Being a Son to Transnational Parents: Self-reflection of Gender Concepts in Life
Gender is something that society assigns its members according to their sexes. It confirms our sex from outer appearance and in some cases sexuality. At the same time, gender generates lots of different concepts that we do not always know even if those concepts are parts of our lives. To some extent our lives comprise of those concepts. In this paper, I would address some of those concepts; concepts like transnational marriage migration that united my parents, sex, which was assumed wrong and brought me in this world, doing gender which is the way I confirm my sexuality through my performance and appearance, gender transgression that I undertake each and every day, life chances that made me who I am today, and finally, materiality that I might have to face in future. After taking “Gender in Asia” course, I got to discover the concepts in my life; not only that they exist, but also the importance of those concepts in shaping my life.
Transnational marriage migration
When marriage happens between two persons from two different countries, it is called transnational marriage, which leads to transnational marriage migration as one migrates to his or her spouse’s country. Transnational marriage indicates a network between two countries and space created by the persons who goes through transnational marriage. It also highlights the economic transaction, exchange of political and cultural practices and how the exchanges influence local development, social practices and cultural norms in both of the sending and receiving societies (Lu 2007). In Indian subcontinent, parents prefer to marry off their daughters to grooms belonging to their own countries, who are settled in abroad. Parents think their daughter would have a better and comfortable life in abroad when they migrate to those countries with their husbands. This does not happen all the time because a lot of time migrated wives there face domestic violence and humiliation. Often men are also seen marrying women who are citizens of foreign countries. The purpose behind this is getting a citizenship and opportunity to work in those countries. Therefore, behind every transnational marriage migration, there are always different purposes related to development. My mother was an Indian and belonged to the Hindu religion. After marrying my father, she became a Muslim and migrated to Bangladesh after 4-5 years of marriage. Behind this transnational and inter-religion marriage, there was no expectation of getting a better life because before getting married, my mother had no idea what the status of my father’s family was back in Bangladesh. She married only because she loved him. When they were getting married, the wedding was neither attended nor opposed by my maternal grandparents. Now they speak very highly of my parents and feel proud that their son-in-law is a broad-minded person who treats their daughter very well and also their daughter is having a very good life in a mega city like Dhaka. Even if having a better life was not the purpose behind the transnational marriage migration, my mother ended up having one by chance. If my mother had not married my father, she would have been living in a small town of West Bengal with a conservative joined family with full of household chores because this is the way families are in the society my mother used to belong to. The marriage took place in 1980 when inter-religion marriage was considered highly scandalous. In this situation, my parents went beyond the social and political boundary by marrying each other. Their liberal thoughts somehow influenced me too as I also tend to think in a progressive way which goes beyond the social construction.
Sex is a theory about human beings which divides them into two biologically based categories—male or female (Cranny-Francis et al 2003:7). Sex is something we see and determine whether a person is a male or a female because our sex makes us appear in a certain way. People often debate which one comes first—gender or sex. In my life, sex came first, even before my birth. I exist in this world for a wrong assumption of my sex before my birth. When my mother was pregnant with me, she wanted to abort. Along with all the household chores, she was doing a job then and had a nine-year-old daughter to take care of. After knowing her decision, women from the neighborhood suggested not to do an abortion. They tempted her that she would have a boy child for sure. Even if she is woman of progressive thoughts, she sensed that it would be good to have a son as she already have a daughter. With the hope of having a son, she kept me. Back then, different medical technology was not so accessible to figure out the sex of the unborn child; therefore, she did not go through the process. She had even made up her mind that she would make her son a football player. I am almost sure that if she knew that it is me in her womb, she would never have planned to make me a football player. After the delivery, when she heard the news of having me, she cried out of disappointment. Even if she cried then, later on she never regretted for having no son. In social gatherings when women pity on her for not having any son, she emphasizes on how happy she is to have two daughters. That’s how, even if I exist because of a wrong assumption regarding my sex, later on my parents realized they were actually having a wrong assumption regarding the whole idea of sex in general. However, later on I felt proud of my parents, especially my mother for she could decide her own motherhood. After reading the effects of unwanted pregnancy on women in the article “Bishop in Our Bedroom” by Carlos O. Tulali, I became aware of the fact that how important it is for women being able to decide on their motherhood. My mother had the sole freedom to choose whether to give birth to a child or not; even if she was influenced by other women.
