Think back to the ASMs of fall term which highlighted people of the past who endured oppression or people of the present making history. The idea of historical pain being carried through generations emphasizes the need for conscience minds and allyship. When we heard from ASM guests Dr. Bettina Love and Dr. Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, we were given examples of youth’s potential to help in this way of learning about and then changing our society.
Dr. Love supplied historical analysis on the effect of music on the Black community. The Black community traditionally uses music as a way to escape pain, to convey morals, and to call for action. A prime example is the evolution of blues from the emotional spiritual songs of enslaved or oppressed Black people. In “Hearing the Blues: An Essay in the Sociology of Music”, authors D.J Hatch and D.R Watson explain that improvisation as well as certain chord progressions played fundamental roles in historical country-blues (Hatch and Watson, 168). The blues genre along with hip hop, as Dr. Love explained, have roots in West African musical styles. Their use of improvisation, leading and chorus stanzas, drums, and proverbial lyrics demonstrates this connection. It is a style which a group of people propagated through multiple generations to help cope with outside struggle; but, sometimes a community alone can not fully heal itself from the intergenerational trauma inflicted upon it.
Dr. Megan Red Shirt-Shaw gave insight into how the government employed racism to neglect funding for Indian Health Services, to break treaties, to increase factory production in predominantly BIPOC communities, and to establish harmful residential schools for Native people. From the 1870s until the 1970s, young children were stolen from their families and forced to attend these boarding schools where most faced abuse, torture, cultural shaming, and unforgettable dehumanization. (NPR; Northern Indians Relief Council). People are still healing wounds from this intergenerational trauma. The persistence of these schools throughout a century calls for a stronger front of allies working to prevent another system like this. Allies, including myself, must utilize their privilege and hold one another accountable in order to effectively create positive change.
Outside and historical factors take a toll on the youth’s mental health. That is why, as the next generation, we must do our own work in perpetuating positive, inclusive ideals that will transcend our generation. Are we not tired of accumulating intergenerational trauma? Let’s build intergenerational trust. I think it is possible to accomplish this by accepting people for who they are, not how we expect them to be. We are able to shape our rules and regulations. We can listen to and learn from each other’s pasts to create a better future. We have to talk about the hardships of everyone in our community to understand each other. That means start talking about our different traits, keep talking about the fluidity of spectrums, and never stop talking about people’s humanity.
Works cited can be found in our Suggested Reading List
What I will discuss below is not, of course, representative of every Bahraini girl’s experience.
I come from a conservative and religious community, the Baharna, residing in the northern villages of Bahrain. My community makes up around 25% of the national population. My peers, our families and I all attend the same religious gatherings, celebrate the same holidays, and share a common heritage. We go to neighboring schools where most students and teachers are from the same 15 or so villages. Social ties exist between nearly everyone; if you don’t know someone, you probably know someone else who does. However, girls’ experiences vary widely from village to village and from home to home. Every set of parents chooses which traditions to uphold and which to forgo depending on societal pressure and personal beliefs. My discussion of the experiences of Bahrani girls below reflects the broad social conventions and stigmas around gender in my community and in the Persian Gulf region.
When I was five, I declared to my cousins that I was a boy. Not because I was uncomfortable with my assigned gender, but because I wanted to be treated like one. I preferred superheroes and cars over Barbies and dollhouses, and I wanted to be a part of “the boys.” I yearned for the freedom of being a boy. Starting from this young age, I have been aware of the gender structures existing in my culture. Stigma and control over the exact same things varies wildly depending on gender. Girls are considered more responsible and mature at a younger age, yet more restrictions are placed upon them. Conservatism alone cannot explain the double standards. This all points to one key idea: society and culture are simply much more comfortable and willing to control girls.
In the process of writing this article, I asked my friends about their own experiences. Every one of them shared my experience of wishing to have been born a boy. My friend Zahraa furiously hated boys from ages 9 to 14 because of the freedoms they were given. The time period is no coincidence. Age 9 usually marks the end of childhood equality and the start of gender distinction. Boys and girls are segregated. Girls start hearing “because you’re a girl” much more often in response to things they are forbidden to do. Boys are free to come home in the middle of the night after going out while girls—their sisters—usually have much stricter curfews if they’re even allowed to go out freely. My friend Mariam gained going out privileges at 18; her brother got them in the 5th grade. I must seek permission from my father when I want to hang out with my friends; my brother never gets in trouble when he doesn’t. Even in the rare instances when parents admit the illogical nature of this justification, they bow to the pressure of upholding societal norms. “What will people say?” has become a classic phrase used to dismiss all reason.
Mixed-sex environments are traditionally frowned upon for religious and traditional reasons. In environments where this rule is broken, a man’s presence is much more tolerated despite being viewed as having stronger sexual desires. Women in my community are told to leave space for men, to not make men or society uncomfortable by their presence. They should dress modestly, not attract attention nor be in the eye of the public. They should keep their voices low and avoid mostly male environments. This, coupled with the fact that public schools are sex-segregated while private schools are usually not, results in many stories similar to my friend Jasmine’s. Her parents pulled her out of private school, but they let her brother stay because he was a boy. She was supposed to be stronger and handle the transition to public school but now has fewer opportunities as a result. His education is simply better. Similarly, Zahraa’s father forbade her from pursuing her dream major because it is male-dominated. Jasmine’s parents discouraged her from majoring in computer science, and Mariam’s friends and relatives told her she shouldn’t go into electronics engineering for the same reason. Those fields are “not suitable for women.” A woman in a STEM field would immediately be thought incompetent by her male co-workers. Not to mention, it would be “inappropriate.”
