This week’s blog begins with a sigh. And an accompaniment of me rolling my eyes as I find myself blogging on a topic, which is seemingly banal, yet one which remains to be annoyingly timely.
Friends. Friendship. Or for those who check the ‘other messages’ tab on Facebook “fraandship” (you can see where I’m going with this).
For those not in the know, a number of young women (usually of South Asian descent in the Diaspora) often receive unsolicited messages from gentleman in the motherland asking to commence a friendship with us. Naturally we are not amused and reject such advances – because they’re not after friendship. Trust me. And hundreds of other South Asian girls and women that this happens to.
It got me thinking about the dynamics of friendships that exist between men and women in the South Asian Diaspora (and motherland). A part of me feels like this isn’t a topic to really be blogging on; after all we’re in the 21st century and being friends with members of the opposite sex really shouldn’t be an issue. But it somehow always ends up being one.
I’m part of the British Asian brigade who grew up with stern immigrant parents warning me off having male friends – and other things which would have made me look cool – when I was at school. Looking back on it, I understand the rationale behind it all, though I don’t fully agree with it.
It seems to be embedded in many communities and pockets of the quilt that makes up South Asia and its many cultures. I remember seeing this in most areas of life: from being at the temple, social events, family occasions and general outings.
Why must a bond between a man and a woman solely be based on carnal desire?
It’s as though we are on autopilot: men into one half of the room and women into the other. From a religious angle, I completely understand and respect why men and women are expected to sit separately, even if some religions place an emphasis on gender equality. But from a social angle, I don’t understand this, but if you do please feel free to enlighten me!
Naturally, this is a time-old question which people (regardless of ethnic background) sit and deliberate for hours, but this way of thinking harms the dynamics between men and women.
To me, and many others who are first or second-generation, the idea of men and women sitting separately in a non-religious social setting feels old-fashioned. Granted not every single South Asian family, across the Diaspora, does this but I believe that many of the attitudes that we all currently hold towards men and women stem from this.
The fact that men and women are made to sit separately (not even in a conscious manner which shows how ingrained this is) immediately infers that the two are not to be trusted when sat in the same room.
There is this notion that men and women simply cannot be friends without something sexual going on between them. This then leads onto the shaming of men who have lots of female friends, and women, who have lots of male friends.
An example that I have experienced was when I was visiting family in East Africa. A statement that I carelessly said, got misconstrued by my cousin and resulted in my extended family questioning my morals and upbringing.
When you take this pre-conceived idea, and place it against the backdrop of a mish-mash of South Asian ideals (which are currently in limbo between being backward and progressive) it doesn’t bode well.
I would say that route around this ‘issue,’ would be to educate our children and teach them that platonic relationships can exist between men and women. But I have to stop and ask myself this: ‘Can people really be bothered to change an age-old idea that victimises everyone and stigmatises those who go against it?’
Got a view? Join in the conversation on Twitter: @c_syal