t ride it faster than, say, 50 kilometres per hour. This is an example of a difference in terms and conditions in benign situations.
Consider another one: during my graduation, I was expected to do my post graduation here in India. However, in my brother’s case, the sole expectation was that he should just do it – no matter where!
I will explain why this matters through the behaviour of a goldfish. The growth of a goldfish is not just dependent upon the amount of food it eats, it also depends on the size of container. If a fish’s growth is directly related to the limitations of its environment, then I believe that humans are no different in this aspect. What is expected of you in that environment decides how far you will grow. A middle-class family dreaming of being upper middle-class – this can well be the limit of their growth.
On the surface, it would seem that my brother and I enjoyed equal opportunities and the freedom to choose, which is true. But, below this lies the hidden inequality of expectation. My parents will always be proud of me because they don’t expect much from me. I am not expected to provide bread for my family. I am not expected to arrange my finances to support my parents in their old age. I am not expected to buy property in my family name.
If I am not treated any less than my brother, then why am I also relieved of responsibilities and expectations? It eases my life a lot – but somewhere, it also makes me feel less of a family member.
For some people, I might sound narcissistic or like an incorrigible idealist – and that’s fine with me. I am not complaining against my parents by any means, for all that they have provided me. However, the freedom I have enjoyed has also allowed me to ponder on my responsibilities towards my family and the community – responsibilities equal to those of any man in the society. I am not less in comparison to any man. Then, why am I not entitled to an equal share of responsibilities? Or at least, why aren’t there any expectations of me? I’ve been vigilant about my growth – and I don’t want to be that goldfish which is content to be in a safe zone.
Expectations of growth/success have subtle psychological traits behind it. If my brother is expected to explore different career options till the age of 30, in my case, it is expected that I will be financially, professionally and personally settled for ‘safety’ reasons. There is a weird imbalance here. I am not expected to take risks – and I am always expected to play safe whereas, he is allowed to make mistakes. At the level of the community, if I am not expected to be of any help in bringing about change in the society, it makes me feel less of a member of society. It stunts my participation and growth rates in the long run. It has even become a part of my consciousness now.
I am lucky that I am also also aware of the goldfish in me, which doesn’t like playing big and taking on bigger tasks. I have set higher expectations for me, even though my parents see it as an unnecessary burden on me.
PS: My brother has no role to play in this roller coaster of expectations and success. He is one tough feminist.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.