IWD 2021 #ChooseChallenge: Challenging British Asian stereotypes

International Women’s Day provides a chance every year to celebrate women for the wonderfully strong and multi-skilled creatures we are! This year’s theme of #ChooseToChallenge got me thinking and, in turn, I got some amazing women thinking too!

As British Asian women, we have the best of both worlds a lot of the time. We can choose the parts of British culture we want to embrace while we stick to our roots at the same time. However, this also leaves us open to having to navigate through differing generational ideologies and also, very often, between generations that don’t originate in the UK versus ones that do. This gives way to often evolving notions of the conventional and the traditional, resulting in us having to understand stereotypical ideas and to live with them everyday as well as trying to challenge them in our own ways in order to achieve some sort of balance. It doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. Stereotypes originate outside the generational gap too.

Read on for six strong women’s individual thoughts, as I asked them to describe one Asian stereotype that they would each like to see challenged as British Asian women today.

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Kajal 
Radio Presenter (Follow here)
As many would agree, I feel there is definitely more than one stereotypical topic we could discuss. However, one topic I feel relates to us very closely is how the Asian society is brought up to believe that marriage equates to happiness. Not all Asian women think marriage has to be the key to happiness as we have become so much more self sufficient and confident. We CAN create our own happiness. Our passion should not be a Prince Charming to end our story but to lead a life of independence on our morals.

However, if one does marry, it becomes difficult for some Asian men to accept an Asian woman wanting to lead a life of independence and success through her own abilities, especially when could earn more, leading her to become the bread winner. No matter what the situation, he will always want to feel the inferior breed.

Bearing in mind that a woman still manages to juggle the household, her family and work, yet she is still expected to drop everything to what ‘he’ wants. Unfortunately, in British Asian society, it has apparently been a “normal way of life” for centuries and no matter how much we try to ease away from this way of thinking or adapting, it still follows us in the end. We live in a challenged world and we are responsible for our own thoughts and actions, hence why I have chosen to live my life the way I am.

I #choosetochallenge all the above! If I can… then surely all the beautiful ladies can too!

 

Jyojo B
Podcaster (Follow here)
The stereotype I think should be challenged is that of the Asian woman being celebrated for being selfless and self-sacrificing. The notion of putting the needs of everyone before yourself thrives in our community. It is an idea that I, like many women of my age, have grown up with. Men being served their food first, leaving your parents to live with in-laws, getting home from work and heading straight to the kitchen, leaving work to take care of children, and much more. We are seen as the women who can and will bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. We will take care of our parents, our siblings, our spouse, our in-laws, our children without question and if we don’t, we will be racked with guilt for being selfish. Our worth is based on our ability to take care of others. This is how our mothers, grandmothers and generations of women before them have lived. Sacrificing their dreams and their health to take care of those around them.

There is no thought of self-care or even self-preservation in our culture, but selflessness is not healthy. It is not a good thing to forever make yourself the last priority. Look at our mother’s and grandmother’s generations – how they have aged and the toll their life of selflessness has taken on their minds and bodies. You can be a good daughter, sister, wife and mother and still be good to yourself. Self-care is not about saying no to everything. It is not about ego or selfishness. It is about boundaries – creating them, knowing them and not pushing them. It is about preserving your energy to allow you to take care of your body and your mind. In fact, you will most probably be a better person to all those who need or want your time if you have time to yourself. Remove the guilt that comes with taking time out and realise you are doing everyone a favour by having a break. Let’s celebrate healthy, happy, well-rested Asian women instead.

 

Natasha Asghar
TV Partnership Lead (Follow here)
Being a British Asian woman is not easy. In fact, it is perhaps the toughest juggling act one can be born in to. I’d like to break the stereotype that you (insert name of Asian woman) need to be married, a mother and settled by thirty. There is a common misconception that if a woman isn’t married by a certain age she is deemed either too old or something must be wrong with her. Why? I was always very fortunate and come from a family where my choice has been wholeheartedly accepted and respected. My Mum is a typical Desi mum and often curses me for the fact that I am not married and put my career, ambitions and desire to travel above giving her a son in law and grandchildren. However my late Father always said you only live once and you never have to answer to anyone except me. So live your life how you want to. Whatever you do in life I’m always 100% behind you. I wish more people thought like that and I urge women to not feel inadequate or like something is missing or wrong with them if they are unmarried and for those people who pass comments to think before you speak.

