Friday, October 14, 2016

Good Girls Marry Doctors

Last night, I was able to attend the book launch in San Francisco for "Good Girls Marry Doctors: South Asian American Daughters on Obedience and Rebellion."
The book is an anthology of personal essays written by desi women - women who did *not* marry doctors, women who *don't* fit the "good girl" mold... women who, for all their rebellion against the cultural dictats of 'respect,' 'obedience,' and 'honour,' still find themselves aching for the loss of their families' love and acceptance... no matter how painful.
I will be perfectly honest - I initially expected that the event (and the book) would be fun, but relatively light, not particularly serious, perhaps just another extension of the growing trend amongst people of colour sharing anecdotes about their lives and poking fun at our collective idiosyncrasies.
As soon as editor Piyali Bhattacharya started speaking, however, I found myself frozen in my seat - every word echoed and resonated with me, an emotional connection both intense and utterly unexpected.
"Good Girls marry doctors, it's true, especially in the desi community. What, then, do Bad Girls do? Surely, I reasoned in that moment, Bad Girls write publicly about their parents and guardians... Bad Girls forget how deeply they have been loved, Bad Girls ignore what it took for them to get the educations they now have, Bad Girls... spin spiteful tales of woe about the very people who have devoted every ounce of emotional and physical energy they had towards the Bad Girls' well-beings...
We yearned for more. We had political opinions, sexual desires, professional passions, and a whole host of other cravings that didn't fit this mold. We tried as long as we could to incorporate these feelings into our Good Girl selves, but the more we let ideas into our lives, the less space there was inside that box.
And yet, the idea of rebelling was scary. We were brought up to believe that there was no bond more sacred than that between us and our parents, and that nothing could be more dishonorable than to bring the shame of disobedience on our families. After all, didn't our parents have our best interests at heart? Just as scary was what awaited us if we gave up the safety of the Good Girl mold. What other kinds of safety would we lose? How would we support ourselves? What kind of a life could we envision for ourselves in which the home we grew up in was no longer the stable anchor it used to be? Where would our area of refuge be? Without the approval of our parents, how would we pin down and draw out the maps of our bodies, our spirits?"
(Introduction, Good Girls Marry Doctors)
The words rang in my ears, reminding me of so much of the turmoil I have experienced over the last several years. I may have been the only "conservative" (i.e. niqaabi) Muslim desi woman in a room full of middle-class, educated, liberal, hipster millenials (and not-so-millenials)... but in that moment, I knew that I shared the same experiences with them - the same sense of having chosen one's own way, making life decisions that parents and family could not fathom, and continue to struggle with today. Those choices have simultaneously benefited us and caused us pain: coming into our own; breaking out of too-rigid boxes, of expectations that we could never meet and no longer want to, of blazing our own trails through landscapes our families wished us to avoid completely... and seeing the grief and anger and heartbreak and confusion and hurt in the faces of our parents, who see in our actions a rejection of all that they have ever done for us, all that they have ever wished for us, all that they believe so strongly is the Right Thing.
It is a cliche that these types of rebellions occur only in the framework of a conservative family and a liberal renegade child - to think that the conservative men and women, the religious men and women, are the ones who simply carry on the strict, narrow standards of 'back home,' of our parents' beliefs and demands and expectations.
Yet even those men who grow their beards and attend the masjid more often than their grandparents did, even those women who cover their heads and their faces as seriously as any aunty... even we have our own stories of rebellion and obedience, of pride and sorrow, of joy and disownment. We carry the weight of Prophetic injuctions towards parental obedience along with the unshakeable knowledge that we *cannot* stay married to this person, or go through with this career, or live in a way that destroys us from within. We carry within us the ever-present fear that the gates to Paradise beneath our mothers' feet will be closed to us, even as we plead with them and with Allah for forgiveness for actions that we do not truly regret.
For every desi woman, for every desi man, for everyone who has known that they can no longer be the Good Girl (or Boy) at the expense of their own lives... Good Girls Marry Doctors is a reminder that even as we experience our own unique grief, we are not alone.

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