On Narenda Modi and raising sons

 “…do parents dare to ask their sons where they are going?

Those who commit rape are also someone’s sons. It’s the responsibility of the parents to stop them before they take the wrong path.”

These were the comments of India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi speaking at yesterday’s Indian Independence Day celebration. His first major comment on India’s rape culture was clearly more intelligent and more accurate than those of his state minister for Madhya Pradesh back in June this year, who said:

“Rape is a social crime. Sometimes it’s wrong, sometimes it’s right”

(Don’t even get me started. I’ve read and re-read the context of what he said but I cannot find any justification in his comments.)

Anyway, back to Mr Modi.

What he’s talking about is a cultural shift which is spot on. He’s talking about raising our South Asian sons with attitudes towards women that are totally different today’s male culture. It’s about erasing male entitlement from Indian and South Asian culture so that our sons don’t grow up with the notion that they can brutalise a woman’s body. It’s also about a respect for humanity. I’ve said before that rape is not about sex or lust or gratification but about power and a deep-seated disrespect for all women that allow a man to do that.

Bravo Prime Minister Modi for speaking out so openly and at such a prominent event, about gender equality and women’s rights. Let’s hope that his openness towards the further emancipation of India’s women (he talked about better sanitation for India’s women, an absolute shocker that they don’t have it already but at least now it’s being addressed), will inspire a cultural change amongst Indian society particularly Indian men- essentially the start of what he was getting at in educating our sons.

But despite the progressive nature of Modi’s comments I can’t help feeling a little uncomfortable with it all. Why are parents getting the blame? Why is the onus of responsibility being placed solely on family? It’s a very Desi approach to things isn’t it, where ‘family is everything’. Newsflash: Your grown up sons can think for themselves. When they walked out the door and went onto rape a woman, it was a decision they made on their own. And ultimately they are responsible for their own actions.

So I have to ask the obvious here: why aren’t the men who commit these crimes being asked to look inwardly at their own hateful attitudes? Why isn’t the individual being held accountable for his actions? I get that Mr Modi is saying something like prevention is the best medicine, and he’s right in a sense, but I just don’t think that goes far enough.

I’m sorry Mr Modi, it isn’t good enough to tell parents to do something about India’s rape culture. We need to tell the men of today to do something about it as well as raise our sons to be different- that’s the long term approach. It’s like saying lets end poverty by planting a potato field: what about those who are hungry now? What about those women who have go outside to defecate only to have the further injustice of then being physically and sexually assaulted?

Yes by all means, let’s hold our sons to account by asking them where they’re going at night and let’s instil values that eradicate misogyny and male entitlement. But please, let’s find a more immediate solution too.

 

 

How hard do you push your children at school?

So A-level results are out today, and as always, the news is awash with what seems like slightly inflated statements:

 “…record proportion of papers had been awarded an elite A*”

(If everyone is getting A*’s, surely it’s not elite any more but normal?)

 “Smallest gender gap in A grades between boys and girls since 2000”

“….overall number of students expected to take up university places is likely to top 500,000 for the first time ever.”

Some social commentators would say that the system is simply getting easier. Parents on the other hand would know that our children are under more pressure than ever before to perform academically.

As Asians, we understand all about the pressure to do well at school. For most of us growing up, comments like “Why did you only get a ‘B’?” or “How do you expect to go to medical school with marks like that?” are served up with breakfast on a regular basis. My dad used to lament over the fact that I was more creatively minded (God forbid!) than capable at the traditional subjects. I will always remember him telling me to “be more intelligent”! Er….?

Maybe it’s our innate competitiveness as Asians. We’re always so concerned with “what the family will say” about anything that we do. I’m pretty sure that academic achievement is so highly prized just so that it can be boasted about at the next function!

The question is will our generation of British Asian parents repeat the sins of our fathers by applying the same level of pressure on our kids? Will we push them as hard as we were pushed? By all accounts, British Asian children today continue to outperform their white counterparts, pipped only to the post by the Chinese. It’s clearly a cultural thing- our work ethic is drummed into us at a very early age and anything less than over-achievement is not tolerated.

