Less than 72 hours after my grandmother passed away, someone asked my mom when I would get married. My mom glanced towards me, with a knowing look in her eyes; a few weeks ago, my mother and I were not speaking to each other because she kept pushing marriage on me, even though I told her that I am neither ready nor willing.
Regardless, this individual displayed a lack of tact that I wish surprised me – but it doesn’t. We live in a society where women are socialized to be caregivers, unyielding in love, and unwillingly compromised. We are raised to be soft and kind and have big hearts – which is not bad – but with our empathy used for constant demand. And this is why people think it’s okay to ask a grieving granddaughter when she will get married, because her feelings don’t matter – she is disposable.
To be a good woman, our skin must stretch from sea to sea, enveloping rocks as brackish and corrosive water laps at our edges, wearing us down. We keep others warm, while we burn out from the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion to comfort others. And if we refuse to give up, then we are labelled bad. If we do not sacrifice our lives to receive little in return, then we are wicked women who have become like men – unyielding. Selfish. Individual.
Our society – regardless if it is western, south asian, etc. – asks women to let go of themselves for the sake of men. To comfort men. To provide unrequited love, while expecting little in return. When we grow up with these expectations, we feel weaker, more tired, and our hearts shrink because we no longer have that capacity to love ourselves. It is important that we speak up, that we air our grievances. It’s not too late to start – and we will mess up because we are not used to standing up for ourselves, and that is okay, because we are learning to be.
I hate celebrating my birthday because it is a constant reminder of my age. Since I was 18, I was fully cognizant of what my age meant to my parents, and how a number would cause anxiety and stress for all parties involved. When my parents remember how old I am, there is an onslaught of proposals from men who are otherwise uninteresting to me. They may be great, but on paper, they all look the same – someone who I will have to sacrifice myself for, in order to please a person that does not care about me or my dreams.
Unlearning a lifetime of concession is easier said than done. I find myself in an internal battle on a daily basis, wondering how to tiptoe the line between my parents’ expectations and my own. It is a minefield, and I’ve set off a few explosions. I am always defending my choice to speak on social issues, pursue politics and activism, and be unapologetic as myself. I refuse to compromise, concede, and be less than who I am for another, because my daughters and nieces will not care that I was a good woman, but what I did to empower their lives.
When I graduated college, my grandmother kissed me and beamed with pride. I sat next to her in my robe and placed my cap on her head, as she told me to always be myself. To always stand for myself, even when I felt alone. In that moment, I held onto her as tightly as I could, as she raised her hands in supplication.