DISCOVERING THE WOMAN IN ME: SHATTERING GENDER STEREOTYPES

I am a 31 year old Indian Punjabi female. I came to the US at the age of 23 to do PhD in Physics. Growing up I saw females around me struggling to find their own identity. A lot of them didn’t have any identity except being known as the wife of Mr. X. By saying that I am not demeaning the role of home makers or housewives. If one chooses to be that’s fine. But if you are forced to give up on your own dreams just because you are married to someone that’s not fine. I was the first child of my parents. My mom is a college graduate and my dad dropped out of college. We were a business family in and out except for two uncles who worked in a bank. I didn’t see any female role models while I was growing up. What I saw was women who were taking care of their families. What I saw was men and the in laws dictating what a woman should do. I saw my mom compromising on many things which I will never compromise on today. One day I saw my mom crying over a tiff between her and my dad. I was barely 4 years old. And I told my mom that you know mom if you were independent and more educated you won’t be making all these compromises and perhaps you would have known who you are in real. I told my mom that I will get the highest degree possible ever and no one will dictate terms to me because I am a girl.

There was something in me which I felt was different. I would question my dad when he wont help out mom in the kitchen. My dad would ask mom to give him water when he is just sitting on bed. So basically I saw all that goes on in a traditional Punjabi family while growing up. I would argue with my dad about these traditional gender roles. If my mom would come to me to ask for help with cooking and cleaning I won’t show any interest. I would tell my mom that I would rather study than helping her in the kitchen. I focused more on academics because that desire to be someone, to find out who I was kept burning inside of me.

I never imagined in my thoughts that I will do a PhD from the US. So at the age of 23 I came to California to get my PhD from a public university. I was the first person from my family to step outside of India and to come to the US ever. That was a big thing for my family. I guess no one in their dreams ever thought about this. Over the course of years I have struggled with how I am different. I am more driven towards my career. I don’t see the world from a patriarchal lens. When I date Indian men the discussion on gender stereotypes always comes up. Often Indian men who I have gone out on dates with claim that they don’t think women need to take on more responsibility for the household chores as women today are contributing financially. They claim that women today are excelling in the workforce but I still find the deep rooted patriarchal norms somewhere. Somewhere something is amiss as women are still not making the same money as men are making. Women are still dropping out of workforce due to child care responsibilities. Still, in India the rate of female foeticide is high among the urban population. When it comes to getting married daughters are still considered a burden and the bride’s family often bears the brunt of wedding expenses. Shouldn’t that be shared by the groom’s family?

The big question that I think about is why people feel that a woman is not complete without being married? My parents tell me almost every other day that I should find someone and get married. That I am aging but I feel that it’s not necessary to do so. We all look for companionship but I don’t feel that my life in any way is incomplete. It has taken me a long time to accept who I am as a woman. I don’t fit into a traditional or a conventional narrative. I want to be known for my work. I was never excited about cooking and cleaning. For many years I have provided financially for my family and may be that’s what I am good at. Taking care of family as men in a traditional setting do. That doesn’t make me any less of a woman. The times are changing and many women like me don’t fit into a traditional mould. Someday I will be a great wife providing financially for my husband and kids. Or I will be okay if my future partner wants to just take care of the household or is content with working from home. Or I will never get married.

Each and everyone of us has to realize that women and men are equal. That marriage is not a must. We all will be more happy if we know who we are and what we stand for. We will be more happy if we see the world from a lens of equality. This world will be a better place if women have the freedom to make their choices as that shouldn’t be a privilege but a birthright.