It’s not news that society has dreadful standards of how women should be, look, think, and act, and that the expectations for women's behaviour is based on a patriarchal system of beliefs.
This system creates double standards, given the disparate nature of eastern and western culture. Non-white women are often reprimanded for the same things that white women are praised for.
This double standard is a large reason why women of colour struggle to break free from society’s expectations of them, and South Asian women raised in the western world are left to negotiate between highly polarized expectations.
There is an abnormal amount of pressure to forge an independent identity in western society that helps you fit in, while simultaneously preserving your cultural heritage that prescribes fixed gender roles and collectivist familial expectations.
The conflict resulting from these competing identity expectations make it incredibly difficult for South Asian women to find belonging in either community, and to navigate their identity independently.
This has personally affected my own sense of belonging, as I’ve found it difficult navigating between my family’s expectation of me, (preserving a certain image of myself, especially in regards to family legacy), and my own independent identity as I continue to unlearn and outgrow old ways of existing.
One of the ways that this manifests is through relationships and marriage.
In this contrasting space exists the frustration of wanting to express yourself freely, without judgement, but holding back because you know your family won’t approve.
The hardest part of this duality is feeling disingenuous to yourself, while you juggle the expectation of your family’s views of you, society's expectations of what you should be, and your own desire to just be.
Second-generation South Asian women often find themselves situated in a conflict between trying to establish an independent identity from their family obligations so that they can live, socialize, and compete professionally in the western society, while simultaneously being pressured to retain their cultural heritage.
This culture often endorses fixed gender roles and collectivist familial expectations in order to attract a suitable “marriage partner” and attain the cultural goal of becoming a wife and mother, in order to pass on the cultural heritage to the next generation.
While I can understand the desire to pass on culture to further generations, the unrelenting need to find a suitor propels a backwards ideology that one’s existence is void and has no value if they don’t get married.
This is based on the idea that an unmarried woman is somehow less than, and in Indian culture, unmarried women often get the brunt end of that unfair philosophy.
If I hadn’t drawn the line ages ago, I draw it here.
My personal distaste for marriage stems from my cultural understanding of it, and what I have seen play out generationally through arranged marriages.
The system of marriage, from my belief, is patriarchal. It can often lead to fixed gender roles, unfair weight put on women and wives to indulge demanding in-laws, and limitations on how women are expected to behave after marriage in the name of “respect”.
Central to South Asian society is the importance of maintaining cultural continuity through marriage, which is a topic of considerable controversy between generations.
Dating before marriage, dating outside of the same group, and premarital sex are discernible points of contention between South Asian women and their challenging Indo-Canadian identity.
As someone who is currently in a relationship with someone outside of my race and religion, I have experienced the cultural and social outcasting that exists when you go outside of familial expectations of the life you should be leading.
I have been met with beliefs that my happiness is less important than my dedication to my culture. In a culture that can be so suffocating and outmoded, being happy is an act of rebellion.
Finding the balance between these western and eastern expectations leaves many women shifting and negotiating their identity as appropriate to a given situation.
The hyphenated identity of being both South Asian and Canadian is in constant flux and conflict as we are trying to accomplish multiple expressions of who we are within both cultures.
Women must perpetuate traditions and customs to maintain the cultural value of being a ‘good’ Indian woman who maintains family tradition and honour above all else.
But at what cost?
I am in no means an “ideal” Indian woman, because I have in many ways chosen happiness over familial expectations, and have rejected the parts of my culture I don’t agree with.
That isn’t to say these concepts are not mutually exclusive; you can be both a “good” Indian woman who is successful and happy, depending on your desire to bend the narrative set out for you -- which I am unwilling to submit to.
As such, identity formation within two cultures is not an easy process. It is fluid, contradictory, painful, complex, and a difficult process for South Asian women to navigate. It can often be met with isolation and family conflict, ostracization and a black-sheep status.
But in many cases, including my own, expressing my true self through choosing who I love based on my own emotions, taking a creative path in my career, and challenging patriarchal norms, has lead to a fuller life life, that I get to live on my own terms.
Thankfully, I believe we are collectively moving towards a more open space where although these expectations may still exist, they exist under scrutiny and recognition of their patriarchal history.
Every day, we see more South Asian women opening up about their struggles of duality, their blatant rejection of marriage traditions that don’t fit their values, their openness about sexuality, and their free-will to date outside of their culture.
I am seeing this through the people I surround myself with, or even the stories that are being told in media and television.
As I have journeyed to make sense of who I am and where I fit in this world, I am left with the notion that despite my strong connections to both communities, I am neither Canadian nor Indian.
I am neither a woman who is defined and shaped by one pigeon hole in which the dominant white society places me, or a different pigeon hole in which the Indian community categorizes me.
I have learned that through speaking up, acting of my own accord, and challenging cultural norms, breaking out of society’s expectations becomes both possible and liberating.
Though I have made strides in forging an identity that is true to myself, it is a life-long journey to subscribe to a life where I no longer question how my actions will be perceived by my family and community at large.
With each passing day, however, I remind myself that I am two things: who and what I want to be.
About the author: Tasheal is a screenwriter and poet who believes creativity fuels true happiness. She is studying Film Production at UBC. Tasheal first discovered her passion for telling stories when she typed up old manuscripts for her dad at the ripe age of 9. Ever since, she has fell in love with the art of storytelling. Tasheal is an Aquarius who uses sarcasm as a defence mechanism and enjoys binge-watching Frasier on a regular basis. Find her on instagram at @tashealgill
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