Gender performance means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, difference that are not natural, essential, or biological. Sometimes the physical appearance in social settings provides one obvious resource for the expression of our essential difference (West and Zimmerman 1987:137); for example, different public washrooms for men and women. However, doing gender is not something fixed; it differs from person to person. Even if my mother was expecting a son, biologically which I am not, my parents always considered me as their son. That does not mean they made me feel like a boy. My parents brought me up in a neutral way. Therefore, I never played with dolls; my father used to buy me toy cars and books. Along with few frocks and skirts, my wardrobe was full of shirts and pants. In my childhood, I always used to see my female friends longing for long hair, whereas, my hair was always kept short. My mother herself used to cut my hair and I was happy with the short hairstyle. As I grew up and started to socialize, I had to give up wearing shirts and pants because a girl of my age should not wear those. I kept my hair a bit longer so that it looks good. I received these ideas of womanhood from the society, but my parents never asked me to behave in a certain way or do certain things; the way a girl normally behaves and the things a girl normally does. My mother never taught me how to cook or even inspired me to do that. But again, when we go to a social gathering, my parents want me to dress properly. When we have guests in our home, I help my mother in offering food to them. In this way, doing gender is not fixed and in my life there is a blend of gender performances done by the majority of my sex and my opposite sex.
Gender transgression happens when we go beyond the boundary which we are supposed stay within in terms of our gender. Often it is the situation that makes us transgress and sometimes we do it according to our wish. For example, the Sri Lankan male domestic helps in Italy were doing all the house hold chores and nursing the elderly people, which are actually done by women. Here they were transgressing for the sake of earning money (Nare 2010). Once my mother was hospitalized and I had to stay with her in the hospital to take care of her. This is something women do, but at the same time, I also had to go out late at night to bring medicines for my mother. If that time I had some male figure around me, he would have brought me those medicines and I might not have to go out. Therefore, the situation made me transgress. On the other hand, not a lot of women leave their family and stay in a different city for any purpose, but I did it because of my own choice. This transgression was done according to my wish. Similarly, my father always helps my mother in making breakfast. This is something men in my society are not supposed to do, but he does it according to his own wish. Thus transgression of gender is something that I myself practice in my daily life and also witness in my family.
Finally I would like to conclude with another concept that I might have to face in future. Materiality is something that appears in a certain way from outside, but inside it gives a totally different view. According to Judith Butler, materiality occurs when a representation persists as the real, where the real is always that which any account of “reality” fails to include (MacKenzie 2008). Throughout the paper, my parents seem to be very progressive. They have given all kind of freedom to me which is not always given to a lot of girls in my society. After being done with college degree, they want me to go to a graduate school, and then a good job later on. Still, deep inside they are so much sticking with the tradition and the society because after getting a job they still want me to get married which they consider as a compulsory. Marrying off the daughters is something that will give them approval in the society. Being brought in a sex-neutral way and influenced by their progressive thoughts, it is really hard for me to digest their unnecessary obedience to the social construction which does not see parents keeping their daughters unmarried in a good way. I still hope that by the time I complete my graduate school and get into a job, my parents will understand that it is my life and it is totally my choice to marry or not to marry; society has nothing to do with my decision.
Cranny-Francis, A. Kirby, J. Stavropolous, P. Waring, W. (2003) Gender Studies: Terms and Debates, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, Chap 1 “Ways of talking”, pp. 1-41.
Lu, M. (2007) “Transnational Marriage in Asia”, IIAS Newsletter no. 45, 3, Leiden, International Institution for Asian Studies, IIAS, http://www.iias.nl/
MacKenzie, Julie. "Judith Butler, Gender, Radical Democracy: What’s Lacking?" Democracy Under Fire: The Uses and Abuses of Democracy in the Public Sphere 16 (2008): n. pag. Web. 7 Apr. 2013. .
Näre, L. (2010) “Sri Lankan Men Working as Cleaners and Carers: Negotiating Masculinity in Naples” Men and Masculinities, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 65-86
West, C. and Zimmerman, D. (1987) “Doing Gender”, Gender & Society, Vol.1, pp, 125-51.