Faryal Makdoom’s outburst on social media, a couple years ago, accusing her in-laws of bullying caused much furore amongst people and has seen a somewhat mixed reaction. The usual mutterings ofcourse that private family matters should stay private whilst others praise her for actions that very much go against Pakistani culture.
I can’t say it caused me to raise eyebrows and whilst I don’t particularly follow her, I applaud her for being brave enough to break the silence that surrounds this issue. For many women who married into traditional Pakistani families, to be treated like a second rate citizen is unfortunately part of the package. It is common to talk about abuse in the conventional form as it were, spousal, however an undercurrent of family abuse particularly when it comes to in laws exists within our culture.
It’s a bit cliché isn’t it, to talk about the ex in-laws, so I try to refrain from it. I feel it’s important however to address one particular aspect of my life with them, a concept which exists so widely and one which we seem to have accepted as being so normal. Living with the in-laws. I appreciate there are circumstances in any culture where we would move our family in with us if they were struggling to cope. This post however concerns the expected custom of extended family living.
It’s common practice within South Asian culture for women to be expected to live with their in-laws after marriage. Why we have allowed it to exist however is something I find difficult to wrap my head around. I know of no other culture where, when we hear of a girl getting married, we ask “will you be living with the family?”. It seems absurd as to why it continues to be so normal and more so why we continue to accept it as a normality.
I have for the most part viewed it as an issue of control. Families of the men shamelessly spouting that they want the girl to learn their ways. There is also a large reliance on the generation above to be taken care of by their sons, lacking an understanding of independent living and future planning – their sons essentially growing into their future pension plans.
My own fate with my in-laws was signed and sealed at my refusal to live in an extended family situation. The uproar from this was intense and I quickly learnt how disposable a woman was considered in our culture. I became Glasgow’s latest Pakistani Jezebel, ripping a son away from his family; held up as a reminder to other would be mother in-laws in the community as to why you shouldn’t marry your sons to “girls from here”.
The problem exists on a much bigger level than my own ofcourse, I don’t afterall have to go very far to find stories of inexcusable behaviours which arise from in-laws within South Asian culture:
- Constantly worn down by being told she’s not good enough
- Made to seek permission from in-laws as to whether she can work, how often she can see her own parents, when she can go out etc
- Told what she can and cannot wear
- Belittled infront of her own family with a list of “shortcomings” reeled off
- “Besti” (humiliated) by phoning her parents to complain about her behaviour
- Forced to hand over her wages
- Ostracised from the family upon deciding to move out
I’m sure you can and will give me plenty more examples. This is just a small sample of stories I have come across that I could churn out off the top of my head. It’s a cyclical pattern at times though, isn’t it? Most Asian mother in-laws were treated like nothing by their mother in-laws and so it goes on. It doesn’t excuse their actions though, it just somewhat explains it.
I hid many of my difficulties with my in-laws like the good Pakistani daughter in-law I was trying to be. Like many girls born into this culture, I was brought up not to air dirty laundry in public. However there are behaviours which require us, as women, to call them out and until we decide that we’re worth more than “being moulded”, nothing will change.
Maybe there was a better way Faryal could have spoken about it, maybe she shouldn’t have spoken at all. Whatever side you’re on, the stark reality is that we do have a problem and there aren’t many people willing to speak up about it. That in itself is the problem.