Growing up, I was surrounded by a sea of faces that didn’t resemble my own. I’d look around in the public eye to see someone, anyone, who proudly stood at the top with confidence, poise and pride of where they came from. And in the last few decades, it’s eventually happened.
As a British Indian woman I am always scanning the horizon for other change makers who are creating solutions to bring about change, inspire and subvert the stereotypes that we face both from our own various communities and the wider community.
With regards to Asian women it’s often the biggest stereotype which seems to stick. Silent, submissive and sexless little brown women who shuffle in the shadows at the beck and call of their families and communities. Faceless brown women, covered from head to toe, who are expected to speak sweetly at all times and over-accommodate to other; often at their own expense. These stereotypes (often disguised as ‘tradition’) are not just destructive, but they have become subconsciously ingrained in the minds of Asian communities as well as other ethnic groups. I regularly hear exclaims of: “Oh that’s not very brown of you” and “Are Indian women allowed to do that?” to “Does your family accept you doing this?” And it’s not just men who continue to uphold and exercise these stereotypes; it’s women as well.
The destructive part happens when an individual or a small group don’t subscribe to these stereotypes and come from families who encourage them to be different. They often end up facing hostility, abuse, isolation and, in some cases, are even killed. And it serves as a ‘warning’ to others: ‘If you behave like this or go out of line, we’ll do the same to you.” IWhile there may be some truth to these stereotypes, they certainly do not represent the vast majority of Asian women and Asian communities around the world.
We all know women who are incredible in their own unique way
It’s now the end of March and already there’s been a buzz in the air about upcoming inspirational Asian women whose work has created a stir on a global level. In some parts, 2015 has got off to a relatively alright start with regards to women vocalising themselves, despite the ongoing horrors we hear of violent (and often fatal) rapes in India and around the world.
We’ve seen the power of social media (good and bad) and how a simple photo that challenged the sexualised nature of women in our world, by Canadian spoken word artist and poet Rupi Kaur, garnered global support and brought a social media giant to its knees. We’ve seen Indian badminton player, Saina Nehwal, be ranked as the World no. 1 by the Badminton World Federation. The CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Malala Yousafzai, Miss USA 2014 Nina Davuluri – these are just the tip of a massive iceberg of Asian women who are out to defy social convention and create a change for the better.
And who can forget the remarkable image of the Indian female scientists hugging after successfully sending a shuttle to Mars? Even in our own lives, I’m sure that we all know women who are incredible in their own unique way.
Despite the treatment of women in India, and other diasporic communities, it is incredibly uplifting and empowering to know of these women’s achievements and accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong; I’m proud of any woman who does well and manages to smash glass ceilings because they are part of creating a better world for girls and women in the future.
However, if I see someone who looks similar to me or is of a similar cultural background, that sense of pride and happiness gets amplified. Seeing these incredible Asian women’s achievements gives hope to thousands of Asian women, including myself, that we have a powerful voice and that we are more than capable of doing well and achieving success on our own terms.
All we have to do is dare to be different – as cheesy as that sounds. Be ready to accept that it is always going to be difficult, but well worth it in the end. After all, if it helps to bring about a much needed change for the benefit of all, isn’t that something worth cultivating?