South Asian Couples: A Story About Gender Roles
By MySahana on 10 Oct 2014
Purva and Ashok were absolutely in love. They were caught up in their romance for the two years they were dating and after Ashok proposed, they became consumed with wedding planning. This left little to no time for either of them to talk about the important issues such as finances, children and their future lifestyle once the grand wedding was over.
After they returned from their honeymoon, Purva and Ashok became busy with daily life. At first, things were going great. They loved seeing each other every day after work and opening wedding presents together in the evening. Over the course of several months, however, the glow from their wedding started to dim and reality started to catch up.
They realized they were eating out a lot. Being as health conscious as they were, and wanting to save money for their future, it was not a practical solution for every day life.
One day, Ashok came home to find Purva on the phone with her friend, with dinner nowhere to be seen. When she got off the phone she greeted him happily and he returned the gesture with some questions.
“What’s going on? I thought we said we weren’t going to eat out anymore,” he asked carefully.
“Ya we’re not eating out,” Purva said equally confused.
“Then…where’s the food?” Ashok asked.
“Well, we have a rule right? If I cook once, then you cook once. We take turns remember?” It was a system that Purva and Ashok had created when they were dating. One night they would meet at her house and she would cook and the next time they met it would be at his house and he would cook. They were both happy with the arrangement and it had never been a point of contention.
Ashok didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to sound like a chauvinist but he also had not been prepared for cooking to be part of his role as a husband. His father never cooked, none of his uncles cooked, so why should he?
Ashok smiled and tried to charm her by saying, “Ya that was when I was trying to impress you! I don’t actually know how to cook.” He tried to hug her to soften the blow but Purva knew what he was saying.
Purva also grew up in a home where her mother was the primary cook, though her father did pitch in if her mother was sick or out of town. Purva remembered thinking throughout her childhood how unfair it was that both of her parents worked outside the home but only her mother was responsible for the house and the family just because of her gender. She thought she had made it clear to Ashok when they were dating that she was not interested in continuing this tradition.
“Oh my god you are not going to use that line with me,” Purva said frustrated with Ashok. “I just got home five minutes before you did. What makes you think it’s my responsibility to make dinner every night?”
Ashok could see that this was going to lead to an argument so he tried to back off but Purva was already upset. “Does that make it your responsibility to make all the money? Because last I checked, we couldn’t afford this apartment if you were the only one working.”
Purva hit below the belt, and she knew it, but she didn’t care. She was resentful that Ashok would insinuate she was being a bad wife when they had already discussed this. Ashok was now defensive because Purva personally attacked him and his achievements.
This resulted in their first fight as a married couple, both of them wounded from the others’ verbal attacks. They both wondered if they had made the right decision getting married. Neither of them ended up eating that night anyway.
Young South Asian couples face a dilemma that most of their parents never faced: identifying gender roles. While first generation South Asians are born to immigrant parents who remain a fairly traditional lifestyle when it comes to gender roles, growing up abroad exposes these youngsters to alternate lifestyles. In combination with being an entirely new generation and having cultural differences, many young adults don’t have a directly applicable role model for their future marriages. Their parents’ relationship may feel too traditional and non-South Asian marriages may seem too far from their home culture.
It is essential that young couples take time to clearly lay out a plan for their future life when it comes to gender roles, including household chores, caretaking of children and financial responsibility. There are no right or wrong answers but it is essential that both partners are on the same page.
Ask each other questions such as:
- What do you expect from yourself?
- What do you expect from me?
- What is the range of behavior that is acceptable to you?
- What is reasonable to expect from each of us given our lifestyle?
Had Purva and Ashok done this explicitly, instead of assuming they were on the same page, they would have understood each others’ expectations. They could have also come up with a reasonable compromise whereby addressing each of their expectations while remaining flexible to adapt to their new lifestyle.
Having these conversations before you are married, while it may take away from the romance of a dating relationship, can help prepare you for the realities of married life once the glamour of the wedding starts to fade.
For help on having these conversations, consult a marriage counselor.