Sunday 23 October 2011

Gender Prejudice: An Evolution in Attitudes?

I recently wrote an article for Aaila magazine about gender prejudice amongst parents:

I grew up in a loving home, but one that did not escape the South-Asian cultural preference for boys. As one of four sisters to a lone brother, this did none of us any favours.
People would commiserate with my mother for having so many girls with “it is Allah’s will” (in the same vein as other tragedies such as you have lost a loved one “it is Allah’s will”, your house burned down “it is Allah’s will”, you lost your job “it is Allah’s will”) I know that this always made her feel a little inferior in front of other women.
I have had a few responses from Sisters saying they have had similar experiences. It was good to hear from sisters and I believe it is also good to share our experiences and explore how we can move on from these situations and work to ensure they are not repeated in future generations.

These things are easier said than done, with behaviours and attitudes taking many generations to overcome, often being perpetuated unconsciously through us despite our best efforts. I was surprised then, about a conversation I had with Little Lady this week. I was trying to explain to her what I had written about in the article (she loves to write too and we often discuss what we are writing, with her trying to censor edit anything about her she does not like). She was amazed that this had happened, that people had felt sorry for my parents because they had so many girls. She seriously couldn’t conceive that such a thing could be true. She is desperate for a baby sister and is always happy when she hears someone has had a baby girl.

I had to describe to her the way people can behave and the things they sometimes used to say. She found it hard enough to believe that people don’t prefer girls, but harder still to imagine that someone could think that way about her beloved aunties (the “ma’khala’s” as she calls them – abbreviated from “my khala’s” meaning my mum’s sisters).
It made me realise that there had been some change in thinking. She hadn’t been exposed to the negative feelings about daughters in the way many in my generation had. To her being a girl was an extremely positive thing. I think there are a lot of things that contribute to this: having strong role models in her aunties, getting less negative bad vibes from her grandmothers generation (they seem to mellow in their views as time goes on), getting a positive role model in her dad’s behaviour towards women.

Funnily, this attitude appears in her brothers as well. Little Man recently commented “When I get married I’m going to cook the food and my wife will do work on the computer.” Some girl is going to be a very happy wife one day I think.


  1. "I'm going to cook food and my wife will work on the computer" Awwwwwww!!!!!! He sure will make some girl happy some day and she's going to thank you for it!!!

  2. too cute... I do still hear these things from our generation too though.. Sisters my own age with heavy hearts because of the new daughter they have brought to their husbands family. Usually it is from families back home that the girls here feel bad for :(
    I dont want to see it go the complete opposite way around though in relation to Little Mans comment.. what happens if he marries a lady who wants to stay at home? There are many advantages to have one parent at home, Im not saying she should be forced but what if her want is to do that? Would she be ridiculed (not by your family but by society at that time) Then how far really would we have come??

  3. Hi! First time I'm commenting on your blog. Couldn't resist on this topic! I'm an only child (girl) and grew up with a very strong, positive role model for a mother, but constantly heard the "poor you" sympathies poured on her. Now that I'm married, its even worse! I always get asked "hows your poor mum coping on her own?" as if I've died, not gotten married, which my mum herself was over the moon about! So glad to see it changing in future generations, inshaAllah... From HA

  4. Assalam-alaikam,

    Sis BeingFab
    I often think the same, he will make a lovely husband to some lucky girl some day (like his dad). Whereas the younger one seems to be a bit more of a Neanderthal.

    Sis Ammena,
    My mother in law often says about people in Pakistan “we don’t hate our daughter’s, we are just frightened by what kind of life they might have”. I have heard similar from others too.
    I don’t think it’s quite a case of going too far the opposite way in my home, more likely the result of a dad who does his share round the house and a lazy mum as well as Little Man’s love of food and cooking! The work he is referring to is my blogging.

    I will raise my children with the understanding that a woman has the right to work or not, but it must be her choice, as long as her responsibilities to her husband and children are not neglected.

    I found with my generation that choice was taken away, we were raised/socialised/educated with the firm belief that we must take our place in the workforce and it has been very hard to get away from that. I hope to give my daughter/daughter-in-laws the freedom and support to make that choice for themselves. As for ridicule – I have found you can’t win people over whatever you do, so you end up much happier trying to please Allah SWT and doing what pleases you.

    Also I work, but we don’t have one parent at home, but two. I work the same hours as the kids are in school and their dad works flexibly to accommodate us all and do the school run (and keep the teachers on their toes), so they always have one of us plus their fab grannies. Years of working and juggling have helped us find ways to make things work with the children always being the focus of any solution.

  5. I was always so curious what my dad thought when he got 2 girls and then finally, after 10 years a boy. He surprised me by saying he really didn't care at all one way or the other, because he expected no less of his daughters than he would a son.

    Great post!

  6. A great post sister. I feel too, that things are changing in our generation but still in Pakistan there's a lot of such stuff going on. My eldest sister has 4 adorable daughters mashaAllah, 3 daughters then a boy and a girl after. When the third one was born everyone was literaaly offering their 'condolence' to her which made me really really upset. You'll hear many people say 'baita letey letey itne baityan le leen' funny and sad at the same time. It hurts, badly.

    With all this, I should admit that I fear having a daughter too. Because living in pakistan and seeing the miserable lives of married women I get really scared, women lead the lives in which they have little to no choice in what they do live study... this is a male dominant culture, no matter what views you have or raise your daughter with, what if she's not given the choice to study what she wants later in life? the choice in getting married with consent and all that.

    Can we have another post discussing those issues and the practical solution to it? I know what I'm saying its like saying don't get married after seeing what others are going through, but I guess bearing something on our own is easy, but when it comes to see someone else in pain, your siblings, kids its awful, really really awful.

    Rant over, I'm not sure if I even made some sense. Ignore it if I didn't.

    P.S I love your blog, absolutely. You give me the inspiration to live with joy, happiness. Love ya!