This week MP Harriet Harmen spoke out against ageism and sexism in broadcast media. She argues that after a certain age female presenters and news broadcasters disappear from our TV screens. She also makes the point that these women are being eliminated at a time in their lives when they have the most to offer:
“There is a new generation of active older women who have led very different lives from their mothers. Now in their 50s and 60s, they are the first generation of women to have been ‘doing it all’. They have worked, as well as bringing up children. They’ve got educational qualifications and then when their children leave home, these women regard themselves as being into their stride and in their prime.”
Is there a parallel generation of Asian women that have been ‘doing it all?’ What was your mum doing in the 1970’s and 80’s? Raising young children, going out to work, and still managing to have the roti and subji ready for everyone in the evening? Most likely you will answer yes to that and identify with that picture of British Asian life. Most of our mums came to Britain in the 1960’s and 70’s, and took fairly low-paid jobs in industries like catering and retail to support the family. Now, their grown-up daughters- the second generation Asian women that this blog is dedicated to, look somewhat different. We probably have a university degree. We’ve most likely built a career in professions like teaching, banking, medicine and law that we can go back to after the children don’t need us quite so much.
When I look at the culture of women that I am a part of, I’m proud to see how far we have come. But I’m less also optimistic about where we are going, when I think about Harriet Harman’s comments.
What happens to older Asian women? At what point do we cross the threshold into becoming auntyji’s ourselves? Certainly today’s older Asian woman looks different to that of previous generations. I’m sure that in our 50’s and 60’s, there will be less of us that sit around drinking chai and arranging marriage proposals. But if, as Harriet Harman points out, our white female counterparts are being excluded from holding prominent positions, what hope is there for us? Is it not just a glass ceiling that we have to break through, but a double-glazed one at that?!
If you think I am being dramatic, then the next time you watch TV, count on one hand the number of older Asian women you see- that are not actresses portraying the stereotyped Aunty in a sari with a rolling stomach fixing her nephew up with some kuri!
I don’t have a concrete answer to the question in the headline of this post; obviously I am not at the stage of life yet. But I would like to think once I am no longer needed quite so much in the home I will still be needed professionally- writing, editing and who knows what else. I do think it is our job as women- from whatever background, to not give up on ourselves, but to keep pushing, keep breaking boundaries and keep achieving. Yes society might try to stand in our way. Perhaps that is inevitable. But the biggest obstacle is usually ourselves.