I come from a family where healthy competition among girl children is encouraged — not competition over how well they cook, but on how educated and how good their careers are. Having lived in such a household, I sometimes find it shocking to interact with people who believe if a woman gets a job, she only does so to support her husband. These people find it alien to use “woman,” “career,” and “passion” in the same sentence.
Being the positive person that I am, it is unlike me to start out on such a negative note. This, however, is necessary to set the context before I begin to count my blessings.
I want to share some stories that happened in my family in India in the mid-20th century… and how that has helped to shape me!
My great grandfather was a freedom fighter (he fought against colonial rule in India), and was therefore considered a radical. He did not do things in tune with society’s norms. In fact, in certain aspects, he was a pioneer. He supported his daughter’s dreams. My grand aunt (my mom’s paternal aunt, to be precise) became a Hindi teacher, and was the first female to take up a job in my family. It was early 1950s in India, and it was against all social barriers, but she did so nonetheless.
Both my maternal and paternal families had a mantra: “Educating boys and girls equally; encouraging girls to pursue a career. Most importantly, it was not out of compulsion or economic need that the women of my family took up jobs.
In India during 1950s and 60s, it was a social taboo for a family to spend money on a girl’s education. Women, even if educated, were encouraged to take up arts/home science rather than science/engineering/medicine. It was often considered customary to get a daughter married off at an age of 18. My grandparents had a different outlook: their child, be it male or female, deserved an education. My mom received her post-graduate degree (science); my dad’s elder sister (my aunt) went on to become a doctor; yet another aunt became a professor at a renowned college.These women are pioneers, in their own way, as most of their peers were being married off in their late teens.
This education and encouragement enabled the women of my family to reach great heights in their careers. My mom is now a Deputy General Manager in a major telecommunications company; my aunt holds a doctorate; and another aunt continues to serve as a doctor past her retirement age. I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am about them!
These traditions continue in my generation, too. Most of the young ladies of my family have went on to get or are getting their masters and doctorate degrees. That includes me.
Not so long ago, one of my female friends opened up to me about her life. She said, “The key difference between us is that I come from a chauvinist family and you don’t.” Her poignant words still lingering in my mind. I have heard a lot of bragging in “moms and aunts” circle about how well their college-going daughters can already cook, but with their sons, their bragging ends by citing his accomplishments at university or how good a tennis player he has become. As I look back at my life, my parents have consciously steered away from grooming-my-daughter-to-be-a-good-home-maker attitude. My aunt did the same with my cousins. They are university rank holders… winning scholarships and presenting papers were their thing!
A lot gets decided about your life and your future by what you experience as a child. If parents instill feelings of limitations or ceilings to what their daughters can do, that is likely to create a nagging sensation with perpetual self-doubt in their minds. I was immensely fortunate not to have to worry about any of that.
My self-esteem is rock solid, and so is my confidence. My family broke the glass ceiling for me — empowered me. What an invaluable gift from my family!