"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen" - Winston Churchill
This was the mantra that played in my head on loop any time there was a disagreement in my family regarding my actions or behaviour. So I listened and 'respected' my elders and perhaps even manipulated my own mind into thinking there was nothing wrong. So much so, that it wasn't a courageous act, it was cowardice.
"Meenal, you've never come out for dinner with us, is it because you don't like hanging out with us?"
"Meenal, what do you even do at home? Do you even have a life?"
"Can't you stay out a bit later, you always leave so early that you miss out on all the fun"
These are just a few of the things I had to hear as an Indian teenage girl being raised in a strict Indian household in Europe. I never had any answers to these questions, and so to avoid them, I isolated myself and avoided any form of communication with my school friends. I wasn't the 'popular' kid in school who made plans with everyone to go to a party or arrange any events.
But you know who was this kid?
And this wasn't because he was 'cooler' than me, Ankita can vouch for that. She tells me on our episode on the 'Untold Story Of The Younger Indian Daughter' I'm the coolest girl she's ever met in her life.
It was because he was a boy.
Of course boys are allowed to have more fun with their friends and go to parties, clearly because they are much more responsible and will never think of touching an alcoholic drink or doing anything they will regret on a night out. I hope you gathered the sarcasm here, if you didn't, then clearly you have a lot of homework to do and need to get familiar with how I roll on the podcast!
I was raised in a fairly big Indian community, so even in my school, there were plenty of Asian girls who, fortunately for them, didn’t have to go through the same experiences as I did. I believe it was a combination of their parents slowly becoming open minded and the girls being highly skilled at convincing their parents. My parents had their values and concepts of raising their children set in stone and they weren’t malleable in the slightest. It would have been easier to make a stone bleed than to convince my mum to let me spend a Friday evening in the cinema.
I'm sure we've all seen it happen very clearly in front of our own eyes, and if we haven't, it's quite likely that our brains haven’t processed that information because we are so accustomed to this bizarre ideology. We are trained to be submissive and not question anything we feel may be unfair. Because if we question, there is no reasonable answer. So the easier option is to tell girls to stay within their limits and uphold their family's izzat.
I got the best grades in class, I helped my Mum clean at home, I prayed every morning and night, yet I was never allowed to sleepover at a friend's house. I was afraid to hang out with my friends during lunch breaks because I dreaded the question 'do you want to hang out tonight?' There was a period where I wasn't invited to any birthday parties or any events because they knew I wouldn't show up. This really affected my social presence and communication skills. I'd never been out to dinner with friends until I came to University and I was extremely shy and clueless as to how to hold conversations or enjoy an evening to myself.
On average, I used to receive around 3 phone calls a day from my parents when I had started off at University. My brother wasn't bubble wrapped as much as I was and understandably so - because he's a boy. I remember my first summer back at home after my first year at University so well that I still cringe at the thought of it.
My first year in Czech Republic was quite tough, the long days in lectures and the countless sleepless nights to try and scrape through the exams took a toll on me. So like any human, I was looking forward to the holidays to lift my feet and I really just needed a full reset in my routine and mind to survive the next year of med school. One night, at around 11pm, I loaded up a movie and within just 10 minutes, my Mum walked in asking me what I was doing. As I was explaining to her that I was just watching a movie, she somehow managed to believe that I was up just chatting with someone I wasn’t supposed to - someone from the opposite sex. Even though I was only just staring at a screen and wasn’t even typing, she managed to convince herself that I was up chatting with a boy?
Funnily enough, when my brother used to come back for the holidays during his break from University, he was allowed to have his movie marathons, stay up late, go out with friends and literally do whatever the hell he wanted to do. Because obviously, he didn’t need to be protected from the world which I was told was evil.
Our families think they are protecting us and by doing this, we will turn out to be the perfect specimen of what the perfect daughter should be. Little do they realise how much damage they engineer throughout our life by holding us back and disabling us from seeing the world and making our own decisions.
Girls should be respected and treated with care much like boys are but they shouldn't be treated like cute pets you'd buy from a pet shop and display in a cage.
If you feel you've been treated with the same light or maybe even feel that girls should be 'protected' this way, drop a comment below and we’d be happy to discuss.
A fifth-year medical student successfully placing my stethoscope the wrong way around every day. I'm a podcaster, sports enthusiast and I guess, a feminist.