You wake up in the morning and sweep the floor, mop the house, dump the dirty laundry into the washer, and help Amma prepare breakfast. As you sip piping hot coffee, you set the table, get Appa’s newspaper and tune the radio to his favourite channel. While Amma and Appa enjoy their thosai over a light-hearted chat about Amma’s favourite Tamil mega serial on Astro Vaanavil, you tidy up the living room, set the cushions and coffee tables right, wipe a few dusty shelves and head to the backyard to dry the washed laundry.
Your brother wakes up, switches on the television and is served breakfast. He spills coffee on the floor, leaves chutney stains on the table, messes up the newspapers, leaves the television on and starts browsing 9gag on his handphone. Appa calls for you, wanting the mess cleaned up and you run all the way from the backyard to the living room, grabbing a kitchen towel on your way, obeying Appa – because that is how you were trained from young.
This everyday scene is exactly what prompted a young Malaysian Indian named Durga Shivika to pen her thoughts about gender discrimination in Indian society in her article “7 reasons why it sucks being a Malaysian Tamil girl”.
Shared by many online, the purpose of the article was to highlight the perennial struggles of females in the Malaysian Indian context even during so-called modern times. From being stereotyped as docile, submissive, self-sacrificing, sentimental, and incapable of rational thought or action, the primary duty of an Indian woman is limited to their multiple roles of daughter, sister, wife, companion and devoted mother despite the growing number of Indian women who are economically independent, progressive and ambitious.
Being an Indian woman myself, I identified with so much in Durga’s article and was grateful someone could put into words the gender discrimination that exists within Indian society today. But sadly, I received a message on my Facebook soon after that left me feeling deflated.
“Dear Fa, I had a huge verbal war with my brother because of this article. I shared it in my siblings’ chat group yesterday – my objective was to let them know that as Indian girls, we were indirectly subjected to this form of discrimination. I hoped the article would shed some light on the issue of gender discrimination, particularly that of Indian females. Sadly, the outcome was nothing like I expected. My brother was not only incapable of listening to a differing opinion, but said I ought to be born a Muslim girl instead to realise how lucky I was to be treated the way I was right now. He said every girl in every corner of the world was undermined in some way or other and whining about it wasn’t going to change a thing.
“I feel so sad and heart broken. I believe humankind has much to learn and improve from – things will only improve when the overall consciousness equilibrium is shifted for the better. But as long as there are people who are not willing to recognise the problem or who deny the effort taken in highlighting the problem or even worse, refuse to see it as a problem – Indian girls will forever be trapped in this vicious cycle of discrimination. And those who try to fight the discrimination will forever be labelled as rebels – just like I am.”
In these supposedly liberated times, I find it frustrating that many of us still hold on to beliefs that belong more in the dark ages where males are seen as tough, confident, strong, accomplished, non-conforming, aggressive and natural born leaders and women are seen as emotional, sensitive, warm, gentle, soft and natural born followers.
These stereotypes are not only discriminating, it also limits a person from achieving their full potential. It ignores the fact that we as individuals have our own personal traits and unique characteristics that define us as more than cookie-cutter images of a certain gender.
The truth is, men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus – we are both from our mother’s womb. Somehow, while society gets overwhelmed with the glorified and exaggerated differences between men and women, our real worth is lost and so is our ability to look beyond our gender.
Women, Indians as well as non-Indians, have a life we’d like to live just like men. We want the benefits of a good education, the security of working in a good firm, the thrill of earning good money, the satisfaction of improving our skills and accomplishing great things in life. We want to have our own pool of friends, choose who we fall in love with, build a family as our hearts desire and decide on how to manage our lives without anyone’s interference.
We have earned the right to be lazy, disobedient, disrespectful and imperfect if that is what we choose to be.
Being anatomically different does not mean women do not share the same desires, wants, dreams, strengths, fears and weaknesses as men. After all, culture and tradition aside, women are also very capable of being stereotypical and prejudiced if we want to – just like the men.
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.