It’s true that we parent the way that we were parented; it’s simply doing what you know. Today, I’ve had to work pretty hard at suppressing the Tiger Mum in me. I continually check the urge to push my daughter to spend more time on homework; the temptation to instil in her the importance of doing well at school and keeping up with her peers. Have I mentioned that she’s only 5?

But it’s also no secret that schools today put our children under a lot of pressure- far more than we experienced. They have their first formal assessments at the age of 6. When they’re in junior school, the talk of much-coveted high school places starts around 9 or 10, with many 11 year olds putting themselves under intense pressure to pass school entrance exams and the 11+. (My nephew is on a three day intensive tuition class as we speak in preparation for his 11+.)

According to one report, universities are now placing more emphasis on GCSE grades due to the over-inflation of A-Level results (everyone now achieving the ‘elite’ A* status is a case in point), so there’s no hope of floating through these like we did, only to roll your sleeves up in 6th form.

I want my daughter to be able to compete on this platform and I also don’t think it’s a bad thing to instil the value of hard work in our youngsters.

But how do we do that in a healthy way that respects their individuality? How also do we achieve it without inspiring an unhealthy sense of competition, the sort that we see at Asian functions where people compete over job status, what car we drive and so on?

Finding a healthy balance is a challenge for me personally. Here are some of the guidelines my husband and I working towards:

  • Find your child’s individual bent and go with that. Is she a problem solver? Is he a naturally gifted musician? Encouraging their natural giftings will make your child a happier as well as more successful student
  • Avoid gender stereotyping. This is an area that is close to my heart, repeat after me: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BOYS/GIRLS SUBJECTS, THERE ARE NO CAREERS WHICH ARE MORE SUITABLE TO EITHER BOYS OR GIRLS!
  • Give them the tools. Today’s classroom is a competitive place, so any help you give them is an advantage. Support with home learning definitely has its benefits
  • After school clubs and activities such as sports, dance or drama classes will give your child an outlet for other talents and interests outside of formal learning. Some high schools also offer places to children who are exceptional at these, for example schools with a performing arts emphasis.
  • Avoid unhealthy comparisons with cousins, siblings or classmates. It only serves to damage self-esteem when they feel they don’t reach up to that standard; or an over-inflated ego if they outperform them
  • Our children are individuals! Help them reach their own potential, whatever level that might be at.

Good luck with the new term to both children AND parents!

Read the rest of my parenting series “Summer Survival Guide”:  “Desi Gender Stereotyping” and “Help! I don’t know any other Asian mums!”

Help! I don’t know any other Asian mums!

Continuing on in my Summer Holiday Survival series, this week I’m looking at connecting with other South Asian families. Starting your very own mum’s group is actually really easy to do….

Motherhood, particularly the early years is often a very lonely and isolating time. Most mums are very eager to meet other mums of any race, but when there is common ground like religion or race, the bonds are often stronger.

If like me you live in a fairly white neighbourhood and happen to be quite far away from extended family, spending time with other South Asians is probably something you to have work on.

This is not about being exclusive or forming a clique.

But it is about you and your children spending time with other like-minded people, culturally speaking, who share the values, challenges and experiences of South Asian life. This is especially true for our children: it’s important for their sense of identity and self-esteem to be around other children who look like them and can identify with the values they are being raised with.

Having children is one of the best ways to meet new people, as you are forced into situations where you meet others at the same life stage. Anti-natal classes, NCT groups, baby & toddler groups and later on, the school gates are all great places to make new friends.

Of course the challenge comes if you there aren’t many Asians in your area. How then do you connect with other Asian families?

Here are my tips:

Places of worship:

Going to the gurdwara, church, temple or mosque is very much a part of South Asian life so this has to be the first place you try. Children are a great ice-breaker: “how old is your little one?” “Has he been walking long?” etc are a great way to start a conversation and hopefully strike up a bond. If that seems a little too daunting, perhaps get permission to post on the notice board or website that you’re looking to organise regular meet-ups or simply connect with others. You can usually do this even if you don’t belong to that place of worship, if you go via their office.

