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From the NYT website here.
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I’ll say this in the nicest way I can: this constant pressure is wrong. I can’t care if it’s cultural. Sometimes what is cultural is wrong. Just because they are teenage girls they should be subjected to this constant subversive criticism? No. Imagine if some boy was trying to get your daughter to do things she wasn’t comfortable with all the time – would it be okay for her to have to constantly brush him off? Absolutely not.
There is a happy medium between respecting your elders and not being forced to say “no” all the time. If my mother said something so rude and inappropriate to my child as “be a doctor, not a _____,” you better believe I’d be stepping in immediately to back my kid up.
This story makes me sad. I’m not sure why your family is allowed to get away with this sort of thing. Tradition? Start new traditions, like letting your girls be themselves without constant commentary.
Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:11 p.m.RECOMMENDED30
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@Anon, intentions are not always good. Meddling relatives may just want to live out thier unfulfilled dreams vicariously on children with thier whole lives ahead of them.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.RECOMMENDED9
@ Andrew, or they just want girls to make a safe choice in a very difficult country. Many middle class people have no idea of the opportunities in the new Indian economy. Also the economy is tanking currently.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.
People too often think that respecting elders means letting them disrespect you.
Sept. 3, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.RECOMMENDED3
Malala was shot in the head and almost killed by a violent group of men who wanted to deny her the right to be educated; The author’s
daughters, meanwhile, are being verbally admonished by well-meaning relatives who love them on issues such as attire and future professions.
Attempted murder of a girl over education alongside nagging over clothes? I really don’t see the comparison. I think it diminishes Malala’s struggle to equate these situations.
A blog post about violence against women and girls is one important topic; another blog post about Indian girls being pressured to conform to certain cultural traditions (a pressure Indian boys face too – just read/rent The Namesake!) is equally worthy of discussion, but another topic entirely, in my view.
Aug. 30, 2013 at 9:46 p.m.RECOMMENDED15
It’s all the same sickness–believing girls are too stupid to know their own minds and trying coercion to make them conform. And “admonishments” like that coming from supposedly caring family members do as much to undercut girls’ self-confidence as physical violence.
Sept. 3, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.RECOMMENDED5
Self esteem is strengthened by facing challenges. My daughter in the US attended her first swimming lessons and she was not very good. Of course she is only 5, still I was annoyed to see that the coach wrote in the report card”she is a fantastic swimmer” without even mentioning that she was unable to meet the set goals for the class. She can’t read well yet, so whats the harm in pointing out area for improvement. If you make an unconventional career choice, you better be passionate about it and be prepared to defend yourself and do research on potential career path and have a back up plan or drop the idea if some aunt’s criticism makes you lose confidence.
Sept. 6, 2013 at 9:04 a.m.
I like your comment that if you can say no (politely) to grandparents you can say no to anyone. I would include parents in that statement also! By the way, I will be attending a family wedding in India later this fall and I will not be wearing a sari. I don’t wear dresses here in the US either. People just have to deal. It’s probably easier for me because I grew up in the US and only speak English so they can just write me off as a weird American.
Aug. 30, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.RECOMMENDED12
So you wear pants to weddings in the US, yup, queer American – but its all good! Try a nehru jacket or a sherwani with trousers, a wedding is a formal occasion after all, my dear.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.
SAMain Street USA
The author begins by telling us that her daughters and other girls around the world are pressured to conform and I get the feeling she is not pleased by that. But she allows it go on at home because it’s family?
Family should not get a pass on browbeating kids in the name of culture. Saying “Be a doctor since it’s more respectable than a pastry chef” should have elicited a comment from the parent. The elders should be told to lay off and keep their comments to themselves. Not doing so, tells the girls that you expect them to conform to please the elders or be extremely uncomfortable and frustrated to continually hear how wrong they are doing things.
Why is it okay to write off the elders as “Well, that’s their culture and that is why they expect xyz” but no one tells the elders about the girls, “This is their culture and why they expect xyz…”?
