Like many women, I’m no stranger to gender discrimination.
My parents moved to Australia when I was just one year old. From the very beginning, I saw my mum and dad work together in the household, in the workplace, and in the kitchen. Seeing is believing, I say this all the time. And for me, it taught me so much about gender roles – in my world you both pitched in with the work that happens outside and inside the home. No matter what your gender.
I grew up as a patriotic Australian girl, with a hybrid personality as I call it – or a mirror with two reflections. I’d leave the house as an everyday Aussie, and re-enter it as a good Indian girl. It was a balance that worked me, and could continue to work for me… or so I thought.
You see, there were certain things you did as an Indian woman. You were expected to study really hard and get good grades; you were expected to respect your elders; you were expected to stay away from boys but then magically get married at a certain point.
Like any rebellious teen, I had a “secret” boyfriend. However, like any rebellious teen, my parents also soon found out. I was fortunate enough to have a boyfriend who was a sweet and wonderful guy, but unfortunately he too came from a “good Indian family”. This meant that when our parents found out, a dinner was arranged, and at that dinner, so too was our marriage.
Once I was married at age 20, things didn’t necessarily become easier either. I felt like I was playing a role that didn’t come naturally to me. I’m the girl who wanted to be a lawyer at the age of five. Whilst my choice of career kept changing, my ambitious mindset never did. And yet every day I felt as though I was being pushed into a limited, pre-prescribed mould. The judgement of not having the house clean enough, not cooking enough, not having the laundry done, the shirts ironed or the lunch packed (all the while working full time and studying a masters degree) left me feeling like a shell of my former self.
None of my career or academic achievements in comparison seemed to matter. When I graduated from my masters I was told by a warm supportive lecturer that I should consider a PhD – only to be met with a response by an in-law, “I hope not! She should be having children soon!”
The thing is, sometimes the most jarring gender discrimination happens within the four walls of your home by people you trust. For me, it was the all to often passing comment from an in-law about my inability to keep my house together in the perfect shining condition that left me feeling full of shame and incapable of keeping it together.