Use Netmums/Mumsnet:

Most local baby, toddler and other children’s groups and activities are listed on these two sites’ local area sections. You could post a listing calling Asian mums in your area to contact you via email or Facebook. It might be a good idea to set up a separate email account so as not to give out your personal details.

Start a Facebook/Twitter group:

Give your group a name that includes the name of your town, like Asian Mums of SE16. Start off just posting statuses inviting people to join the group and explaining what you’re about. Get your friends to re-post it or like the group for you, and eventually it will go viral. Once there are enough of you chatting regularly you could broach the subject of meeting in a local Starbucks for an hour or so, and hopefully this will become a regular thing. You could move onto park trips, soft play centres, and when you feel comfortable enough, meeting in each other’s homes.

Perhaps all of that sounds really scary and you think no-one will respond; or worse yet, that you’ll attract a bunch of weirdos.  But you’re not committing to anything by just putting out some feelers. Also if you try once and nothing much comes of it, its’ worth trying again six months later. These things are often ‘seasonal’ and you’ll find new families move to the area, or perhaps family life settles down a bit and the mum feels ready to venture out to meet new people. So take a deep breath and go for it- you might just make a whole new group of like-minded friends, for you and your kids.

Good luck! x

Read part 1 in the series “Desi Gender Stereotyping”, which looks at how to avoid typecasting your child

Asian Women at Work pt3: Balancing culture and success

By day she negotiates huge contracts and smashes her targets. By night….she makes roti, doesn’t make eye contact and sits in the kitchen with the other ladies while the men all eat together. This is the life- and split personality of many Asian women at work.

My final post in this series continues to explore the comments that I gathered from hosting a Twitter chat with a fab group of women, the Asian Women Mean Business network.

“It’s tough for Asian women in the workplace. Values we are taught at home and in our communities don’t always hold well in the workplace, such as modesty & submissiveness. At work you have to blow your own trumpet!”

“Being dominant in the workplace but then being expected to be subservient in the home is a challenge.”

“Self-promotion at work doesn’t come naturally to us Asian women due to our upbringing & culture”

How do we balance the demands of the work place with the culture and behaviour we are taught at home, both of which are often at odds with each other?

The Western world tells us we need to ‘lean in’ but South Asian culture tells us quite the opposite, particularly when men are in the room. Proper desi female behaviour is polite and respectful, never bolshy, opinionated and assertive.

What’s even more challenging and frustrating, according to my AWMB Twitter chat, is slipping into the alter-ego at home of the submissive wife and daughter-in-law. Unfortunately some women still have to juggle both roles.

I worked for almost ten years in sales. Being a naturally chatty person, communication has always been my thing. But I always struggled to display that dominant, self- assured sales persona that is required to succeed in a fairly tough industry. Fortunately I never had to do the dual-personality thing with my husband; but certainly being ‘assertive’- a much needed quality in this industry, was considered by my South Asian family (even my own mother) as brash, rude and frankly undesirable behaviour.

For me the only way to resolve the tension between family expectation and workplace culture has been to keep the two worlds separate, and slip in and out of the two roles. Yes that’s frustrating: it’s a disappointing by-product of a culture that oppresses us, in my opinion.

But there’s no need to give up on ambition and achievement just because this family/work dichotomy exists. As British Asian women we can have both! In fact, as my AWMB peers have shown me, many women are bucking the trend by balancing successful careers with marriage and family life. Yes it’s tough to slip in and out of roles; but if career is important then it’s a case of managing both worlds. And perhaps it always will be a juggling act for our generation. But look at this way: we’re blazing a trail that our mothers only glimpsed at. There are now more British Asian women than ever in prominent roles in politics, business, entertainment and the media, science and technology. If these women had shied away from career progression because of cultural expectation they wouldn’t be where they are today.

So let’s not give up. Stand your ground against male counterparts or extended family who say South Asian women shouldn’t be assertive or successful. And perhaps our generation can change cultural attitudes so that our daughters won’t have to play a dual role at home and at work.

Read part one “The Need for Mentors” and part two “Racism at Work”.

