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Spill the Chai: On breaking generational curses

By Aymen Sherwani, October 28, 2020—

Unlike those fun curses that happen to fly around during the spooky season, like how Lana Del Rey may or may not have cursed Donald Trump during the full moon and gave him COVID-19, generational curses last across lifetimes. When it comes to communities of colour, it’s the curse of internalized misogyny, and the glorification of men in relationship that leads to the subjugation of women. It is all too often a point of controversy in communities of colour, this discussion about whether there is indeed preferential treatment given to sons over daughters, sons held up to be glorified beacons of light that can do no wrong while daughters are demonized for taking part in the same things as their male counterparts. Even Michelle Obama spoke up about how common it is for mothers to love their sons but raise their daughters, putting into question the way families create a discrepancy in the level of accountability expected from both sons and daughters and explaining why things like rape and domestic abuse often go unchecked in communities of colour. 

The reality of the situation is that parents will raise daughters to protect themselves from the men they allow their sons to become. Every young woman of colour has had her fair share of horror stories when it comes to the “motherly” figures in their lives, specifically pertaining to the fact that, for the most part, they are anything but motherly in comparison to how their brothers are treated. It really becomes a problem when women over 40 uncomfortably cling to the arms of their family friend’s dropout son, telling them how big and strong they are, but spare no moment to scrutinize and gossip about how their niece spends too many late nights at the library to be considered “decent.” 

Most women of colour by now are attuned to the unwelcome remarks made about our skin, weight and existence by older women. We are attuned to seeing our brothers able to stay out late at night, for multiple nights a week, while being berated by our parents for wanting to do the same thing when “there’s so much housework to be done.” While being able to laugh about it now is great, I think I can speak for a lot of other women when I say that comments like these hurt most because of who they come from, and why it seems like this unbridled criticism is always reserved for us and not our male counterparts. 

There were times when I’ve had to sit there listening to a 60-year-old housewife tell me why the only reason I feel the need to go study at the library — for, you know, my degree — is because I want male attention from “hardworking studious boys” like her son. Maybe let’s leave the double standards and simping for your socially inept son at the door, because clearly he isn’t as focused as you say he is if he’s “distracted” by an overly-caffeinated girl on the brink of a meltdown because she has a 15-page paper due tomorrow. 

We can continue to joke about this normalized spitefulness that young brown women and girls have received, and continue to receive, but this has nothing to do with us and everything to do with the way women in predominantly coloured communities have been groomed to not only see men for generations, but also how they see themselves. Historically, a woman’s role in South Asia has been defined as submissive. From the moment she can use her hands to learn how to cook for her husband, to the moment an overzealous dowry is paid to his family in South Asia, a woman’s life is embedded in servitude. This is why it’s so easy for misogyny to be internalized. 

In South Asian society, the subjugation of women as “home-makers,” who live to serve their often emotionally-abusive and demanding husbands, is directly correlated to the self-loathing they project onto their daughters, and the god-complexes they instil in their sons. This is because when men culturally expect women to be nothing but entities who cook, clean and bear their children, it severely impacts the mental health of their wives. Many generations of South Asian women have historically been groomed into harbouring a distorted sense of their value outside of servitude, which is why they not only seek validation through this but also pass on this “generational curse” of unwarranted control and destroyed self-esteem onto their daughters, whom they see as reflections of themselves. 

When abuse goes unchecked for generations because of how normalized it is, it doesn’t hurt any less, and the effects are just as damaging. When women go on to have children, but haven’t healed from the trauma of having a mother who was in an abusive relationship, or are in one themselves, they instill those same mindsets their abusers taught them. They project self-loathing and servitude onto their daughters and glorify their sons because they view men as people free from any accountability for their actions because that is how their abusers have groomed them to think. 

I guess it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the Indian subcontinent is considered the most dangerous region in the world for women, considering women are practically viewed as second-class citizens and are conditioned to internalize that idea of themselves at a young age. In a culture that teaches women that their thoughts and presence matter less than a man’s, it also teaches men a lot about how they should value women —  which is not at all. Maybe that’s why most responses to harassment are either “boys will be boys” or “she was asking for it.”  Harassment has become normalized, and when it is serious, it’s the fault of the woman for acting upon her own agency to put herself in a situation like that. While rape culture isn’t as predominant in the west as it is back home, the emotional subjugation of young girls and women is still ever-present because it’s hereditary. 

You hear it in the corners of the room at parties when mothers tell their 8-year-old daughters not to be so bossy, but tell young boys that they’re natural-born leaders. You’ll see it when women and their daughters slave away in the kitchen before a dinner party, only for the “men to eat first” and leave the leftovers for the women who worked to put the food on the table. You’ll hear it in the voices of men in their 20s that still ask their mothers to hand feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner, and don’t even think twice when piling up the plates they ate from in the sink, because it’s unheard of for them to wash dishes. Finally, you’ll see this a lot when it comes to agency, and the lack thereof when it comes to how far women and girls can spread their wings without feeling an overwhelming sense of obligation to serve their family. 

“What will everyone think of us? Who will want to marry a girl who lives away from her parents?”

Things like this are living proof of how little a woman’s achievements are acknowledged in comparison to a man’s, and how many restrictions are put in place to ensure a happy marriage — as if that was a woman’s end goal in life. Nobody really thinks twice when a man moves out to go to his dream college to pursue his career though. It’s funny how women in the South Asian diaspora shame their families by choosing the same path their brothers do. It’s funny how they’re considered troublemakers if they ever dare speak out about it. 

What men can do to help combat the rampant internalized misogyny in South Asian communities at the smallest level would be to not discredit the words of a brown woman when she speaks out about the inequality she experiences. Acknowledgment of a system skewed against our favour is all we need to get the conversation started about how to heal generational misogyny, and the first step that can be taken is to call out the women in your life that harbour such ideas, rather than remaining complacent in your position of privilege. What women can do, myself included, is re-evaluate how we’ve been taught to understand self-worth, and understand the difference between what is expected out of us, because of some outdated tradition, and what we need to truly heal from to ensure the generations that come after us don’t suffer the same way. They say it takes three generations to break a cycle of abuse — we should be the ones that put an end to it. 

Spill the Chai is a weekly column that seeks to showcase the talents and achievements of the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities at the University of Calgary campus, but also “spills the chai” on the issues they face on a daily basis, by speaking power into the narratives of the many students of colour on campus. This column is a part of our Voices section.

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