Excuse our hiatus of posting outside of Motley Monday, but the girls here at Wheatish are continuing to excel in greatness outside of blogosphere world, but we are always happy to catch up again because we love it here!
We have pointed ourselves out as 20-somethings here at Wheatish, but today I would like to provide a dose of what that means. Maybe the 20-somethings is adulthood, but as recent research has started to show (and is still in progress), the brain still continues to develop through this age. I definitely feel my brain still developing and trying to make sense of the world around me, still trying to come to terms with its many issues. Yet, I still find that in this development there is always the culture force to reckon with.
I graduated about 2 years ago from undergrad, and in those two years I never felt like the past was getting so much further and further away. It is not necessarily the fact that my friends are so spread out or about starting to yawn at earlier times and not be able to pull all-nighters. It is the constant, wrenching agony of worrying about whether or not I am in the right place. If there could have been something else I could have been doing or should be doing. I have usually been a very level-headed person, pretty good about knowing the direction I want to go, but in the past two years that has not really been happening.
I was always on the path of “practicality”. I was going to graduate go to law school, probably get married during law school, and afterwards settle down with a career and a husband by the time I hit 26. I was comfortable being that person and it was such a straight path, until, well, life happened. It may seem crazy that I genuinely want to continue to see the world and be exposed to the craziness of it more than settling down and be so defined professionally. In fact, settling down scares me more than anything – the thought of a wedding, and then trying to save to create and maintain a family. Put that together with growing up in a culture that idealizes self-sacrificial women and makes women seem so old so quickly. The results: internal struggle and ridicule of being “too selfish”
Do not get me wrong. I am extremely lucky to have a family that encouraged my educational goals and let me explore a lot more freely than my other Desi female counterparts. I count those blessings. However, I harbor some concern over the prevailing attitude that my parents and relatives maintain about “being able to truly settle down” once their daughters are married. It is not something I can ever understand. It may have made sense in the past where women did not always have the ability to be independent, hence, security for a daughter was realized through marriage, but that certainly is not the case anymore. I asked my parents about this, to which they responded, “Beta, you cannot completely take some ideas out of us. You are right, but it is not about money. It is about your happiness and emotional security more than anything. You are not a parent now, but when you are later you will understand.”
That last sentence always makes me cringe with annoyance.
Even though I now live in a society that tells me I am not old and am relatively young, I still hear my Desi cultural voice say: “Those girls married at your age are living their age the right way. Who cares how ambitious or successful you become? Those girls are living a way better life.” It has taken years for me to develop a “who cares” mentality, and realize that these are all social constructions. Still, it is disheartening to see the utter disappointment or just a general hatred among the community for a Desi girl that does not choose to be defined by those constructions.
Perhaps it may be parents’ way of saying they simply want their children to be happy, but pegging happiness on marriage is frankly a very misguided way to assure such happiness. I find that this mentality indirectly creates very negative definitions of aging. It is common to think of aging as an issue discussed after 30, but in Desi culture, I find that the issues of aging are dramatically brought forth as soon as a girl is of “marriageable age”. In other words, I am not comparing it to the more universal feelings of aging that women feel about their beauty and worth. Those are on a different plane, but it would certainly, as a South Asian woman, be great to not start early on the aging insecurities.
Case in point #1: Through socialization and listening to their mothers, my younger cousins already ask (with hopes they do not end up the same way), “When will Saba Baaji get married?” Baaji is the Urdu word that younger cousins and siblings use to show respect for an older sister or sister-like figure, by the way.
Case in point #2: When I am always reminded that my dear biological clock is ticking and that I will somehow end up like those sad women who couldn’t conceive because they waited too long.
To the first case: It is sad because these girls are already told to believe that they are mostly “not prime” after what most consider a relatively young age. Yet, it is my prime. Not to get into completely retaliative unmarried-Desi-girl mode (a mode that can be very hard to get out of sometimes), it is quite obvious that their parents have already somehow established to them that I am getting old. Their only assumption is that I simply do not want to be married, when I actually do, eventually. Even while being in a relationship, I could not just jump into marriage out of pressure. I may not understand the world fully just yet, but I finally find myself popping the comfort bubbles that surrounded me till my undergrad days. Do not get me wrong, some bubbles are still there, and my fledgling wings still need more development, but I could not imagine such development along with the responsibilities of marriage.
No offense to women married in their early and mid-twenties, but I could not deal well with asking myself how different my life would have been if I was not married. I am not assuming that all women married at this age or earlier are always thinking this, but I admit, I have met many who do. The time that I know I would not have such questions in my head is the time that I see marriage as an option. It is the the time that I could feel mentally and emotionally “there” for marriage.
To the second case: While the science is correct and there are more complications with birthing the older a woman is after her 30s, does an early or mid-20s marriage mean I will want to have children right away or soon after when societal and familial pressures are brought forth? If I ever asked family members: what if I do not want to have my own child by birth? What if I want to adopt? The only response would be that I have lost my mind. Such ideas are unthinkable. Of course, every woman has the natural inclination for child-rearing. Any other ideas are simply unnatural and will cause her great distress.
And what if it ended up being that I could never have children of my own? Is my value lost? In a world where so many children are orphaned, maybe my value is not in my womb, but in my ability to give a child a good life, when he/she would otherwise live a difficult one. I do not imply here that I am only on the adoption team and not for giving birth, but after having the time to make more sense of the world outside of comfort bubbles the thought certainly has been entertained. Even at 21 (and it was not that long ago), it would not have crossed my mind because I would have worried that it would mean I would never marry a Muslim or Desi guy.
Nevertheless, I have made an observation from my personal examples as well as others’. Desi women’s lives, including those of our mothers and grandmothers, had no real stages of age based upon numbers or psychological development. It was, rather:
1.) Everything before marriage
2.) Everything after marriage
3.) Everything after children
4.) Everything after children’s marriages
I know this is starting to change, but somehow, it is very hard to get rid of these mentalities. Here’s a linguistic example. I remember in my Urdu class sophomore year of college, my professor was telling us when it is appropriate to say larki (girl) and when it is appropriate to say aurat (woman). In general, larki was reserved for someone who was not married, while aurat was used after marriage. I never had thought about it much, but in Western society I was told that after being out in the real world I was a woman. Still, through upbringing and general usage, I always saw aurat as a word used for much older women in the Urdu language more so than for somebody who has married. I had never thought of the word in this way before. The married/not married dichotomy for “woman” and girl” finally came into practice when I heard my mother recently call someone who has been married for about 3 or 4 years an “aurat“. I found that strange because I was still inclined to use larki.
These things of course should not matter, but they add to the confusion that already comes with the mid 20s of any young adult in the professional world. It makes me realize that no matter how progressive we have become as first generation South Asian women, we are always fighting against a culture that likes to age us quickly and ostracize us for not choosing to define our roles as wives (or at that point, women) early enough or “at the right time”. I cannot, of course, say this true for every South Asian woman, because there are many who are quite happy with this paradigm.
While that is all dandy, I guess my problem with this paradigm is expecting it for everyone else in the name of “maintaining culture”.