Asian Women Mean Business meet every Wednesday night on Twitter between 7-8pm. Just tag your comments with #asianwomenmeanbiz to join the discussion

 

Summer holiday survival pt 1: Desi Gender Stereotyping

It’s school summer holidays and hopefully we’ll get to spend some quality (er…!) time with our children. It’s a great time to get to know our children again, in a way, without the rush of routine, homework and after-school activities to think about. It’s also a good time as a parent to ‘re-group’ a little. So for the new few weeks I’ll be posting a series of practically focused parenting blogs.

Desi Gender Stereotyping

If your house is anything like mine during school holidays, there are probably toys lying around everywhere. And as I have a daughter and no sons, pretty much everything is pink or purple and girly.

The notion that pink is for girls, blue is for boys has become such a given that often we don’t question it. How many of us choose a pink card when we someone we know gives birth to a baby girl? Why not blue for a girl? It just seems wrong doesn’t it?!

Has it occurred to us that we are actually limiting our children and stifling their individual identities by forcing them into society’s idea of what a boy/ girl “should” be?

When I was growing up, my mum had very specific ideas on how to raise me. I was taught how to cook, clean house, shown crafts like sewing and knitting (all of which I rebelled against as a teenager and lay around reading Just 17 magazine.) But she was trying to raise me to be a submissive, respectable young lady that would one day make for a suitable Asian bride.  Meanwhile my brothers were encouraged to ride their bikes, play sports, Lego and generally “be men”. It’s all so forced- so stereotyped that it makes me cringe.

The debate on how we limit girls by dressing them in pink with aspirations to the Disney princess mould of womanhood is one that is important to me. Why should our girls only be raised to be “suitable Asian brides”? Why should they be told they can only wear ‘girls colours’, and play with dolls and kitchen sets? Equally, if our sons are creatively minded, why should they be forced to play with Lego rather than craft, paint or play instruments?

In our South Asian culture where gender roles are very much defined, it can be difficult for desi parents to navigate this whole debate. From day one our girls are expected to be demure even submissive whilst our boys are encouraged to be manly-men. This continues on well into adulthood where us women have all kinds of expectations- and limitations- placed on us in terms of our careers, married life and so on. (The same goes for Asian men to some extent too, which I have written about.)

And even if we as parents are enlightened (uh-hum!) on this whole debate, it can be really awkward when the grandparents vehemently disagree with you because your ideas don’t fit with their ideas of how their grandchildren “should” be raised.

So how do we manage to avoid typecasting our children, keep the extended family happy and maintain some sanity? Here are my tips:

Pick your battles and be gracious:

I did once turn down a gift from my mother-in-law because I felt really strongly that it wasn’t suitable. I told her why and she accepted my reasoning- thankfully! I think its important to set your boundaries as a parent. But the key thing is to pick your battles and not turn down every Disney Princess or Ben 10 gift that your children are given. Grandparents have a stake in how our children are raised and it is their prerogative to spoil our children a little.

Don’t be too strict:

Which leads me on to say that its important to have a balance. It’s never wise to completely ban a toy, colour or anything else from your children’s choices- you run the risk of it becoming a forbidden fruit which simply makes it more exciting. We do indulge our daughter’s love for princesses a little, but always show her there are other choices, and emphasise that its good to incorporate non-girly toys in her playing. And we always tell her there is no such thing as “girls/boy’s toys” or “girls/boys colours”.

Talk it through:

If there are some things which you feel very strongly that your child shouldn’t have, talk it through with them as to why it isn’t good for them. This is something we are working on with our daughter: like any other five year old, she doesn’t want to listen to reason and rather have instant gratification! But communication is a part of parenting so I know it’s worth investing in, and we keep working on it.

Be a counter-culture parent:

Ultimately there are some things you’ll have to stand your ground on, whether that’s with your child or with other family members. And yes that’ll make you unpopular at times. But one thing I’ve realised, in today’s society where so many things grab for the attention of our children- and not all of those are good, is that we have to fight for our children. Sometimes we have to make choices for them that we believe are the right ones and hope there is a dialogue there for understanding.

If you have any thoughts on this debate, or any tips to share, please do leave a comment. 

