Growing up, I was unaware of the privilege I wasn’t supposed to have. I didn’t feel the double standards between brothers and sisters which would consume the minds and lives of my Muslim, Arab, and/or Desi first generation girlfriends. In youth groups where we were deluded with the illusion of agency, told we could talk about anything, my friends would complain about the unfairness of their existence.
During these rants, I would listen and nod quietly to the complaints I couldn’t relate to:
“Why can’t they just trust us?”
“I wish I was a boy.”
“Being a girl is the hardest thing you can be in this world.”
In their moments of anguish and emotional healing, I couldn’t tell them that my brother and I (only a month and a half apart), were given the same rules and expectations through much of our lives.
During our childhood, we both were forbidden from sleeping over at friends’ houses, because little girls’ and boys’ innocence was the most important thing in the world to protect.
We both went on a one-week camping trip to Lake Arrowhead in the 6th grade, because the experience would be fun, social, and stimulating for a pubescent boy and girl learning to adjust to a new school district.
During our adolescence, we both had an 11 pm curfew, because young men and women needed routines but also autonomy. And later during my early adulthood, we were both allowed to go wherever we wanted to go to for college because sons and daughters deserved all the world’s opportunities.
Coincidentally, I was the one who moved out for undergrad, while my brother commutes to his university from home.
It wasn’t until I started hanging out with other first-generation Arabs/Desis/Muslims that I realized there was a discrepancy between a boy and girl in what we were allowed to do. When I would hang out with these girlfriends, we would absolutely have to be back in a house, out of the public, by 8 pm.
Sometimes my friends would rebel and break the rule, and I would find myself become a deceitful lie while harmlessly browsing through the local Barnes & Noble: “Yes, Ummi, we’re at Jasmine’s house now. Pick me up at 10?”
Other times, they were tired of lying and arguing with their mothers for an extra hour of mall ratting, and we would end the outing at 8 pm like their parents wanted. I would be back home 3 hours before my Saturday night curfew, which I would spend watching Arabic TV with my parents.
Meanwhile, because my brother’s friends were allowed to stay out much longer than the curfew that my parents had imposed on his male body, he would come home at 11 pm, bitter and trapped in equality, arguing that 11 just wasn’t late enough, as most of his friends barely started to leave their homes at 9 pm.
I don’t know if my parents made a conscious decision to give us equal restrictions and expectations to make a point about gender equality.
Maybe it was just easier to keep track of your kids when they were operating under the same guidelines. I don’t know if I would have made fewer mistakes with less freedom. I don’t know if I would have made more mistakes with more freedom. I wonder if they struggled between the restrictions they may have felt inclined to impose and seeing me happy.
If they did struggle, I don’t know how they overcame the former in favor of the latter.
I don’t know if I became the confident, purposeful, curious woman I am today because I was allowed to go to Lake Arrowhead in 6th grade. I don’t know if I have the relationship with them I do today because of those three extra hours we would spend watching Egyptian soap operas, my parents explaining the jokes to me so I could be entertained and stay and watch with them.
This I do know: nothing will make you realize what an annoying kid you were (and probably still are), than when you write about your parents.