by: Jennifer Kumar, Cross Cultural Coach
Exploring Female Stereotypes part 1 of 2
Many may publicly claim they don’t subscribe to stereotypes. We say a lot of things to be politically correct, but if we examine our minds, we often hold many stereotypes. Stereotypes are not all bad, though the term stereotype has a lot of negative connotations. What if we used stereotypes as a springboard to learn about others from an open mindset?
I am writing my views on stereotypes of Indian and American women that came to mind after reading Mohi Kumar’s article in ‘Little India’ (January 2007, pages 28-29), titled Jai Hind which explored some stereotypes and realities of Indian women in India over the centuries.
I am writing this from the stand point of an American woman who lived in Chennai between 1999-2001. I studied social work and spent time in homes of the very poor to the very rich, from the modern to the traditional families and all in between. Most houses I visited for a few hours at a time, and others, I spent overnights at. Some of my friend’s families treated me as they would their own ‘daughter’ to the extent that is possible. So, I also experienced the tradition of being secluded during my period. I will talk about that later in this article.
I am not here to say I totally agree with either the Indian or American approach. I think both have something to offer and learn from each other. But sometimes those cultures that are more foreign to me and also more attractive on some levels, seem more positive to me, and that is a stereotype I deal with constantly! I will take some time to discuss my thoughts on both American and Indian behaviors I have seen and participated in to help share a different point of view.
I often think that the person/group that the topic affects most, sometimes talks the least for fear of the perceived stronger group ‘putting them back in their place.’ I have also witnessed an opposite thought process- the group perceived to be the more influential in changing the situation will not admit to the problem for fear of change (ie. losing their status or needing to initiate change). Sometimes I say ‘women are women’s worst enemies.’ Mohi’s article actually points to this very sentiment when she talks about women giving birth to boys and narrating when a woman’s third child is a boy her relative’s response was, “Only now you have become an Athai, an aunt!” When women say this to each other, even these seemingly innocent and possibly normal responses, these habitual responses only help to keep such thought patterns and traditions moving forward. Just because we heard the elder generations ahead of us say it, does that make it right?
In American culture these things come up in different ways. For instance, in America the women’s liberation movement has created many self-assured women, no doubt, but women that have taken on personality traits of men to move forward while having to remove more and more clothes to remind themselves and the rest of the world that they are indeed women, if nothing else, by anatomy. How is this liberation? How is this feminine? I know there has to be a delicate balance of womanly qualities with assertiveness for women to remain feminine, while gaining more foothold in their environment. In some ways, I think American women can learn some of these traits from strong willed, feminine, powerful Indian women. While those qualifiers may seem in direct opposition to the traditional, meek, compromising and family oriented stereotypes, I have found many Indian women who balance these opposites with grace and a wonder that is beyond my understanding!
American women may marry later than Indian women in general, but what does this really mean? It does by no length, mean that American women can go through life unmarried, because there surely is a social stigma attached to that. Though people don’t always talk about it openly, or live in denial of this stigma, it is alive and well. Though I am a 30-something American woman, I am married and due to this can not experience that directly. What I can attest to is often, my experience in American culture has been women being judged or accepted more or less by other women and society in general based on who they are dating. If women don’t date, there is a whole other set of problems a woman can face. There are few shows on television that bring these points out subtly, though on the outer core of the show, it seems to be brasher. One such show, that I don’t recommend for kids is, Sex and the City. The thing I actually liked about watching this show is how they bring out the single (white) female’s problems in the modern lifestyle. Many episodes bring out really well how women may put themselves into certain situations to get the attention from men that may (or may not) lead to a long term commitment, but they keep trying and exposing themselves to emotionally difficult situations to try to find that ‘one and only’ that they can be with forever. In this picture comes a lot of jealousy and game playing. This is something I attest with all my might, but this show had helped me see why it happens so easily. Of course, such tv shows have to take things to the extreme, which may or may not happen in real life, to get ratings. For me, it was the sentiment and underlying thoughts and feelings expressed through the newspaper column that the main character wrote that demonstrated what the situations really are. For me, it was also sad and continues to be sad that women have to degrade themselves to find boyfriends and husbands through giving up and/or using their sexuality.
Click here for part 2.
Why I Studied in India and Why I Do What I Do?
How Pruning Our Concepts, Ideas, Beliefs, Behaviors and More can Change our Life!
Author of this post, Jennifer Kumar, is a cross cultural coach. Feel free to follow her on Facebook by clicking here. Contact her for more information on coaching by clicking here.
Copyright © 2011, Jennifer Kumar. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to Reprint: This article may be NOT reprinted, however you can quote out of it. See this article for how to cite work in Alaivani.