 

The tinted glass ceiling: Asian women at work pt 2

Racism in the workplace

Continuing on in my series on British Asian women in the workplace, this week I’ll be looking at racism. My thoughts are based on comments that came out of a Twitter chat I hosted a couple of weeks ago on behalf of Asian Women Mean Business (AWMB). What was clear from all the experiences that women tweeted was that for British Asian women, the glass ceiling is tinted. Both our gender AND our race are barriers to career progression. In this age of political correctness, tolerance, equality and all those other buzzwords, it’s clear that in the workplace, some things still haven’t changed.

In particular, negative stereotypes surrounding the role that women play in the Asian community has proven problematic. Many women feel they have to work harder to prove to their bosses and colleagues that they are committed to their careers, due to the perception that Asian women are expected to settle down, raise a family and give up on working life.

I have written before about the limitations that South Asian culture and community places on us women. But being a part of AWMB has shown me that there are plenty of British Asian women today bucking these trends. There are those occupying senior roles; those with business vision and plenty of entrepreneurial spirit. Some do this with the support of their family, others forge on despite of cultural pressure.

So to hear from my AWMB peers that many still put up with narrow minded, racist attitudes every day at work is disappointing and frustrating. We’re overcoming- to some extent at least, the double standards of South Asian culture, and yet we still face discrimination in the workplace. Two women at last week’s chat tweeted that they were asked by their managers whether they were going to have an arranged marriage and get pregnant straight away. Does doing both of these things mean you can’t also be ambitious?

Everyone assumes that racism is calling a person of colour “Paki” or “Nigger” to their face, but what about the subtle levels of racism that go on every day, when someone is passed over for promotion due to the notion that they’ll have an arranged marriage and be locked away; or sniggered at due to the sound of their name (I worked somewhere once where the Director’s PA hung up the phone on a caller from laughing too much at her Asian name).  One contributor to the twitter chat had an interviewee refuse an interview with her because she was Asian (apparently they showed him the door- thank goodness).

For many British Asian women it means “acting white” as one woman said she had to do in order to overcome this. Why should we have to do that? In a country that boasts countless curry houses and once considered Chicken Tikka its national dish, why on earth do we have to hide our culture and our difference just to get by at work?

But perhaps not hiding our diversity is the answer. Ignorant comments aside, many employers and colleagues are simply not savvy about different cultures as one woman pointed. It’s up to us to be our true selves at work, and share our strong family and work ethics as a positive thing. By doing this we add value to our workplaces. If Britain is a multicultural place, we should be the ones who prove how much worth the British Asian community has.

I think the idea that we add value to our workplaces just by sharing our diversity is so inspiring. It gives me hope- amidst the prejudice and frankly stupid comments we have to battle with on a daily basis. As someone recently said to me, if all the British people stay in one neighbourhood and all the ethnic minorities congregate elsewhere how will integration, and eventually understanding and acceptance of each other ever happen? Well the answer is that it won’t so it’s vital that as British Asian women we ‘own’ our ethnic minority status and culture and share it as a positive.

Yes that’s going to be frustrating as we are time and again faced with racism. But to me turning racism on its head is better than playing the victim card.

 

Read the rest of the series: part 1 “The Need for Mentors” and part 3 “Balancing culture and success”

Asian Women Mean Business meet every Wednesday night on Twitter between 7-8pm. Just tag your comments with #asianwomenmeanbiz to join the discussion

 

Celebrating 1000 Followers!

When you start a blog you really don’t know if anyone’s going to read it. It begins life as something you do for yourself and you hope people will join you along the way. Now, as I celebrate two years of British Asian Woman and specifically, 1000 followers (yippee, thank you guys SO much for following!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to mark these two milestones, particularly my awesome 1000 followers. I thought about writing the obligatory piece on highlights & low lights. But that felt a bit self-indulgent and rather like writing a thesis on my own blog. Dull, dull, dull.

Instead I’ve decided to write about the two biggest things that have come out of British Asian Woman over the last two years: the Thing I’m Most Grateful for and the Thing I’m the Proudest Of.

So let’s see.

The Thing I’m Most Grateful For

Well it’s two things really.

