Why is it so hard to shake off the stares of disapproving aunts and men in fancy suits? I am almost always on the receiving end of them at every family function. The sourness of the patriarchy that laces these comments never fails to sting and especially while the women slave over pots while the men lounge back.
I have witnessed in my own life and household what I have come to understand as patriarchy. My impressions as a South African of Indian heritage have resulted in a definition of patriarchy where a where a woman’s worth often hinges on whether or not she can make the perfectly round roti.
Being born a girl into a South African Indian family means that you’re hit with a predefined list of expectations shaped by the judgement of an imagined mother-in-law. These prerequisites for the marriage to one of their sons are silently agreed upon by our own mothers, the women we look to for affirmation.. Often, when a couple shows an intention to take the next step, his mother will ask:
Who is her family? Can she cook? How round are her rotis? Can she make all your favourite meals like I can? Has she dated anyone before? If she is studying does she has to know that she can’t work after she gets married?
These questions reflect the unrealistic expectations that many communities, mine included, have of young women about to enter into marriage. As for me, I am probably looking at a life of loneliness as I not only fail to meet these expectations, I am actively resisting them.
My stubborn refusal to to learn how to cook still ignites a fire in my mother. It is often the same argument day after day, which always ends at the same question; “What will your mother-in-law say? … Do you think your husband will help you with chores, you’ve got to be kidding! No one wants someone who can’t cook and clean…” These reprimands though, rather than encouraging me to change, just embolden my resolve to resist my future enslavementAs a woman, despite having a university degree, I get asked when I will get married rather than when I will find a job. There is a timestamp on marriage and once you pass that age South African Indian people, especially the aunties, think that no one will want you and you’ve passed your sell by date. Women are treated as objects to barter with rather than human beings with their own feelings and desires. I have never, and will never, come to terms with this way of thinking.
I look at the way my brother is treated by my parents, a way that gives him the space to live his life, his transgressions excused away with the saying, “boys will be boys”. The only time parents like mine burden their sons with expectations is when they lay down the law on the kind of daughter-of-law they expect to have. I am treated differently just because I am a female, this is not inequality, it is discrimination. “Boys will be boys” is nothing more than a free pass to the male of the to do whatever they like.
I, for one, believe in the concept of equality. Perhaps it is time to grow out of old concepts and develop a culture of sharing and taking responsibility as adults. I think that gender limitations and standards should be scrapped because I never want my future daughter to think she can’t achieve something just because she isn’t a man. And to my future mother-in-law, you need not fear your son will starve if you stop feeding his expectations and his belly and instead teach him how to roll the perfectly round roti.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Team work makes the dream work, May 4, 2018