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Expectations of immigrant women in the West

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Though Indian women in America are encouraged to enter male-dominated fields like engineering and medicine our path to success is still difficult. We are expected to maintain the household, cook traditional meals, and have a career. Our mothers warn us against fraternizing with boys, especially non-Indian males. Accusing Haley of affairs with other men must her family deeply and is the lowest possible blow to her reputation.

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  1. “We are expected to maintain the household, cook traditional meals, and have a career.”

    This isn’t much different from expectations for all American women. The difference with immigrant families seems to be the extended family’s willingness to intervene and tell the women outright what to do. Most of us a few generations into America are used to getting those messages more subtly.

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    • Good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I think the author means, by traditional meals, that much more is expected than cooking from American women. I’ve noticed that it’s ok if I tell American friends that I don’t cook often and I try to make Mr. B do it sometimes, but with Russian women, the woman is the home, etc. etc. and if they don’t cook, it takes away from their femininity.

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      • What I see is that the American woman is expected to PROVIDE dinner, whether or not she cooks it herself. It is a mark of Martha Stewartesque distinction to cook it herself, from scratch, etc. etc. and adds to her femininity, but even if she doesn’t do this, she is expected to plan the meals, get the supplies, and get it all to the table. I see this even in working moms who HATE cooking – might just be pasta from a box, but it’s THEIR responsibility.

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        • Aha I see what you mean. That makes sense, and I guess it is true as far as I know. Somehow, though, if calling for takeout, it’s always the guy’s responsibility. figures.

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  2. I feel that to some extent the same expectations are placed on Russian women. Majority of Russian women are expected to hold a job, as well as take care of a large bulk of the domestic tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and child rearing. At least that has been my experience within the Russian community. Both of my parents work, yet it is still my mother is the one to put dinner on the table ever night, and ensure my father has a lunch packed. I find that in many immigrant families women end up having to fulfill both, the traditional masculine and feminine roles, all while adhering to number of set cultural standards.
    I have this conversation with my mother nearly every time I go home to visit. Does gender equality truly exist within the Russian family structure?
    Sorry, I can ramble for HOURS about this topic.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Ana! I love, love, love other Russian perspectives.

      I completely agree with you. Both of my parents work and my mom actually makes more than my dad but it is still her responsibility to constantly, always cook and have dinner ready and, even when I protest this, she conditions me to be much in the same way. To an extent, I find that the women more than men perpetuate this stereotype-when the men do cook, they tell them they can’t cook or that they are feminine for cooking.

      Oh, please, please continue to ramble. I love talking about this subject and always discuss it with my mom. Would love to hear any other thoughts you might have.

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      • When I was younger, my mother worked longer hours than my father, who was the one who’d have dinner on the table when we got home from school. And when we moved to America, he wasn’t able to find a job for nearly two years, so he was the homemaker. I guess I never questioned this arrangement, despite seeing that my friends’ (and cousins’) families functioned differently. Max and I both cook and we tend to split chores fairly evenly. I hate vacuuming but don’t mind the laundry (and he hates the laundry), so we split those tasks, for example. I do occasionally have to remind him that a task needs to be done. In the summer, he practically doesn’t let me cook at all because we grill everything and he’s the grillmaster (he used to work the grill at a restaurant, so his food is super tasty).

        In general, I think it has to be worked out prior to marriage or moving in together. If a couple if truly committed to spliting evenly (regardless of who makes more), it should be part of an open and continuing discussion.

        Then, of course, there’s a question of time. At our house, whoever gets home earlier usually makes (or at least sets things up for) dinner. Since Max works from home several days a week, he might make dinner and then I’ll clean up (also an integral rule — if you make it, the other person is the one cleaning up).

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        • I think you have a very exceptional and very awesome family and you were very lucky to grow up as you did. :) I don’t remember any family that I know (including my own) where it was not the wife’s job to cook. Even recently, I was talking to my aunt about something and she was saying about how it’s the woman’s responsibility to put food on the table and I said, what about splitting responsibilities (like you do in your own household), what if the guy doesn’t work, etc, and she became very defensive and traditionalist about it.

          We’re still not at the point where we split cooking responsibilities and I doubt we will be because I am always overwhelmed with guilt when I don’t cook, but I am going to work on it day by day.

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      • OMG! Can we please, please talk about the values instilled in Russian women through folklore? http://www.barynya.com/tales/morozko.htm.
        Basically, Morozko rewards her for keeping her mouth shut and you know, probably getting hypothermia in the process. I mean, what, he would have just frozen her if she was like “You know, actually, I am a little chilly”? The old lady’s daughter gets vilified for essentially expressing her discomfort. For all we know, she could have been a decent gal who had the misfortune of having an incredibly overbearing mother.
        All joking aside, I find that that is a very prevalent theme in all of Russian folklore. It would seem that women who exhibit a subservient attitude always get rewarded, while those who do not end up, um, dead.
        I feel that those kinds of values have been ingrained in Russian women, at least those in our parents’ generation. It almost seems like the woman has to have the traditionally masculine characteristics when it comes to her work ethic (i.e. work. hard. all. the. time) but at the same time maintain a subservient attitude when it comes to the male figures in her life. It would also seem that things such as complaining or asserting one self are generally frowned upon.
        Traditional North American marriages are seen as a more of a partnership, where domestic tasks, though gender specific are not necessarily an indication of masculinity or femininity, if that makes any sense. So if a woman cannot cook or vacuum, she may be perceived as a bad housekeeper, but not as a “bad” woman or wife. In the Russian culture domestic tasks are tied in directly with what is perceived to be feminine. How many times have your parents been like, “ No ti zhe devotchka!” when your room got a little less than tidy? This is especially strange when you look at the work trends in the former Soviet, where women held factory jobs, worked alongside men in kalhozy and were able to advance up the career ladder despite their gender.
        Also, I sincerely hope that you don’t think I am weird for looking a little too deeply into fairytales.

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        • Nice! I’ve never even thought of it in those terms! Time to rewrite the fairytale from Marfushinka’s perspective. ;)

          I think it’s a general theme in Western fairy tales overall. The women who don’t complain are often rewarded.

          I would love to know what others think-does the fact that a woman can’t do certain household chores make her seem like less of a woman or wife in the eyes of North American or European society?

          I have to admit of having this kind of bias myself, even though I instinctively know that it’s bad (for example-what if the woman is a lawyer or doctor whose time is more valuable than money spent on a housekeeper or husband helping out?), and I think it stems exactly from the type of upbringing I’ve had that you talk about, where women are valued directly because they are able to keep the house clean, they’re able to cook, and generally create an atmosphere of “home”.

          On the other hand, I think the sometimes-feminist perspective of, “Well, we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to” is kind of wrong-headed as well.

          I’m very conflicted about this issue and constantly struggling to reconcile my beliefs. Such is being a third-culture kid :)

          I could talk about this topic for hours :)

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