The NUS dream.
In the second bite for this week(Yes, if you haven’t realised, I try to write two posts weekly), I am going to start with my parents’ story. Sorry Mummy and Appa(Father in Tamil)!
My parents’ marriage was an arranged marriage but they did meet a couple of times and got to know each other before actually getting married. It is during one of such initial meetings that my mum told her future husband(my dad) that she wants just two children: a son and a daughter and how she wants both of them to go to NUS. She was having dreams for her kids even before she got married. Do you see where I got the whole over thinking about the future from? Haha! Neither my mum nor my dad had pursued tertiary education. By the way, my dad works in the Singapore Armed Forces. My mum, after the longest post-pregnancy break from work, now works part-time too. She only went to work when I was in polytechnic. She had to make sure we didn’t go astray. That’s probably why they saw the importance of a university education; they have seen the challenges that come with the absence of such paper qualifications.
Flash forward. My brother and I will be graduating from NUS about a year from now. That is if we pass. Haha! Just kidding! We will definitely do well. I am actually the first female in both my paternal and maternal family side to even make it to one of the local universities, let alone NUS or Accountancy. (I had went to a neighbourhood primary and secondary school before making it to SP and then NUS subsequently.) I am not saying this to sing praises of myself. The truth is the other ladies in my family are just as, if not more, intelligent, hard-working and talented as me. I feel there are so many other Indian girls not performing to their fullest potential. Just to be clear, there are many inspiring Indian undergraduate females at NUS. I just feel that there’s a lot more unexploited potential. I feel that they didn’t achieve academic success because of several reasons and I will explain it through my kutty(little in Tamil) stories. This is just my honest opinion.
You are pretty.
Well, this isn’t one specific incident. It’s actually in every other Tamil movie that I have watched, and every other Tamil song that I have heard. To win a girl’s heart, the hero doesn’t say that she’s intelligent, or that she’s a great personality. More often than not, he would start singing a song about her beauty. Great emphasis is placed on being pretty for Indian females. Increasingly, the standard to reach this “pretty” is just insane. Thread your full face and wax your legs and hands,making sure that you look like Kim Possible’s naked mole-rat! Rebond your hair! New fad’s in: perm your hair! Dye your hair! Pamper your nails with manicure and pedicure! If you’re on the darker side, you got to try all those fairness creams and all those secret tricks to becoming fair because you can’t be pretty if you’re not fair right?! Okay, I am being sarcastic here. By the time the girls are done satisfying the requirements to be pretty, they have no time to study or no space to think about studies. I am not saying that these are wrong. I just feel that it’s unfair to the girls. I remember seeing some girl in my secondary school doing almost all of the above except maybe dying because it wasn’t allowed. But while the girls are doing all these during their teenage years itself, what are the guys doing? They don’t even have to worry about being handsome because they don’t have these pressures to look good. In fact, the social expectation of them is to do well in life so that they don’t have trouble finding someone pretty to marry in the future. I know you might be thinking that I am talking as if I didn’t do any of these. Well, I did and that’s how I realised that it’s a waste of time. Now out of all of the above-mentioned activities, I only engage in the first: threading of my eyebrows and that too only if there’s some important event. That’s probably about five or six times in an entire year. I enjoy putting on make-up too but that’s because I love to see colour on my face. Actually doing these is fine but when you do it is very important. It is also important that studies still remains your priority.
If wasting time trying to meet the standards to be pretty is not bad enough, these girls usually end up getting into relationships because they’re pretty. I mean why would any guy want to give such a pretty girl amiss? These girls are young and naive and looking for external validation that they’re pretty. The boys are seeking that same validation too. Well, they get distracted from studies but all is still well. Then their parents find out about this relationship. Since getting into a relationship in teenage years is a sin, some Indian parents would put their kids through hell, taking away their phone and stripping away their freedom from them. Some would even decide that their daughter doesn’t need to go to school anymore. I am not sure if this still happens now. I did see such things happening when I was in secondary school. It probably still happens in some neighbourhood secondary schools. I understand the parents’ concerns because things could be much worse. The parents just have their children’s best interests in mind. Some of these relationships result in the girl becoming pregnant. It’s just quite sad sometimes.
