As with all societies, how boys and girls are treated is subject to social norms, expectations and behaviours deemed suitable according to their gender.
Amongst desi’s these manifest themselves quite strikingly when seeing how little boys and girls are treated by their adults. Tantrums, keen on playing in dirt, playing with their food, being messy eaters are all common across the spectrum, but what is interesting is the KIND of banter desi people, usually Indian and Pakistani have with their wee ones.
Boys (and I am talking about toddlers) are often asked if they like a girl at nursery/school – and usually they might play with the opposite sex but kids are kids and there is no attraction of a sexual nature involved in this. However, this doesn’t deter some adults from making comment such as asking them if they want to marry “shaadi karo ghay?“, if they like this girl, do they want to bring this girl home and who they want to marry (to which the boy promptly may reply the girl he plays with only because he has gauged the reaction of the adults beforehand towards this play mate of his).If a boy prances about naked, it is a lighthearted affair – remarks of “shame shame!” said half-heartedly laced in humour.
Girls on the other hand, amongst desi’s, are rarely subjected to these kind of taunts – if she is seen running about naked in her house, she is severely rebuked and is considered incredibly shameful “bey-hayah, bey sharam larki“. No-one should see “it”. “It” doesnt have a name that isn’t considered insulting or derogatory, unlike boys bits which have names considered “cute”. Regarding the opposite sex, her boy play mate may be known but jokes about whether she wants to marry him, and if she likes him are never asked. Never is she asked if she wants to become a bride, for this is inherently tied to her “leaving her maternal home”. Often girls may be told their parental home isn’t their “real” home, they are temporary dwellers “do pal ki mehmaan“, and they infact aren’t really her parents for her inlaws are since her final abode is the home of their husband/inlaws. The girl is being “kept” in her parents home to be “handed over” post marriage. Much like the way courier services may hold a package until it time for shipment to be dutifully handed over in one piece, unsoiled and undamaged! It is considered inappropriate and somewhat shameful to “encourage” these kind of behaviours in a girl, but with a boy it is deemed amusing and a source of entertainment hearing him say he wants to marry his female play mate.
These initial differences become very apparent as boys and girls grow up. Academically boys and girls are often encouraged to do well due to the competitive nature between families and friends. Parents take pride in relating the grades their children have got in school. However if boys dont do as well as their girls alot of effort is put in an attempt to sort this. If by chance a girl doesnt do as well as the boys in a family, it may not be seen as a big issue – after all “she is going to get married and have kids, not as if she’s going to work, so education isnt going to be of much use to her”. Of course if academically she does do well, it is seen as an achievement and much celebrated as it, as also with their boys, make them much more appealing in the marriage market if anything else. Down side to having a girl/daughter who is too educated? If you educate your girls “too much” it may make them less appealing as she would be 1) Too old (even if she is only in her mid 20s) and so will only find suitors who are divorcees (with or without children), widowers or much older men, 2) too opinionated, and 3) focused on having/wanting a career rather than being a home maker.
Boys are often to be waited upon, cleaned up after and not burdened with house chores. Girls become mummy’s little helpers, engage in domestic affairs, take on large chunks of the household chores. Some go to the extreme of picking up their brothers’ dirty dishes after they’ve done with them and bring them water or whatever else they ask for since of course tending to their brothers is considered noble and a form of kidmat (service) for which they will be rewarded, but much more important than that is the practise they obtain for when they become married as it is predicted and secretly hoped they would pretty much be doing the same as a married woman. Girls regardless of how educated they may be, how successful their careers, good dress and lifestyle, well being and health are, are not considered to be “proper” women amongst the South Asian communities until they are able to run a home, which involved knowing how to cook and clean and be impeccable hosts, and churn out a few children. They are cultural retards if they cannot cook the cultural dishes adequately and are not swift in household chores.
At the end of the day, girls primary role and interest revolves around being good home makers, wives and mothers – and so are raised with view of maintaining certain behaviours, traits and skills necessary to ensure they can execute this role adequately. Everythingelse such as a good job, or other ambitions are secondary and not relevant.
In some ways, it seems like despite years or even decades of cultural reforms won’t completely remove how desi’s view their boys and girls – its too ingrained in their psyche