I still remember that night.
At 11 pm, as I held my baby in my arms, I was finally discharged from the hospital so I could take her home with me. She was perfect. A part of me and my husband, and the start of our small family. My first child was a daughter. My prayers had been answered. She would be my lifelong friend, my pride, my joy.
As I took her home that night, I kept remembering the long wait to be with her, the lengthy pregnancy, the exhausting labor.
As people began to visit they would say, “Don’t worry you’ll have a boy next time,” “I bet so and so hasn’t visited because they were thinking it’s only a girl.”
The comments didn’t come as a massive shock because even in 2017, the desire for a boy in the Pakistani community has a little too much to do with the idea that betiyan (daughters) do not belong to us. We are to give them away in marriage. This is a side of our culture that nobody wants to talk about.
The Pakistani joint family is a hierarchy.
At the top is Abba Jee, or father in law, who always comes first. After that his wife, the mother in law, who never questions her husband even when he’s wrong because as a woman that would be “disrespectful.” This is followed by the hardworking putar (son) who works all day and at the bottom the nakami nuh or bahu (daughter in law).
This is a side of our culture that nobody wants to talk about.
The bahu is expected to carry the weight of the family on her shoulders or she is labeled as selfish, poorly raised, or too forward. The husband’s family immediately has control over the daughter-in-law, even know they barely know her. Her gender automatically places her at the bottom of the hierarchy. The daughter-in-law enters the marriage prioritizing everybody around her.
Though the daughter in law is expected to do everything, in the eyes of the family, Pakistani culture expects girls to consider our in-laws as a superior set of parents to our own. She is often seen as a lay-about, not helping with household chores, who wastes their son’s money and does a poor job of raising their grandchildren.
This arrangement is culturally acceptable, so any bad treatment the bahu receives is shrugged off, sometimes even by her own parents.
Beta, this is how it is, Beta you just have to accept things, Beta you live there now; we can’t do anything for you.
Understandably, when a daughter in law joins a family in Pakistani culture, she is to look out for the family like her own. But shouldn’t there be more of an expectation from their own children first, regardless of gender? Why is the pressure always on the bahu first and the beta later?
Does this mean I should waste no more time and start to raise my daughter to serve her in-laws? I don’t think so.
Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to find somebody who accepts her just the way she is, instead of forcing her to compromise her character, desire, and priorities just to make her marriage work in the future? Why does it make sense for her to have to negotiate with an entire family just to live happily ever after when her husband only has her to please? Why are we still living in a state where girls are told to pursue the same opportunities as boys, but then expect them to magically morph into the perfect tolerant and understanding bahu, putting everyone else’s needs before their own?
Does this mean I should waste no more time and start to raise my daughter to serve her in-laws?
I was raised in a fairly liberal household, encouraged to pursue my ambitions and choose my own partner. To me, it doesn’t make any sense for myself or my daughter or anyone’s daughter to dress, cook, live and adapt to their in-law’s liking. It’s bizarre. I don’t think I could handle a random person dictating my daughter’s life when I put my all into raising her.
We get so revved up when our little girl gets bullied at school, but when she says she’s getting bullied 20 years later by her husband’s family, we pass it off as acceptable because it’s our culture.
Why should girls have to lie to their parents and pretend to be okay when their families ask?
Why do we silence our daughters? It’s time that women started supporting one another rather than ripping each other apart. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear our mothers, mother in laws, sisters, sister in laws be proud of our dress sense, choices, and lifestyle rather than constantly looking to scrutinize because it doesn’t agree with somebody else? Why should I, my daughter, my daughter in law, or yours, stop being who they are because their “new parents” and families may not approve?
Desi communities need to stop thinking that their daughter’s existence only goes as far as serving someone else’s home. There’s a clear difference between caring for each other like a family and thinking all women have maid pasted across their forehead.
I will say “no, thank you” to having to raise my daughter for her new parents.
Oh, and future daughter in law, don’t worry, I got your back.