Cultural and Gender Expectations: Detouring the Narrow Path

By Sadiyah Tariq

From the day we are born, our parents and all the media we consume distinguishes the divide between what is meant for girls, and what is meant for boys. Growing up in a Pakistani and Muslim household, with very traditional and old-fashioned values, this divide was made clear to me at an early age between me and my brother. Expectations and roles were laid out, plain as day, when we would be compared to side by side. I was meant to grow up to be a smart and accommodating wife, and my brother would become successful and responsible in order to take care of his family. But in life it isn’t as easy as to follow a straight and narrow-minded path.

When we were younger, my dad became the coach of a Little League team to try and get my brother as into sports as he was when he was growing up. However, my brother felt pressure from our dad and didn’t find it fun at all, and would not take it seriously and dreaded every moment of it. I, on the other hand, loved playing it without the pressure of a whole team or our father hovering over my shoulder and judging my every move. I caught onto it faster, had more control of the ball, and enjoyed spending quality time with my dad. But of course, I never got into any serious team, because that would have been a waste of my time, since my parents I had no serious plans to continue it in the future.

When it came to going out, there were a million roadblocks for me because I was a girl. I couldn’t hang out with friends that my parents didn’t know the parents of personally, I couldn’t go to any place outside of school with them, I couldn’t have any guy friends, I had a strict time limit of how long I could be out, and more excuses than I could fill this whole article with. But then there was my brother who could sleep over his friends’ houses, come and go as he pleased, go to all the school events, and have his actions excused because “boys will be boys.” My brother has traveled alone on a plane and road tripped anywhere he wanted to go, while my parents won’t let me out of their sight. While I lost out on having fun and being a kid, enjoying myself with friends, my brother got to do whatever he wanted without the regret of missing out on experiencing life to the fullest. Now, making my own money and having my own car, I’m able to have a little more independence to break out of my old introverted habits (my coping mechanism to dealing with my limitations because of my gender) and actually ask friends out to do things and reclaim some of the regretful things I couldn’t do in the past, and make it a reality as a semi-adult.

One of the biggest things I grew up on was the idea that I, like everyone else in my family and my parents, would have an arranged marriage. I know, in this day and age? Shocker! But, it’s still something we believe in culturally, so dating was out of the question. And typically, girls would get married before guys — because girls had their beauty and babymaking ability to market, while men needed financial and personal stability, so they usually got married when they were older and more secure. I was always told I would get married first, even though my brother was a year older than me, and all the cooking and cleaning I learned all led up to the goal of being married off into a respectable household to a man that could take care of me and the children I would provide for him (yuck). My parents said, if it was up to my dad, that I would have been married off at eighteen — but my mother stopped him, since education was important for them.

The thing is, I was good at school, and my brother just wanted to go out into the world and make money — to prove himself as a man, or whatever guys are led to believe they had to do. Because of his instability and confusion in the direction he should go towards in life, they decided to ground him by having the idea of marriage in his sights to work towards, and got him engaged soon after. This was surprising for all of us, and I thought this could be a sign that I can have some more career oriented goals and independence on where my life was headed, but it was undermined by the fact that everyone said that it would be my turn soon, after they got everything settled with my brother. Now that he’s married, I wake up in constant fear of my parents shoving potential candidates in my face, since I’ve already reached the age my parents think I should be handed off to someone to be responsible for me other than them, even though I would think I am responsible for my own self, in my mind.

With the ups and downs my brother and I faced in our lives, we did usually have each other’s backs to support one another. In line with my middle child syndrome, I feel like my problems as a POC woman in a traditional household could be more pressing than his, though I can acknowledge that he did have some of his own troubles — but unlike him, I couldn’t run away from my problems. I’m learning to try and face my problems head on now, and continue living my life, not in spite of the expectations and responsibilities enforced upon me through my parents and family, but in line with what I want and moving at my own pace toward what they expect from me.


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