Gender, Social Justice

Pakistani society told me I had to be a submissive wife, while my twin brother was told he was free

When I hit puberty, however, it became a completely different story.

My parents were expecting twin girls. It was the 80’s, and technology was way different from what it is t0day. Apparently, I had blocked my sibling in the sonogram photos or the picture was just too hard to make out – I’m not really sure. My mother’s doctor assumed that since one twin was a girl, the other was more than likely going to be a girl.

So imagine my parents’ surprise when the second twin to be pulled from my mother’s womb was a chubby, pink-cheeked little boy wailing his tiny little heart out. We were the first set of boy and girl twins born in Alexandria Hospital in over 75 years.

To this day, my parents speak of the excitement and buzz around our births.

When I see baby photos of us now, it’s very hard to tell who is who. I wouldn’t be surprised if people automatically assumed that we were the same sex and identical vs. fraternal twins. It isn’t until one sees our photos as toddlers that people can easily tell one is a boy and one is a girl.

That’s because while my brother was dressed in clothes that depicted various action figures from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Transformers, I was often dressed in frilly frou-frou dresses and adorned with bindis and chudiyan – bracelets that are very popular in South Asian culture.

Although these dresses and bracelets were often demolished in the process of my climbing of trees and monkey bars while my brother and I ran around the playground, chasing each other as we so often did, I was constantly dressed this way.

The clothes we were put in were hardly the tip of the iceberg, though.

I think the first major difference I noticed in our shaping of gender identity was when I was given Barbie dolls and my brother was given monster trucks and action figures. Being the tomboy that I was, I often threw my dolls to the side and begged my brother to let me play with his toys.

One time, I was given a kitchen and vacuum toy set for our birthday. While my brother obsessively played with my fake vacuum, I would play with his remote-controlled toy cars.

My parents didn’t push it when I was younger.

They knew I was a tomboy and assumed I would grow out of it as I got older. Eventually, I would get as many cars and racetracks as he would. My brother and I had matching TMNT bed sheets, and between the two of us, we collected almost all of the WWE superstar dolls we could.

When I hit puberty, however, it became a completely different story.

It seems that as soon as my breasts started to appear and when my body showed that it was ready for reproduction, I was to be a completely different person. All of the women in my family found out of my beginning of the “curse”, and I noticed that I was being treated much differently than how I had been before.

It was no longer okay that I was a tomboy.

I had to dress differently – my very traditional Pakistani mother informed me that I was no longer allowed to wear shorts and sleeveless things. When I wore the standard Pakistani clothes at home, I was to begin wearing a dupatta/shawl over my chest if my father, older cousins, and uncles were around.

I didn’t understand.

How come my brother wasn’t being told to change the clothes he always wore? How come I had to shrink away from any males that came to our house while he could sit with them – or not? The choice was completely up to him.

Meanwhile, I felt like I no longer had any choices.

While my brother was allowed to play his video games and watch TV, I would be forced to be in the kitchen with my mom, washing dishes and mopping the floor.

When I constantly asked why I was being treated so unfairly and different from my twin brother, I always got the same answer.

“Because you are a girl.”

As we got older, the difference in our treatment became only more clear.

While my brother was allowed to go to slumber parties over the weekend, I had to constantly host my friends at my house, because I wasn’t allowed to spend the night at anyone’s house unless they were family.

When he was allowed to go on overnight school trips, I wasn’t.

My brother was free of any and all chores, while it was my daily job to make sure the dishes were always clean, the floors swept and mopped, and the carpets vacuumed (long gone were the days that my brother was obsessed with my vacuum!). If we argued and fought, I was more often than not blamed for it, because boys fight, girls don’t. I had to constantly update my parents on where I was going, what I was doing – and I was not allowed to be out of the house continuously. Meanwhile, my brother was barely questioned.

It was treatment like this that made me wish I were a boy. I hated being a girl.

As my twin and I neared adulthood, we were worlds apart. While education and being groomed for a successful career was being drilled into his head, learning how to be an amazing, submissive wife was the goal I was to work towards. My parents were ecstatic when he got his first job – which was quite different from the reaction that I had received when I obtained mine a few months earlier.

When I spoke of college, I was brushed off, because I was told getting an education and having a career were to be secondary to my husband and children.

It’s tragic that what we were groomed to be was based solely off of our body parts. It’s tragic to think that my story isn’t unique. It isn’t just Pakistani society – American society contributed just as much to my unfair treatment growing up.

Societies around the world treat children differently based on their sex.

While little girls are given baby dolls in order to assert that they will someday become mothers and to promote their maternal instincts, boys are given monster trucks, action figures, and guns in order to develop their masculinity.

When a boy is seen wearing nail polish, a tutu, or pushing a baby stroller simply because that is fun for him, he is seen as a future homosexual or abnormal.

When a girl prefers to climb trees and play in the mud over her kitchen set and baby dolls, she is a tomboy that lacks the characteristics that make her a girl. It’s cute when a little girl plays with her mother’s makeup, but appalling when a little boy does the same.

Why are we suppressing little boys and girls in order to ensure they fit society’s constructed views on what constitutes specific genders?

Why are we suppressing personalities and dreams of these children so men can be one very specific way and women can be another?

Both little boys and girls are victims of this patriarchy – not just little girls – but it is very important to note that girls are more strongly oppressed and treated more unfairly.

Today, I can only be super thankful that I was strong enough to break out of what was expected of me – not to mention the painful situations I went through and the sacrifices I had to make in order to make it a reality. As I became older and more comfortable in my skin, I realize certain constructs that are holding me back in terms of gender grooming – and work on them to this day.

But I can’t help but wonder what kind of person I would be today if I hadn’t been a victim of gender grooming.