Editor’s Note: This month, that is September 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Boys, Men and Masculinities, where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences of masculinity that manifest themselves in our everyday lives and have either challenged, subverted or even perpetuated traditional forms of ‘manliness’. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On an ordinary Sunday, earlier this year, one of the aunties from my mother’s friend circle showed up with a box of sweets to tell us the good news of the arrival of her grandson. A happy news really, they invited us for the naming ceremony as well. It was one of the rare occasions that found me at home, so I was listening to the conversation. She told us how happy everyone was, and gave a very detailed account on how tensed everyone was for the last few weeks.
I asked her if it was because it was the first pregnancy. She said, “Oh no no! It’s her second, her daughter is 3 years old.” Then my mom asked her if there were any complications. She said, “No Bhabhi, there were no complications, we were just concerned because already there was one daughter, what if the second one also turned out to be a girl?” Then she looked at me and remembered that we are two daughters in our family, so she gave an awkward laugh and started clarifying, “I mean, we were very happy when my first granddaughter was born; but one girl is enough right? Son is important for a family...”
Then it all came down to me, again. Almost 95% of people we’ve met till now has already done an excellent job at constantly reminding us how vulnerable our family was because there were no sons, only daughters. Every single time, in every single occasion, my mother (and only the mother; fathers are never questioned) has been asked about the ‘two-daughters-and-no-son fiasco’ by almost every new person she has met!
The conversation would (and it still does) go this way,
“How many kids do you have? (outright assumption that if you’re married you ought to have kids!)”
‘I have two daughters.’
“Oh…so no son? (this is an absolutely unnecessary question, with the only purpose of humiliation.)”
‘No, no son.’
To this, the responses vary with time, place and people. Some like to give a lecture on how she should’ve tried for a son, some give a pitiful smile or even a pat as if someone has died, some (unnecessarily) try to assure her by saying something like ‘girls are wonderful’ or ‘girls care more for parents than boys’ (of course, girls have to carry the burden of providing unpaid endless care way earlier than boys, right!), and some just very casually paint a picture of my parents’ horrible lonely future once their daughters get married off.
I’ve been watching since a very early age how sadistic people become when they come to know that my parents don’t have a son. They’re the least considerate humans while dealing with us. Some of them are the skeptical ones, who believe that my parents are fraternizing with their sons (even if they’re just talking) to book them for ‘rishta’ (as a potential life partner for their daughters).
People (especially women under patriarchal influence) with sons are extra skeptical when their sons are friends with girls who have no brothers. It’s my personal observation that girls with no brother(s) are judged more when it comes to their character assessment. As long as they stay consistent with the conventional ‘good-girl’ image, they’d be praised nonstop, until that one day when they do speak up for even something trivial. Then people judge them thoroughly, and brand their entire family as uncultured or ‘poisoned feminazi’.
The relatives are no better. Some of them haven’t invited my parents for certain specific functions like baby-shower, partly because of their superstitions that if the mom-to-be gets blessings from son-less people, she probably wouldn’t have a son; or simply to humiliate. My parents are the only ones with no son, and therefore all the other relatives have constantly patronised them.
Whenever my mum used to to give the reason of our schools and classes for not visiting them, my aunt would say, “Silly! Bunking school for one day doesn’t change much, what are they going to do with all that education huh? Ultimately they have to make roti!”
When they were searching for a bride for my cousin, his parents had only one criteria—the bride must have a brother, elder or younger. They are educated, stay in a moderately middle class area in a city like pune; so if you think that gender bias exists only among the lower caste/class or a less educated population, you’re mistaken. I asked them, what about girls like me who have no brother? They just gave an apologetic smile and explained why it is necessary for a Jamaai (son-in-law) to get due respect (!) at his in-laws, which is only possible if the bride has a brother (so that my cousin will be ‘respected’ and ‘welcomed’ properly even after the death of the bride’s parents). Honestly, I have cancelled their names from the mental list of invitees if I am ever getting married.
The male dominated family system in India installs certain prejudices in the young minds of children, so our male cousins have never visited us stay over, because ‘they’re only girls, what would I do with them?’, or ‘girls are boring.. no-brainers.. they play with dolls (though we haven’t played much with dolls, what’s wrong with dolls?)’
Also read: How Harmful Is Patriarchy To Men And Boys?
Of course, the times have changed. Both our parents and us sisters have gone beyond the point of caring about other people’s opinions. I must acknowledge the privilege of having rational parents. Now we all laugh together at people trying to show-off their ‘progressiveness’ by forwarding all those ‘women empowerment’ videos and posts in WhatsApp groups. It takes years of consistent fight with patriarchy, stereotypes and dealing with the trauma, to have people change their mindset from, ‘Oh no! You don’t have a son! What a disaster!‘ to a sceptical, ‘Umm, we guess it’s okay, girls are good too (emphasis on too)‘.
It is still not enough, because the gender-based female foeticide and infanticide is still going on, workplaces are still sexist, girls are made to drop out of the schools even today, and the world is still unsafe for women.
Featured Image Source: CNN