Gender Roles

Expectations of a working class, second generation Irish female

‘Intersectionality’ is an interesting concept, and one that I explored many times during my ten years as a sociology teacher. Taking part in Same But Different has provided me the opportunity to reflect about my own intersectionality…

Throughout the different stages of my life so far, aspects of my identity have been more important than others. Growing up in an Irish working class family in the 1980s, there were clear intersections between my social class identity and my gender identity.

I was encouraged to engage in gender role specific play, preparing me for the evitable future role as mother and care-giver. I remember actively resisting gendered behavioural expectations by behaving more ‘tomboy’ like and chasing the boys during games of ‘kiss chase’ rather than wait for them to chase me. I had ‘spirit’ which was perceived by others as a masculine quality, not a feminine one.

As a teenager I was encouraged to pursue gender and class specific career options and so I became a hairdresser, but I always knew I wanted more, I just didn’t know what the ‘more’ would look like.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the ‘more’ turned out to be a rejection of all the earlier gender and class expectations. I became the first person in my family to go to university and secure an undergraduate degree, and the first to obtain a Masters degree.

My profession as a sociology teacher and my current pursuit of completing a PhD have now become the key factors in my identity. I am mindful of the journey I have had, yet I’m optimistic that I will continue to shape my own identity, and will not be restricted by expectations of what a working class, second generation Irish, female identity should look like.

Tags: Social Class,Irish,Gender Roles

I am influenced by more than my gender

It’s a tradition in my culture that when a baby is born, Indian sweets are handed out to close family and friends: Pedas for the girls and Ladoos for the boys. When I was born, my mother followed tradition and sent my father’s parents Pedas. They refused to accept them because I was a girl. They wanted a grandson. I was disregarded by my family because of my gender from the moment I was born.

I am a British Pakistani woman, and that comes with its challenges. I am influenced by more than my gender - culture has played a huge part too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my culture - from our national dress, to the values which are ingrained in our upbringing, but my culture should never stop me being who I want to be.

I was the first grandchild from my father’s side to attend university. Whilst further education was never discouraged, my father was not too impressed with my decision to move far away from home – and yes, an hour from home was deemed too far for me to study. So many conversations started with “What is the need for you to go to London to study? Can you not find a university closer to home? Our girls don’t leave home like this.” It’s that last bit that infuriates me every time. It made me feel like I was rebelling, doing something that was taboo. To make it sound even more authoritative, it was said in Punjabi.

To this day, I do not understand why I was made to feel like I was deliberately hurting my father. Couldn’t he understand that my decision to gain some independence was not that unusual? Isn’t that a part of growing up?
I guess that’s the point; I’ve grown up in British culture too. Of course there was an element of parental concern, but this was a cultural and gender issue too. He grew up around his sisters who did not leave home unless they were getting married. He wasn’t familiar with any other journey for a young woman; that was his norm. Even his wife had to fight to go to college and was never offered the opportunity to go to university. She was married off and expecting me by the age of 25.

I’ve dealt with these pressures too. The day after my graduation, my aunt said to me, “Now that you have your degree, maybe you should think about marriage?” Yup. The day after my graduation. Because of course studying for three years was not for myself and my career, but to make me a more eligible wife. I quickly nipped that in the bud, “No, thank you. I’m fine and do not need anyone looking for a husband for me. I have my own plans and goals that don’t involve marriage.”

Since then, she has never mentioned marriage to me and I have refused to attend any weddings or other such community events in fear of being put in an awkward “Sana, have you met x or y’s son?” situation. Don’t laugh… it could happen.

Cultural obstacles can be put in our way so subtly that we may not even realise they're there. And if we do, we may choose to overlook them because we don't want to hurt the people we care about. But culture should never be an obstacle, it should be one of your biggest strengths. No woman should ever have to feel like she cannot do something because of her gender or because people think she is betraying her culture.

Tags: Culture,Gender Roles