British Asian Woman has been a real sounding board for me. As pretentious as this sounds, it is my world: it’s literally the things I think about every day. Like current affairs. We look at what’s happening around us and often cannot relate or make sense of it, even when they’re the big issues that we should be aware of.

For example, when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped earlier this year, the whole world got tweeting #bringbackourgirls. I use Twitter a lot, but even I thought “what good is that going to do?” Can hashtag activism really make any difference? And when the Government started the British values debate, right off the back of an investigation into extremism in our schools, I immediately wanted to know how British Asians can respond and where we fit into that discussion. Researching, thinking about, processing and eventually writing about these things have really helped me to understand and find some answers- and that’s point number one of the thing(s )I’m most grateful for.

Identity is a big deal to me, mainly because as a first generation, South Asian expat who has lived in Britain all her life, who is now in a mixed race marriage and raising a mixed race child, there are a lot of factors to work with. I always used to think of myself as a coconut- you know, brown on the outside, white on the inside. Growing up, I identified more with the ‘British’ part of who I am. I even felt a little sheepish about calling my blog “British Asian Woman” like I was extolling myself as some kind of archetypal Asian person, when deep down I knew I didn’t fit that mould. But slowly, over time in writing I’ve come to see that there is diversity everywhere- including within the Asian community.

So when I wrote “What kind of Asian are you?” it was kind of like my putting to bed all those guilty, mixed up feelings and thoughts on identity. I was, and am finally able to say to other Asians “not Asian enough for you? Oh well, you hold onto your stereotypes while I celebrate my heritage.” Or to the British people who look at me wondering if I speak English or “is she like us?” I laugh and know I don’t need to act white to make them accept me. I can just be myself, and that’s incredibly freeing.

So the (other) Thing I’m Most Grateful for is that writing this blog has been like a cathartic working out of my often mixed up thoughts on identity and issues. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to tackle some of the big things that I’ve struggled with, and all the while my readers have patiently let me rant,  muse, and ponder (and still continue to read!) until….I reach that light bulb moment and I know I’m done with it- I’ve found the answer I was looking for.

 

The Thing I’m Proudest Of

Finding answers and solutions to problems has been an interesting development that has come out of my writing.

When I wrote “The only brown face at the school gates” I would never have thought someone who Googled “the school mums all ignore me” would find me; (WordPress offers some analytics tools that allows me to see who finds my site and through what search terms they put in) I really hope that person found some practical help in the tips that I offered for making friends with the other school mums- the school playground is a scary and isolating place- for parents.

Time and again, so many of you have thanked me for writing on subjects like rape, child abuse, what it’s like to parent a mixed race child, British Asian identity. As I said before, when you blog you don’t even know if people are reading, so be thanked and told through comments and tweets that “you’ve nailed it” on a certain topic is so rewarding. Probably the best comment I ever received was:

“You write about the things we all think about, but just never know how to put down onto paper”

Wow.

When I wrote my first post on the rape culture in India, which is to date my most successful due to getting Freshly Pressed two years ago, I never thought of the massive response I’d get. The most moving comment I received was:

“You obviously are concerned about everyone receiving the respect they are due. You are not just interested in your own fame and fortune. That’s refreshing.”

That comment blew me away and I spent a lot of time thinking about it- it was never my intention to be some kind of advocate for issues or disadvantaged groups or people. But it’s happened that way and a new focus of British Asian Woman going forward will be to do just that and importantly, find solutions.

You’ll see a series that I’m doing on Asian women in the workplace, a practical angle on how we can as Asian women can channel workplace disadvantage and discrimination for positive change as just one example of this.

This series came out of collaborating with Asian Women Mean Business, a fab group of like- minded British Asian women. I’m really proud to have worked with them and some great people over the last two years: the fabulous MasalaMommas, Indian Connect and Red Magazine. I love the partnership aspect that blogging allows, and hopefully creates more interesting content to reach a wider group of women- women who are perhaps struggling with the same issues I am.

I’m excited about the future of British Asian Woman and the potential it has to be a platform that continues to help people and ask provocative questions.

THANK YOU all for following, reading, commenting and being a part of my journey. See you along the way.

British Asian Woman x