Aug. 30, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.RECOMMENDED24
I;m sure the author discusses this with her daughters. She even gives examples of this. And this gives lots of openings for talking about the differences in cultures. I just don’t agree that it’s the mom’s place to require that her parents censor themselves. It would probably be considered rude–kids need to learn to deal with unwelcome advice.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 9:49 a.m.RECOMMENDED3
I think it’s because of some form of “filial piety.” In some societies, you never talk balk to your elders, period. It’s considered the height of disrespect, no matter how wrong their views might be.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.RECOMMENDED3
I believe that doing something against the current requires strength. If you can not stick to your passion for pastry making in the face of mild criticism from the extended family, how will you be an entrepreneur (working as a chef in India for a girl from a middle class family makes no sense for economic reasons). All the self esteem building efforts I see in North America does not necessarily create stronger women. Its not for the mother to tell people to lay off, its for the girls to learn to deal with society and make their own path. There are tons of highly successful women in India in many creative fields. A third of the tech people and assistant directors even in Bollywood are women now there are more female directors of in India than Hollywood. These women made their own path.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 8:32 a.m.RECOMMENDED1
With some of what I’ve read about life in India for women recently (that University of Chicago student who told of being groped and harrssed regularly) I wonder if the elders have a point about dress? Personally I would not have my daughter in this sort of environment.
Aug. 30, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.RECOMMENDED3
I feel that surely on balance the love and affection your daughters are receiving (not to mention being fully bicultural) far outweigh any negatives, as long as you discuss what it all means privately amongst yourselves so they do not internalize self-criticism and gender-based limitations. Years from now I am sure they will be laughing sentimentally over the coconut oil parties and (not really) skimpy clothing comments. And they will realize that becoming a doctor meant, quire reasonably, a lifetime of social status and job security.
In the early 70s my grandfather tried to cut the little orange Levi’s tag off the rear pocket of my stylish new jeans. He didn’t understand why I would willingly give free advertising to the manufacturer of my clothing. There are intractable differences that divide generations. I see it as a cognitive development opportunity: recognizing how differently people think/feel helps strengthen the ability to look beyond one’s own teenage nose. .
Aug. 30, 2013 at 11:26 p.m.RECOMMENDED17
The parents need to be the chld’s advocate in this scenario. It’s inappropriate for the grandparents to be telliing the children how to wear thier hair and clothes. The parents need to step in and let the children adapt to this environment with somebody looking out for them.
Aug. 30, 2013 at 11:41 p.m.RECOMMENDED17
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Why is it inappropriate? They are the children’s elders and the children are living in their home. They certainly have a right to voice their opinion in how their grandchildren should be raised. Again, this is a cultural norm. Your version of inappropriate is highly appropriate in many Indian homes and communities and elsewhere around the world.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.RECOMMENDED5
@Joel, there are over a billion Indians, they do not all have such filial piety; it strikes me as a bit biased to assume such.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.RECOMMENDED3
Joel, I didn’t get the impression they were living with the grandparents. I am an American of European descent married to an American of Indian descent & I have to confess I have a Very hard time with this stuff. I will struggle not to overreact when my in laws criticize or try to control my kids. I already bristle with the pressure to eat more food. I would have been so permissive about cultural differences before. Now I couldn’t care less. Nobody is going to push my kids to eat when they say they’re full & certainly not to oil their hair so it’s shinier. I’ll be teaching them to stand up for themselves by modeling standing up for them. Perhaps I’m too America but I place little value in “respecting” your elders when they’re being disrespectful to you. & that’s how I see food pressure & criticizing reasonable clothing & social choices – disrespectful. Whether our kids are 3 or 13, they deserve to have their reasonable choices respected.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.RECOMMENDED9
Very interesting post. I do hope though you are receptive to the idea of your daughters keeping up their Tamil.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.RECOMMENDED4
I think some of the comments here are awfully judgmental.I think you a striking a good balance in operating within your current environment, culture and family structure, and yet work to let your daughters grow their independence. Grand parents will meddle, in all cultures, and they mean well, even though they are often out of step with the times. We just notice it more in your little piece here because if the cultural differences. If you had written an American piece about grand parents telling teenagers not to wear their jeans low enough to show off their underpants, nobody would have started discussing how inapproriate these grand parents are.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.RECOMMENDED6
your kids have indian roots but American wings. It is def not going to be easy to balance this but they are learning. I think to clothe them in American clothes while in India is ridiculous but that’s your battle.
As far as grandparents are concerned I think learning to be courteous and assertive is the way to go. You can’t ask your parents to lay off when they ask you certain things because in our culture that is not right but you can choose to disagree.
Being indian is always a challenge. There are these two halves diametrically different and we are forever trying to bring them together. The trick is to learn that they can never fuse but remain disparate and we just learn the tightrope walk. You have narrated this dance eloquently.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.RECOMMENDED1
The nerdy American Indian school kids will faint if they saw what their cousins in international schools in India wear! Shorts and tank tops mostly – of course a chauffeur driven car is as essential as make up!
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.RECOMMENDED1
Chicago says “I’ll say this in the nicest way I can: this constant pressure is wrong. I can’t care if it’s cultural. Sometimes what is cultural is wrong.”
Does he/she believe this applies to the American cultural pressure on young girls to dress like hookers-in-training with super tight and super short clothes?
It was “pressure” from my daughter’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, father and myself that helped her to navigate this cultural pressure, to dress like a young lady, and to have fun with her wardrobe within reason.
I’m 100% in favor of strong families guiding their young women, a concept that seems to have gone out of style. Check out Lindsay and Miley for examples of what happens when no one cares about the young women in their families making good choices versus “their own” choices.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.RECOMMENDED9
This is a little unfair and quite frankly, I don’t like this undercurrent of “slut-shaming.” Girls do not dress that way because no one cares about them. Not necessarily, anyway. There are plenty of girls who dress that way when parents do care or parents are overbearing and strict.
And because a girl dresses a certain way does not give you the right to call her a “hooker in training” – it’s attitudes like that they continue the general disrespect toward girls and women, no matter what choices they make.
Sept. 1, 2013 at 2:40 a.m.RECOMMENDED31
Lynn in DCUm, DC
I agree with the other commenters, it is up to the parents to step in and take the pressure off their children when other relatives meddle and criticize. If no one stepped in when you were young, you should be about changing that dynamic. This is also about helping your daughters learn how to set boundaries. Do you want them laughing off and tolerating emotional and physical boundary violations because to do otherwise is rude? This is what you are teaching them.
Aug. 31, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.RECOMMENDED12
EdTemple Hills, MD
Yes because the American way of raising girls is so much more preferable. You know the culture where girls are given such a free reign that the availability of a morning after pill to girls as young as 11 is seen as a noble virtue.
Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Sept. 1, 2013 at 2:40 a.m.RECOMMENDED1
I think author is pointing out the difficulty of young women learning to assert themselves, without offending well meaning elders/extended family members and also to think for themselves and not follow the dictates of the teen fashion world. That is striking a balance, with respect for tradition/elders and also learning to spread their wings in this global city.
If I remember right, the author herself defied tradition and set out for America, after showing her ability to make a good cup of Madras coffee. Her life is richer with experiences that she would not have had if she had stayed home. And she has continued to stay connected to the extended family. As long as children know that they are loved and have a safe and nurturing home, they will grow up to be all that they can be, God willing.
Sept. 1, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.RECOMMENDED3
It takes a village. Grandparents are a part of the village.
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.RECOMMENDED2
why should two girls born IN American have to conform to the customs in india? where are their rights? its’ 2013, not 1903
Sept. 2, 2013 at 11:32 p.m.RECOMMENDED1
Vivekananda NemanaHyderabad, India
Well, they live in India for starters.
Sept. 4, 2013 at 9:06 p.m.
Is being allowed to go to a night club once a week as a high schooler, without any questions asked, really an unalienable right anywhere in the world? Is there a culture that does not have expectations of what is appropriate attire for a formal religious event?
As an Indian mom with teenaged kids, I am very familiar with these kinds of expectations from “elders”. However, these expectations are not exclusively directed towards girls, in this particular social milieu. If the author had sons who wanted to be pastry chefs or entrepreneurs, they would have received the same advice. If they wanted to wear shorts and a tank top to a wedding, that would have been frowned upon as well. There are girls in India who still face enormous injustice and pressures, but those are not the girls who go to the kind of expensive private schools where the kids party at nightclubs four days a week. In that social circle, I would worry far more about peer pressure and pressure from media (Indian AND western), than I would about well meaning, loving grandparents. These girls seem to be privileged, and have wealthy parents who can provide opportunities in both India and the US. They seem to have a role model in their mom who does not seem to have succumbed to cultural expectations (journalist rather than doctor!). Dealing with well meaning but intrusive family, is likely more educational rather than restricting in their case. To use Malala’s name in such a context is an insult to Malala’s struggles.
Sept. 3, 2013 at 8:08 p.m.RECOMMENDED6