High-pressure, male-dominated fields also leave less time for marriage and babies, a particular favorite for judgments and gossip. Of course, it is more than just gossip. It is a tool to control women and what they choose to do, to belittle their dreams, and pressure them into upholding the status quo. The moment a girl diverges from expectations or the timeline society has set, she and her family face backlash. Her choices and actions are used to measure her family’s piety and honor. “How could her family let her do that? Aren’t they religious?” But when a boy does the same, it’s seen as him simply lashing out on his own. This is a great motivation for parents to be stricter with girls and to uphold the traditions which are already more stringent for them.
All these norms are rooted in tradition, religion, and social convention. Sexist beliefs are systematically taught, enforced, and inherited from one generation to the next. Women themselves enforce them: mothers are as likely as fathers to restrict their daughters, if not more so. Speaking out and challenging these notions requires a lot of courage—which there is no shortage of in Bahraini women. Numerous activists have spoken out and made their voices heard. Many women have followed their lead, fearlessly sharing their experiences with sexual assault, gender-based violence and control, and demanding the law (both social and legal) be changed. Threads they made on Twitter have gone viral with fierce support and attacks. Favorite rebuttals include: “these are private matters and you shouldn’t publicly discuss them” and shaming victims for sharing their stories. Sheikhs (religious leaders) have taken to preaching about the dangers of “unconstrained equality” and the “hidden agenda” of feminism (wanting women to renounce Islam, rebel, and sleep around) to the masses. Almost every sheikh gave a sermon about gender roles and feminism in Muharram 2020 (a 10-day religious event for Shia Muslims with sermons every night). A stark uptake from years prior, it reflects the increasing relevance—and threat—of the topic.
Despite the wistful wishes of sheikhs and traditionalists, the march of progress continues. The norms around women’s modesty, education, and freedom have dramatically shifted in the last decade. Increasing numbers of young people are embracing feminism and rejecting outdated traditions that control women. There is every reason to think this trend will continue, and I long for a future where girls are as free as boys, tradition be damned.
From my time at Phillips Academy, I have learned to view the world from a new lens, one which enables me to understand others’ perspectives and to critically analyze the most mundane occurrences. As a result, when I returned home this spring because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I felt uncomfortable in the environment I had lived in for more than fifteen years. I noticed the existence of harmful gender roles in my conversations and relationships with my family and relatives.
My grandparents live in a small agricultural village in rural India in which traditional patriarchal culture is influential in propagating gender constructs. The men are expected to be the breadwinners through farm work, house construction, or even vehicle mechanical services. Their wives are seen as a supportive force who provide the food and keep the home comfortable for the husbands to relax and prepare for another day at work. I remember my grandmother telling me that she had only gone to school until third grade because her education would not get her anywhere and that she already had the skills needed to be a housewife. In the same village household, I have an older cousin who consistently commands his mother around and disrespects her. In traditional India, it has always been important to hold elders in high esteem, but at a very young age, male children imitate the demeaning manner in which husbands treat their wives.
I was afraid to establish discourse about this trend with my parents since my disapproval of the dynamic may have been noted as disrespect to our Hindu culture. In ancient India, a woman’s value was equated to her domestic skills like organizing the household or preparing meals. I worried that my parents would interpret my mentioning of the dehumanization of women in India as rude or inconsiderate of our Indian paternalistic family values. With some support and online resources provided by Dr. Vidal, I found the confidence to approach my parents about my thoughts. To my surprise, they were more than willing to have the conversation about gender constructs in Indian culture with me.
My parents explained that domestic life in rural India is, and has been for many centuries, very conservative. In such locations, it is considered proper for Indian women of color to possess both a submissive and modest character. My mother attested that she was constantly criticized by her relatives for immersing herself in medical studies and not learning more “practical” skills. On the other hand, my father is one of three children — he has an older sister and a younger brother. Although all of them had the same educational experience and degrees in similar enterprises, my father’s sister, when married, became a housewife who looked after her husband as opposed to pursuing her academic interests. The story my father told reminded me of a story I read about women working at factories in colonial India; young girls worked overtime in terrible industrial labor conditions and sent most of the money home to pay for a brother’s education.
I learned so much from just one short conversation by approaching the gender construct at the family level. The societal gender roles that are constructed by mass media and religion advise the beliefs and values of families, especially in rural areas without other sources of information. This passing of incorrect and harmful stereotyping continues for ages until people like you and me start to question them. I hope that someday I will have the strength to challenge these societal constructs in a way that educates the people of India, but even trying to convince family members that some of their most cherished beliefs may be stereotypes can be a very difficult task. The Andover community has been very supportive and encouraging in teaching me to critically analyze the world around me and to perceive the existence of such dangerous gender roles.