«The third generation of Indians in Britain Cultural identity and cultural change Vorgelegt von: Abgabedatum: 16.10.2008 Judith Frübing 1. Gutachter: ...»
Like the perceptions of social hierarchy gender roles and relations are different in Eastern cultures. In general, gender roles and relations are not as flexible as in western cultures. In the past, different perceptions of gender roles and relations have sparked conflict in families and communities. Further, this matter received increased interest in the media often creating false perceptions. Particularly, cases of violence for reasons of family honour have aroused public interest. Among Sikhs and Muslims the izzat, the family’s respectability and pride, depends on the decent behaviour of women in public. (Gillespie 1995: 168, StopesRoe 1991: 75) How decent behaviour is defined, depends very much on the family and on the ethnic group. Hindus are generally not as restrictive as Sikhs or Muslims, though there are differences in families. The role of women and the relationship between the sexes is complex in Hinduism and in the Hindu society. There are a number of female goddesses and queens who fought in wars, became seers and philosophers and chose their own husbands37. They are much adored and act as role models for girls. Although, some of these ancient matriarchal elements have survived, many Hindu families discriminate girls in matters of dress, choice of friends and leisure activities. (Ghuman 1994: 18, 61, 114, 122, Jagannathan 2005: 60) In general, boys enjoy more freedom.
As a consequence of social conditions in the diaspora, the situation of women has already changed. Many mothers work; this encourages changes in gender roles in the family and gives women more influence and power. As power relations are more flexible in the nuclear Frübing, 63 family than in the extended family, the new housing conditions also influence their emancipation. (Gillespie 1995: 168, Warrier 1994: 204) Therefore, the situation of British Indian girls has become even more “ambivalent”. Indian girls reach the same educational levels as boys but often do not get the same jobs. They are forced to decide between career and marriage. However, I cannot confirm that these ambivalences lead to disillusionment.
(Bhatti 1999: 136-137) Still, it is true that boys and girls face similar contrasting expectations, images and pressures. Boys have to agree with elders in their community following their guidance. In school and western society however they are expected to make their own decisions and “to be cool and trendy”. Girls are supposed to be good, decent and quiet in school and in their ethnic community. Among peers however they are also expected “to be
fashionable and pretty”. (Bhatti 1999: 149-151) Ranjitham states:
I think being a girl is quite difficult *…+ because of the fact *that+ parents were very strict, very stuck in their ways of … the traditional Indian girls have to be this way.
And when you’re having that at home *…+ and then at school you’ re just in a society where you girls you’re expected to wear make up, your hair has to be this way, you have to wear these particular types of clothes. And that sort of pressure that you’re put under does make you one person when you’re at school and another person when you are at home. (Ranjitham) Exaggerating the experience of the second generation, the interviewees were asked what they thought of girls who acted “quite rude” in school by dressing up, smoking and having boyfriends while at home they played “all goody-goody”. Ranjitham was the only respondent who understood this situation. As indicated above she knows the conflicting pressures of school and home. The girls at the Dudden Hill Centre agreed that such behaviour was “silly”. But especially the boys could not see the girls’ motives for such behaviour. Ranjitham has also suffered from the conflicting expectations of home and peers.
Although she described her parents as very open-minded and underlined that they have always treated sister and brother equally, she feels more protected and controlled than her brother. She still hopes that she can move out soon while her younger brother could already leave home. However, she is not critical of that commenting that “…naturally being a girl [parents] will be a bit more concerned…” That illustrates Bhatti’s results that girls do not want to argue with their parents. However, they would like to have more freedom.
Consequently, Ghuman and Stopes-Roe found that girls are more positive about cultural change than boys, particularly concerning gender issues. (Bhatti 1999: 152, 164, Ghuman Frübing, 64 1994: 42, Stopes-Roe 1991: 60) My research confirms these observations. However, the differences in attitudes on gender-related statements in the questionnaires are less striking than Ghuman describes (Appendix 6.6) (Ghuman 1991: 127).
This indicates that the boys are increasingly favouring cultural change in issues of gender roles and relations. The interviews supported that as there was uncertainty about how girls should be treated. The boys were aware of conflicting sets of customs and values in the cultures that shape their lives. Only Pradeep had a strong opinion on that matter holding
traditional views on gender roles:
I think that there should just be a different expectations of boys and girls generally, *…+ definitely I think girls should be kept in a little bit more or at least there should be a check on who and where they’re associating with. But yeah *…+, not that I wanna rope them in, but I wouldn’t really want my kids to drink and smoke and go to clubs even though I did it to an excess. *...+ So ideally yeah I wouldn’t be comfortable with my daughter going to that place or my son for that matter but especially my daughter, no. (Pradeep) Never having experienced the conflicting pressures many Indian girls faced, he does not
seem to understand his mother’s troubles:
But interestingly my uncles never had this problem but my mum did. So my mum always felt *oppressed+ … well maybe because she is also a girl, so girls, they probably have a bit more … I mean boys, they have more freedom… (Pradeep) As a consequence of her struggles his mother left Pradeep all the freedom he liked. Now, having changed his lifestyle and regretting his former assimilated behaviour, his views and opinions are greatly influenced by this conversion. He knows that his views contradict western understandings of equality. Therefore, he tries to relativise them in the beginning acknowledging equal treatment of boys and girls. Thus, he knowingly takes a traditional standpoint.
Veeran and Ravanan are less sure about the topic. They started explaining how gender roles and relations originally function in their heritage culture as if looking for orientation. They compare British and Tamil society trying to make sense of the differences in customs.
Veeran: I know in the olden days people valued boys a lot more and that’s mainly coz they educated the boys and the girls were housewives. *…+ But in this country it’s not like that. Like sometimes my mum jokes if I was a girl maybe I’d do the washing up and like clean the room and stuff. *…+ Frübing, 65 Ravanan: It’s not the same as in Sri Lanka here because in Sri Lanka the boys get the education the girls like cook and stuff. But here boys and girls go to school and they can both easily become doctors. *…+ So, you can’t say the boys are gonna help the family while the girls are just gonna be housewives coz it’s not the case here. They’re both equal in education.
This shows that the ability to compare the cultures though education and integration in both contexts enables the teenagers to reflect on their cultures and eventually consider them both critically. However, not all interviewees were equally able to view the cultures critically.
Grown up rather detached from his culture of origin, Pradeep now turns completely to Indianness after having discovered his roots. He is uncritical of Indian culture and can hardly positive aspects of western culture.
As both do not have sisters, their lack of personal experience on the matter of gender roles also ads to Ravanan’s and Veeran’s uncertainty. Further questioning on the topic again provoked arguments between the two boys whether girls need to be protected more than boys. Again Veeran tried to maintain a traditional view which he could not argue logically.
Thus, they settled on a certain protectionism of girls in both cultures which has been confirmed by feminists and sociologists.
In summary, gender issues are conflicting and changing. Consequently, there is much uncertainty in the third generation. Although, the young people favour equal treatment of boys and girls, they are unsure about the freedoms of girls in society. Asked for the behaviour of girls, their answers differed significantly (Appendix 6.6). This shows that even the third generation of Indians in Britain cannot solve the conflicts involved in cultural contact and change. Particularly the boys, who do not suffer directly from cultural norms, are hardly able to decide between the different sets of values.
Courtship and marriage
Questions of courtship and marriage have received a lot of attention in the literature, media and the arts (Anwar 1998: 108). Marriage patterns are obvious indicators of cultural difference because they are an expression of different values and perceptions of family.
Nevertheless, all authors have indicated changes and modifications in marriage customs (Ghuman 1994: 115). Adaptations have been made under the influence of western individualism. As a consequence of migration and western ways of life and education there is a greater independence of individuals from the family and looser kinship obligations in the Frübing, 66 diaspora than there are traditionally (Ghuman 1994: 145). Traditionally, marriage is rather a union of families than an individual choice which contradicts the western idea of romantic marriage. Further, traditionally marriages are caste-endogamous, as I have described above (Ghuman 1994: 145, Anwar 1998: 106, Commission for Racial Equality 1978: 27).
In a joint-family system in which marriages are arranged by the family there is no need for self-sustainment, independence and individual decision-making (Stopes-Roe 1991: 29).
Therefore, romantic courtship is actually not part of Indian culture. But attitudes are changing. In contrast to Bhatti, who finds that most girls are against relationships with boys38, Ghuman quotes studies which state that one in five British Indian girls secretly dates boys (Gillespie 1995: 39, 172, Bhatti 1999: 166-167, Ghuman 1999: 46). This was confirmed by the present study as well as by Peter Smith from the Brent Youth Service. Most boys and girls did not see any problem with having romantic relationships. However, girls tended to be less certain about this than boys. While none of the male respondents ticked “undecided” and 91% of the boys agreed to the idea of courtship, only a slight majority of girls (53%) agreed to having boyfriend. 31% were undecided and 15% found that it is not acceptable to have boyfriends. Here the greater pressures on girls show. The increased protectionism towards girls particularly concerns the matter of courtship. Girls are expected to maintain their virginity and the family’s honour as described above. One of the girls Gillespie
interviewed describes the double standards girls often face:
Amrita *…+ pointed out how these operate in brother-sister relationship, underlining how older brothers whose protective role is dictated by family norms, ‘would not let their sisters date a boy, but they would conveniently forget that they are also dating someone else’s sister.’39 (Gillespie 1995: 174) However, although girls demand changes towards gender equality, they keep a greater attachment to traditional values than boys. The differences in the answer patterns between boys and girls shows that still, in the third generation, girls continue to be more cautious in their relations with boys. On the one hand girls do not fully reject Indian traditions, but on the other hand they feel subjected to pressures from the community and the family. As a consequence of these conflicts girls often date boys secretly. Nevertheless, some parents have changed and adapted to western customs on the matter understanding their children’s
hardships. This is the case in Ranjitham’s family. She explains: