• Expert By Experience

Challenging Patriarchy In South Asian Communities

As a Punjabi working-class woman of colour, there is a lot I wanted to write about for my first ever published piece. However, after giving it much thought I decided that one controversial topic I’d like to address is patriarchy in South Asian communities.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more aware of the injustices that are embedded in our system today- injustices that I have personally faced overtime. With maturity, I have become more aware of the world around me in relation to the division of class, race and religion in society and also within our own cultures. Patriarchy starts the minute you are born, and in most cases, it is enforced by your own family. While I recognise that some people in our communities may not want to address this openly, it’s important we bring this issue to the limelight.

Like many other brown girls, I grew up in a community that endorses misogynist views. However, I was privileged enough to be raised in a household where I was allowed some freedoms that are not granted to countless other south Asian women. I personally have recognised there is a lot of sharam in our communities surrounding how a Punjabi girl/guy should behave and this is heavily enforced by strong social pressures to obey. I understand that not every WOC has encountered this, however, this does not negate other WOC's experience. It is important not to invalidate this.

This social pressure which is rooted in patriarchy is something that enrages me because women are expected to behave in a certain way. This ‘behaviour’, which is moulded by patriarchy is the same force that reminds women that they shouldn’t smile on their wedding day, in order to portray a submissive image. It’s also the same pressure that reminds women that they should be caregivers to their families rather than chase their ambition and dreams. All of which is a dehumanising process as many of us have to abandon our aspirations so that we can fulfil societal roles. To this day I still spend so much time questioning patriarchy in all its forms. For instance, why is it that in our communities and the wider society we continue to suppress women's thoughts and opinions in life? Why do we put such an emphasis on how women are viewed? Who decided that men are to be the breadwinners who have the final say on everything while women are expected to stay at home and be caregivers?

Growing up, this has brought many questions to the surface today. Why are there not many women who look like me in senior roles? Is there still a systematic barrier today that put us at a disadvantage from moving up the professional ladder? Have these traditional gender roles been filtered down to modern-day society?

One of the earliest memories I have of patriarchy playing out was when I wanted to play games which were considered too ‘masculine’ with the boys. I wanted to go outside and play ball. I was criticised by ‘Aunties’ telling me it’s not right for a girl to be playing outside, and that I should separate myself from the boys and sit inside with the girls. I always wondered, why were the boys and girls even separated and why couldn’t we play the same games? When I look back, I recognise this as the beginning of the separation of gender, and development of patriarchy within the communities.

Being a woman I’ve always felt that boys are preferred over girls. Likewise, I’ve also felt that girls are not given the same opportunity as boys in South Asian culture. In our communities and wider society boys are the ones who are expected to carry on the family name while ensuring that the family finances stay afloat - all of which creates incredible amounts of pressure.

Patriarchy encroaches upon boys from a very young age, giving birth to toxic masculinity. Men are brought up and conditioned to believe that expressing emotion is a weakness. They are constantly being told to ‘man up’ and ‘grow some balls’. These toxic masculinities play a crucial role and this is what leads to many issues being swept under the carpet over time. All of which leads to a decline in men's mental health. Men typically do not seek therapy as some may visualise this as a sign of weakness. Statistics show 28% of men admitted that they had not sought medical help, compared with 19% of women. We need to stop putting men on pedestals as they are subject to external pressure without even realising it. It’s no understatement when I say that it’s harmful and dehumanises all people involved. Putting your son’s on pedestals is not caring, and it’s not love. You can love someone in other wonderful and nourishing ways.

Due to the lack of challenge and question, patriarchal ideals get passed down through generations and can play a huge part in relationships and domestic violence. As a woman who has witnessed domestic violence in my community, this subject is so important and I hope it reaches out to as many people as possible. Statistics in 2018 found that 3.4% of women in South Asian culture were a victim of domestic abuse. The report also stated that domestic abuse is on the rise. The socialisation of boys normalises violence, excessive drinking and aggression, shrugging it off as ‘boys will be boys’ promotes further harm in the long run. The emotional labour women are expected to provide men also has a severe impact on our mental well being. Men who tend to suppress their feelings are likely to project their anger onto women. Due to this, I’ve seen how this has played out in the long run and how it’s affected relationships, leading to the rise of alcoholism and domestic violence in our community.

How can we help each other?

Generational patterns repeat themselves when we pass down ideals that may promote further harm in the long run. To break the cycle, we need to start encouraging people to be transparent about their experiences and address these issues within our communities. We should aim to bring patriarchal views to the limelight and eradicate inequalities that have been embedded in our cultures, otherwise, the harm continues. Accept yourself as you are and don’t mould yourself into who society expects you to be. We need to unlearn oppressive ideologies and behaviours to help shape the next generation by embracing gender equality. Abolish patriarchy in our culture and societal pressure to be someone we are not. Learn today for a better tomorrow.

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