How are you going to ever get married if you are successful?
Well, even if the girl wasn’t in a relationship or wasn’t too busy with all that activities to make her pretty, she still doesn’t excel in studies sometimes because of cultural norms. When I was studying in Yishun secondary school, I had this close friend who sat near me. He was a very nice guy. I generally felt that he respected girls. Of course, like every other guy in my class, he sometimes did silly things too. One day after seeing my results for that term in my report book, he asked me a question. “How are you going to ever get married if you are successful? Men find it intimidating to marry a lady who earns more than them.” Maybe he’s right! That’s what the statistics say too! Only 24.6% of brides with university qualification have married a groom with a lower qualification. 26 per cent women between the ages of 35 and 39 who have had university education were single.Even the ones with a lot of potential, sometimes tone themselves down just so that they can get married. After all, marriage is the sole purpose of life, isn’t it?
Men shall eat first.
If the above-mentioned points are not sufficient, there’s one more strong point, the view that Indian men are superior to Indian women which has been ingrained since young. The values were so widespread in almost every other activity. During family dinners, the men would eat before the women. My mum and my aunts would always be the last to eat after serving them. I mean if they wanted an extra serving, they should go and take it themselves. They don’t have to be standing there next to the table asking if the men want some more so that they can quickly go and serve him a second serving. They could have started eating too. As women, they will always be second to men. While men shall eat first, when it comes to cleaning the house or cooking, they go missing because it’s a girl’s thing. It’s okay if the son doesn’t clean the house or help in cooking. Studying should be his priority. What about the girls? The girls have to do it whatever the case. Afterall, she’s going to run her own house one day. These are just two examples of practices that I have seen that irritates me. If the mother herself thinks that her son’s education is more important than her daughter’s, where’s her daughter going to get the motivation to study from? I can see why some people are like that too. A son’s education delivers better yield in the long-term as it’s “wrong” to expect a married daughter to contribute to them. This view has to be changed first. A married daughter can contribute to her parents all she wants without being controlled by her in-laws. The situation at my home is not that bad because my mum doesn’t oppress me but I know some friends who have a clear disparity in treatment at home because of their gender.
It’s not easy to change these things. They are so deep-rooted. You can change one family at a time. I talk about these issues with my mum. She doesn’t agree with everything that I put forth. We do argue quite a bit. Nevertheless, I have been blessed in the sense that my parents try to treat my brother and myself equally. University education was not just something that they wanted for my brother but also for me. I feel that the differences in the kind of circumstances that the people who make it to university and the people who did not make it to university are put through is the reason for all that difference.
Despite all these that I have said, if you have even just one person rooting for you to do well in life, that’s enough to push you forward. I want to be that person for other girls. As a young girl, I did have some pretty good role models that I still look up to. But when I looked around to see successful Indian women who have made their mark in Singapore or the world, I was really clueless. Maybe there were some really successful ladies. Perhaps owing to the fact that they weren’t celebrated much even in the Indian media, I just didn’t know about them. Okay, I am not exactly successful yet. I haven’t accomplished much. But I want to be that role model for such girls especially from neighbourhood secondary schools. So this is for the girls in secondary school. You are in the important years of your life. Don’t waste your time! Focus! If you need someone to talk to about academics, career and life, you can always message me through my Facebook page (You can like and share the page too! Haha! 🙂 ) I don’t know if such young girls read my blog. Well, if you do know someone who could use such a pep talk, feel free to message me too. 🙂
Thank you for reading and stay curious! Haha! 🙂
P.S. Stay curious is my tagline sort of thing that I am going to say at the end of every post hereon. It’s supposed to be like Ellen’s “Be kind to one another”.