I have grown up around Indian adults, specifically Indian uncles in the Bay Area…
All different ages, backgrounds, and geographical locations, many of these adults have been instrumental in my upbringing. They have provided me with constant care, refuge, and love. However, at times, I have also been met with condescending ignorance when speaking to these same uncles. I’m not allowed to participate in certain conversations and events simply because of my gender.
I have loved cars from a young age and since I could speak — I have been able to point out every make and model on the road. My dad and grandfather are the reason for my interest and we’ve formed a bond over this topic. As I’ve gotten older, I have wanted to bond with others over the same passion; however, I quickly realized that not everyone cultivates my stereotypically “male” interest the way my family does. When I try to share my opinion about electric cars or engine size, I’ll be talked over or, if they choose to listen, they say, “You are too young to understand.” I know uncles who can’t look me in the eye when speaking to me, even when they’ve asked me a direct question — I should know not to wait with bated breath for a response to my unsolicited opinion.
My dad and his friends play cricket every weekend and they have had a longstanding rule that they don’t bring their kids. I love sports and play softball, thus, I love playing cricket with the group more casually and have been asked, on occasion, by some to play on Saturdays. But, to keep things fair, my dad has always asked me to refrain from joining – some people don’t want to make exceptions. I found that fair. However, two years ago I found out that one uncle was bringing his nephew and another uncle was bringing his son. It soon became clear to me that these men were willing to make exceptions — just not for young women like me.
My frustrations began to rise. Two of my passions, cars and sports, were constantly being undermined by Indian uncles who clearly had intrinsic biases.
While unfair on the surface, I try to understand where such beliefs stem from.
Firstly, 70% of India’s population lives in poverty; these areas are uneducated and continue to subject women to roles in the house. The more privileged areas, such as the ones my uncles come from, are less outwardly sexist; however, they too carry their own historical biases. Next to marital rape, long-standing gender norms, and other historical practices that have marginalized women, Britain’s rule over India was detrimental to the reversal of gender inequality in all communities. When the British conquered India, they attempted to put the Ilbert Bill into place – this bill included a push for women’s reform. However, Indian women were a bargaining piece in the ongoing negotiation between British and Indian men over the power hierarchy. Because of women’s significance without an actual voice in this—and many other—debates on power dynamics in the state, “Indian feminism has been traditionally suspicious of state power.” Without the government’s – of the past and the present – involvement, feminist text, and practices have been and are still lacking from school curriculums and societies in India.
Bay Area teen Radha tells me about her grandmother’s experience. She says, “A lot of Indian culture and decisions happen behind closed doors. My grandmother and her husband came to the U.S. and four years later, my grandfather died of a heart attack – so, my grandmother was left to raise four kids alone in the middle of Michigan. She had no say in the decisions yet was left to live with the consequences.”
India’s misogynistic culture is progressing from the time my friend was talking about, yes, but my fellow women and I still grapple with the more subtle biases that still exist in Indian culture. Despite their American residency and supposedly socially liberal views, when my uncles’ strong value system meets the natural superiority complex of men – one that was formed in the 20th century, male-dominated India – it creates an environment completely closed off to other opinions. Not only are they unable to take opposition, but when that contradiction comes from a privileged, female teenager – even if it is one they love immensely – it is discounted even more. My Indian uncles are a prime example of progressiveness on the outside with lingering biases that manifest themselves internally.
However, as I have gotten older, I have realized that I deserve respect in the same way that they ask for it.
My mom reminds me that “In India, we were taught to respect our elders unquestioningly primarily because we associate age with wisdom.” However, as years have gone by and as my mom has been exposed to a different culture, she sees the pitfalls of this mindset and has taught us, her daughters, to question it. Listening is for everyone and their time isn’t more valuable than my words. So in the past few years, I have started to respectfully interject. I have started to find spaces in a conversation where I could correct a fact that they incorrectly stated. Over time, I have been able to build a reputation and relationship with the uncles I care for most so that we can bond over shared passions. I started my journey of learning to stand my ground out of spite, but I continue it to bond with those I love most.
Ayanna Gandhi is a senior at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds.