The hypocrisy of unconditional love is one which has always confused me. There are many different forms of love such as: platonic love, familial love, maternal love, unrequited love, lust, romantic love which have been long documented in the arts, music and literature. Yet the purity and sanctity which has always surrounded unconditional love, is one which has always managed to unsettle my thoughts.
They say that when a baby is born, the mother feels a rush of love towards that child. I wouldn’t know, as I don’t have children, but a part of me questions the sincerity of this, particularly as the child grows up and leads a life that its parents do not necessarily agree with or is born a girl.
It interesting to note how quickly some families will disown their child for ‘marrying out,’ coming out as gay or choose a career which goes against the norm. When I see such things happen, the whole concept of unconditional love seems to go out of the window.
Conditional love for girls:
This is an aspect which is all too familiar for so many young girls and women of South Asian heritage. Writing this emotionally hurts me because I wish that so many of us still didn’t have to go experience the full throttle of backward thinking.
It starts early; so much so that many of us probably don’t even remember an exact point where conditions of love were placed upon us. They are so expansive in the sense that it ranges from our skin tone, our body shape to intellect and who we get married to. Such conditions have managed to infiltrate every aspect of what it means to be a woman of South Asian descent, that instead of enforcing us it has debilitated us and hindered us from confidently moving forward to create change.
The twist with such conditions is that they’re usually never verbally mentioned unless we break them. To this day I can safely say that there are many South Asian women – of different generations – who have grown up thinking: ‘it’s all in my head.’ This sense of confusion and helplessness is exacerbated when (or if) we mention it to our mothers, grandmothers and aunts who usually deny it or tell us not to take it so personally.
Growing up I remember hearing about ‘those girls’ who went against their families’ and cultural beliefs to satisfy their own selfish needs. I remember the venomous tone that was used by various members of my family, the cruel squinting of their eyes, knitted eyebrows and pursed up lips: it was as though their entire bodies were physically rejecting ‘those girls.’
These were girls who had started dating boys during their teens, having sex outside of marriage, drinking, smoking, secretly going to parties, coming out as gay or lesbian, having relationships with boys who weren’t Asian, leaving the family home to live independently, renouncing their faith, putting their career over getting married and having children.
The ‘good girls’ didn’t do any of the above. They were quiet, studious, obedient, religious, timid, shy and didn’t go out – let alone socialise with boys or party!
Even while writing these lines, I can’t help but laugh, because these are all hallmarks of experimentation during adolescence and a natural part of growing up. Yet these conditions are often the deciding factor
Just from that, I recall an inner panic and promised my young self that I would never become one of ‘those girls’ and dishonour my family. After all, nearly all of us are brought up being extremely dependent on our families (and not just financially). The thought of losing our families’ love and support is one which fills us with a paralysing sense of fear.
I used to be numb with that fear, but what I didn’t know then, was the other side of the story. The story that belonged to ‘those girls.’
In addition, what I didn’t bank on was my parents getting divorced. Then suddenly I became one of ‘those girls’ despite having done nothing wrong. That experience, along with the treatment that my siblings and I received, made me discard these futile conditions that we place on South Asian girls.
My aunt marrying a Nigerian man pretty much epitomises the conditions of love that are placed on us from a very young age. Although she is older than me, I remember growing up and hearing everybody praise her for being fair skinned, intelligent, having a Ph.D, a credit to her father and our family. But the second she got married, it was (and is) alarming to see how quickly my relatives have retracted the love that they once had for her.
People-pleasing comes at a cost. Our own:
How many of us feebly agree with our elders when they openly insult homosexuals, families with daughters, women and people of other ethnic groups, religions, and/or races?
There are two main reasons as to why we stay quiet when they begin such tirades. Firstly, it is easier to agree with them than disagree. Secondly, we have a fear of disrespecting our elders. Heaven forbid if we were to call an aunt or uncle out on their bad behaviour – it’s probably worse to do that than serve a poorly made cup of chai. Therefore it has been deemed socially acceptable – for an uncomfortably long time – to dully agree with whatever is coming out of their mouths. Even if it makes us cry, causes distress or creates family feuds.
The vast majority of individuals who have grown up in a South Asian setting have been told that we must ‘respect our elders at all times’ regardless of what they say, because they are old. South Asian culture has a long standing tradition of esteeming our grandparents, and elderly people in general, which is not a bad thing.
But what I have seen happen, time and time again, is an overwhelmingly large number of these elders taking advantage of the fact that people will silently accept their rantings and ravings without question. The part where it becomes increasingly strained is when such generations take advantage of this respect and misconstrue it as a sign that whatever they say is correct. So when they are called out on their disgusting views, they become defensive and immediately hit us with: “You are so disrespectful!”
I remember telling an uncle of mine that his views on homosexuality were outdated and the first thing I heard fly from his lips was: “You are a disrespectful girl!” You’d think that I had slapped him across the face and waterboarded him in front of my entire family, yet all I had done was say that his attitude towards gay men was unacceptable.
How are we supposed to address taboo subjects such as homosexuality, interfaith/racial marriages or attitudes towards femicide when we are not encouraged to question aspects of cultural thoughts and beliefs?