An Open Letter To The Aunty On The Train

Dear Auntyji,

I don’t know who you are and I don’t know who you were talking to on the phone. I don’t even know who you were talking about. Let’s call her Maya, for argument’s sake. There were a great many things you said during your conversation that concerned me deeply. One, being your opinion that Maya was a ‘good girl’ for living with her in-laws. From that moment on your conversation had my attention, for all the wrong reasons.

Disclaimer: I’m not writing this letter in spite, I’m writing it to encourage positive change and a new thought process. I want you and every other aunty to realise that the women in our community are more than just ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’.

Time and time again I hear people in the South Asian community condemn women for wanting to start a life with their husbands in their own home, - something so simple and so reasonable, yet it becomes the judging factor of their entire character. Devoid of any compassion, our community continues to permeate this topic with negativity.

If a man and a woman choose to live alone after they get married ‘the woman must be controlling him’ because ‘she’s clearly taking him away from his family’, right? No. Did you consider the fact that it was a decision made by two grown adults who have decided to spend the rest of their lives together? Why do their choices wrongly translate to ‘a lack of respect’?

To live a certain way for almost 20 to 30 years of your life and to then move in with a new family to: adapt, change, compromise and learn a new routine, is not easy for anyone. A man or woman would need to think about it deeply before committing, not because they are ‘bad’ but because they are human and any change to this degree requires logical thought.

Living with your husband and his family or with your husband alone is a choice and neither is a defining factor of one’s personality.

This choice should never determine whether you are good or bad. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t a good person someone who is: compassionate, empathetic, kind and loving? Since when did ‘not living with your in-laws’ make you a bad person? This notion genuinely confuses me.

Maybe Maya wants to come home and walk around in just her t-shirt, maybe she doesn’t want to answer to 4 other people every time she makes plans, or maybe she doesn’t want to pay the mortgage and bills for a house she hasn’t lived in for the past 30 years. You wouldn’t know though, because what Maya thinks doesn’t matter, she’s a ‘good girl’. Perhaps even a sad ‘good girl’. The ‘good’ is all that counts, right?

Or maybe Maya loves coming home after a long day at work to a full house bursting with laughter and warmth, maybe she wants to be surrounded by her loving in-laws and maybe she thrives off having company all the time. Perhaps she’s a really happy ‘good girl’ but who cares if she’s happy?

South Asian women deserve a lot more credit. The term ‘good girl’ is patronising and slightly demeaning when used in this context. Look around you and reevaluate the credit you give these women, because the brown women that I know are passionate, courageous, gentle and wild. They have beautiful hearts and souls that run free; amongst them are introverts and extroverts. Some fight for each other and others fight against each other. Don’t become the latter by labelling her a ‘good girl’.

Recognise that: strength, patience and love are all things required to move into someone’s home, to spend the rest of your married life there, it takes more than just being a ‘good girl’.

Sadly this is just one of the things you said during your conversation. You went on to talk about another girl who I quote you said was ‘pretty but … big’!

I’ll save that conversation for another letter though. The worrying thing is that you’re not alone auntyji, because thousands if not millions of people in our community say such demeaning things about the women they raise.

It may not seem like a big deal to you. ‘So what if I called her a good girl, what’s wrong with that’? I hear you asking.

Ok fine, but for a minute let’s not even worry about what’s so wrong about it, let’s try and see the positive in judging someone’s character based on their choice of who they live with after getting married. All I see happening is the normalisation of the pretence that any ‘wrong’ move (according to society) our women take, will be held against them forever.

A husband and wife’s relationship is not for everyone to judge, discriminate or talk about. They become each other’s family and develop a relationship closer than any other relationship they hold. Don’t let their decision of where they live after they get married be of any concern to you, and most importantly please debunk the myth that their decision makes them  a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ human.

We need more inter-generational dialogue surrounding this topic, so instead of passing judgement, ask them questions. The benefits to be reaped from positive communication are endless.

The fact of the matter is that this topic alone is endless and the sub-topics leading off it are too. Sadly this is only one out of a million things that the women in our community are wrongly judged for. And communication is one of the main things that can curb the perpetuation of falsehoods. The prevailing scrutiny of our women is seemingly the norm, and that too without any care for the negative affect it could have on them.

My aim is to make you see the other side, to help you understand that if we don’t support, praise and commend our women for the right reasons, then no one will.