By Richa Pokhrel/@richapokhrel
I have written a piece before about how we should have more courage to stand up to the atrocities we see in our societies, but lately I have been thinking about battles within our families and communities. Recently when I was at a relatives’ house, their youngest daughter told me a story about her interaction with another male family member. In that story, she said that one of her uncles had asked her to get her something from the kitchen, she said no and told him that he should get it himself. He was an abled bodied man who could get whatever he desired. I was proud of her because she stood her ground. However, it made reflect on conforming and confronting in our families.
To be honest there have been a lot of times in family and community gatherings where I have bit my tongue, I am sure most of you know what I am talking about. Whether it’s someone making a racist comment, demanding a lot of his wife or daughter, talking about someone else in nasty way, abuse, etc. I like to think of myself as a strong woman who would stand up to someone when it’s critical, but I have come to realize that I can’t always battle with people. Something’s are better if they are just let go. For example, girls are expected to learn how to make tea from a young age so when there are guests over, we can make and serve tea to them (we have a past post about this too). This is a sexist expectation, our brothers are not expected to do this nor encouraged by our parents. But sometimes this expectation seems like a right of passage, one that was experienced by all the woman before us. To be fair, our mothers probably just want to show others how wonderful her daughter is and that she can make a delicious cup of chiya too. I would get annoyed in my youth when I had to do it, but I wasn’t going to embarrass my parents in front of guests by arguing with them.
For me personally, I accept that some traditions have a way of bringing people together. Yes, they may be outdated, they may be stupid, and we may not always understand them, but I do think some of them serve a purpose. I am not saying this is a reason we blindly accept everything in our society. Our culture is one that focuses on the community, not the individual. The American culture focuses on the ME instead of the WE. I have always struggled to find a balance between these two. I value my parents’ support and I also seek their approval, even now as an adult. I have pushed many boundaries, I have broken a few rules, and there have been times when I come head to head with my parents. I want to be an individual, but I also want to belong and fit in. That’s why I choose carefully what battles I fight.
Sometimes what I don’t reflect on is my mother and my grandmothers having to deal with the same thing. We can’t fault the older generation for not always understanding us, but we can acknowledge that they probably had similar struggles and thoughts. Just imagine what it was like for them to grow up in their generation. It was so much more limiting than it has been for us. Let’s be honest though, conforming is something that mostly falls on women. We are taught from birth to take the responsibility and the burden to keep quiet and accept things as they are.
I have had some close male relatives say that I should just speak up when I feel that things are not right. What they fail to recognize is that it’s not that simple. They don’t understand all the little things I have to go through, all the little things that are said to me, all the little things that are expected of me. They doesn’t understand that sometimes I am tired, sometimes I don’t have energy, sometimes I fear for my safety, and sometimes I know that no matter what we say, the other person will not get it. I used to think that if someone felt something was wrong, they should speak up no matter what. However, I am slowly coming to realize that doesn’t work for me especially when I want to maintain relationships. I can speak my mind yes, but I can’t expect everyone to change their opinion to match my own. I can tell my grandma that some of her notions are outdated, but I can’t be mad at her for thinking those things. I need to listen to the other person to understand where they are coming from. The only thing I can do is try to educate, it is up to the other person on how they want to respond.
On perfect example is harassment that women face EVERY DAY of our lives. I have had so many inappropriate things said to me since before puberty, I have had men stop in the sidewalk and look me up and down, I have had someone spit in my face, and a man threaten to punch me. To be honest with you I have never confronted anyone during these one-sided interactions because 1) I am scared, 2) I don’t think they would get it, 3) it happens so often that I just don’t have the energy to say anything. How many males could I possibly reprimand? I bet some would just see it as harmless fun, a way of complimenting me. I know this doesn’t necessarily fit into my previous paragraphs, but it does highlight my point on when I speak up and when I ignore.
I don’t think it’s a weakness to be the type of person who cares about the comfort of others. I have always been like this. This is probably the mixture of my own personality and how I’ve been raised. That is why I conform to some things. I know when to speak up and stand up to my family. I don’t always do it, maybe I am a coward or maybe I want to have peace in my family and in my community. In the end, the biggest battle I will have is with myself when I reflect on the times I don’t say or do anything.
*Please share your thoughts. What battles do you fight? Which ones do you hold back on?
P.S. I want to share my new project with you all. I started a podcast for those of us who are turning 30 and/or are in our 30s. It’s called The 30 Question, check it out here.
And a short story of mine has been published! So excited! Check it out here.