Every woman is different, some don’t marry because they may have the physical responsibility of their family on their shoulders. There are many women who are financially responsible for their nearest and dearest, others may want to study and make a name for themselves. There are women who aspire to break barriers in their
desired career field and there are some who keep falling for the wrong guy, or just haven’t met a man who is deemed their equal and some may have emotional scars from previous experiences. So before you judge someone for not being married, please understand that there will be a reason behind it and rather than passing comments to a woman about being single, alone, unmarried and pressing her parents by asking when are you going to get your daughter married?Unless you are bringing a suitor to the door, there should be no need for such a comment. I hope and pray we come to a point whereby a British Asian woman’s identity is not solely reliant on the fact she has a Mrs status before her name. We should be just as proud of a woman if she’s got Dr, BA, MA, Phd, SVP, VP or CEO before and after her name too.

 

Sanoobar
Blogger (Follow here)
The one stereotype that should be challenged as a British Asian Woman is the fact we are all being brought up to find good husbands and get married. I still remember, having freshly turned 16, being at a wedding with my mum and ‘well-meaning’ aunty asking my mum what I did. My mum said, my daughter is about to start college and hopes to go to university. The aunty replied, that’s good and once she finishes university, you can get her married. I remember standing there feeling so frustrated, upset and resentful. I hated the idea that I was being brought to become good housewife while the boys could aspire to have careers and dreams. Thankfully, my mum was a feminist at heart and to this day, champions women being independent and taking care of themselves. She was determined that I had a career and income of my own, and to be able to take care of myself no matter what the circumstances.

Fast forward to 2021, I am now married and a mother but those values have never gone away. However, I sadly know of girls who are being brought up in deprived backgrounds and being told to get married at a young age. That view breaks down their will to make anything of themselves. Women can be mothers, wives, sisters, daughters but, God forbid, we have a career and not need a man to take care of us. That scene from the age of 16 still haunts me to this day. It is sadly a view that is perpetuated by our own culture, not even one that is being imposed on us.

So dear ‘well-meaning’ aunties out there, raise your daughters to be fearless, brave and able to make decisions for themselves. Give them the wisdom and the strength to be able to stand up to aunties who have that very ridiculous view, Asian girls are destined to become housewives.

 

Rosie
Content Creator & BBC Producer (Follow here)
There were lots of things that I could have written about but one stereotype really stood out as soon as I read the question. We believe we, as women, can have it all – and we can. There’s nothing we can’t do and achieve. We are equal to men in all arenas. Or are we?

When we have get-togethers with family or there’s a dinner party, why is it the women who prepare the food and then serve the men first before they can enjoy the meal? It’s the women who spend most of the evening in the kitchen while the men basically ‘chill out’. And once dinner is done, it’s the women who clear up and wash up. It’s a rare occasion when the men help out. We’ve also got busy lives; we go out to work, we raise kids.

If this isn’t an example of the patriarchal society that we still live in, then I don’t know what is. But the thing is, are we also to blame for allowing this to continue? I’ve seen all the women who’ve come before me in my family and my in-law’s family doing this and though knowing it’s wrong, I’ve just joined them. I may have spoken out about it a few times but in the end, I just go along with it.

I have a 15-year-old daughter. Is this really the example I want to set her? Is this really something I want her to continue? Out in the world, we’re all shouting from the rooftops for men to respect us on the same level. But such a basic thing like this goes amiss in our own families. Why should she play second fiddle to a man in such a basic way? It’s something I will definitely challenge at future get-togethers. Let’s raise some eyebrows!

 

Priti Menon
Singer & Mental Health Practitioner (Follow here)
Oh there are plenty of stereotypes! One prevalent, yet often discounted, stereotype is about women’s careers being less important than their partners in the South Asian community. I know many couples (both friends and relatives) who have moved due to work from India to the UK, US or even within India, and it is shocking to see women doing so well in their careers simply quitting their jobs and moving cities because their partner found a better opportunity elsewhere.

With the world becoming a smaller place, such instances will only rise in the future, if not challenged. Otherwise I feel we could see even fewer South Asian women in leadership roles, which are already dominated by men across the globe!

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Well, these women have definitely given me and hopefully many other women something to mull over, whether British Asian or not. If we choose to challenge, perhaps we can be the generation that creates that change and keeps it going for the future generation of women. I’d like to thank all of these amazing women for their contributions to this blog piece.

Happy International Women’s Day, my lovelies. Let’s all #ChooseToChallenge!
Much love,
AT x

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