revisiting thoughts on culture, independence, and the f- word.

this BS story you're telling

Two years ago I confided to a close friend that another reason I wasn’t ready to return home was because I wasn’t ready to return to the inevitable cultural, religious and societal fold that defines, or so they believe, my value and definition as a woman. “No matter how far I wander and how high I leap, these matter very little. At the end of the day, what matters more is always, always, whether I am a wife, mother – married, a man by my side.”

A year ago, I spent summer at home experiencing exactly this, as yet another relative clucked their tongue when I told them I’m off to graduate school for a second degree. With concerned expressions, they’d ask, “But when are you going to settle down and get married?” or “Do you at least already have a boyfriend?” At that time I was still entertaining the notion of a PhD, and they worried not over my potential thesis topics, rather whether the added years would effectively lower the price tag I never even knew I had on me. Forget too, the challenges I won over in securing funding to transform this from a mere pipe dream, which I’d just relayed to them not seconds ago.

A few days shy to the end of summer break, I confided to my mentor the frustration and anger I felt towards a system that is futile to wage a war against. “It’s like a box,” I said, “This box that insists I fit and mold myself within its four walls. Regardless how badly I want to fight against it or attempt to prove a point, I keep being reminded that even the strongest women in my life caved in.” My whole body shook; I was angry, really angry. Unfazed, she responded simply with, “Get out of that box!” Five words – I carry them with me now and always, because they remind me that I have a choice.

This summer I’ve tasked myself to attempt to experiment different insights and viewpoints. Could it be that I’m looking at this all wrong; skewed angles? Two days ago it occurred to me that maybe I had it all wrong when I urged strong women not to settle for less than what they deserve. I’d shared this on my personal Facebook, in response to the following words by author Anaïs Nin:

I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.

It occurred to me that maybe it’s not the women I should have called out to, rather the men. In my dominantly patriarchal society where the views and depths of men are undeniably weighed more heavily and still significantly influence the perspectives that the women have, maybe it’s the men, not the women, I should’ve given more thoughts about. Maybe it’s to them that I ought to implore and ask that they man up and re-define the measures of a man, so that strong men become the new norm, the rule, and no longer the exception.

I look forward to the day when an Asian society like mine, hopefully mine, will at last look at its strong women and not label them tigresses, iron ladies and the like, rather women – all women, just that. Exactly that.


5 thoughts on “revisiting thoughts on culture, independence, and the f- word.

  1. J, I know exactly what you mean. I did exactly what culture expected, Getting married having kids. It does not mean that I don’t think about ‘what if’. I’m happy & contented but could I have been happier?

    So instead of asking the men or women, ask yourself – What do I want? Do I really want to get out of this box? Can I? Should I? Like I always tell my kids – it’s your life! Be responsible for it & make decisions you’ll be happy & proud of. I believe your mum may also tell you the same (reading from how you’ve described her before?)

    Be brave! Fighting!

    Selamat Hari Raya!!

    1. Thanks sooo much Teri, I woke up to this comment of yours and it is such a mental (insightful) kicker. “So instead of asking the men or women, ask yourself – What do I want? Do I really want to get out of this box? Can I? Should I?” Funny I never thought to ask myself this – has the answer always been clear to me that I’ll heed whatever feels best anyway? Or have I just been so busy taking note of what others are up to, forgetting I’ve to think about myself now? Aha. Lots to reflect on, thank you for this!

      About Mum, she kinda does, but she’s also a bit of a paradox. Strong woman she is definitely, and of course understandably nothing is without sacrifice but I do feel that she eventually did cave in somewhat. I remember two years ago when she looked at me and said – we were buying fish and chips in a store at San Fran, totally random – “You’ve got to learn to tone it down. Men don’t like it when you’re too outspoken and higher than them.” I looked at her in disbelief; this coming from the woman who defined all the characteristics and beliefs I grow up becoming and believing respectively – she tells me to “tone it down”?! … But rest assured 99% of the time she is awesome haha. I’m reflecting on all fronts, but I’m so thankful you shared your own personal take. I do have a quick Q: do you think of the what if? Do you feel that you could’ve gone further, higher, had you decide differently? Or is it that at the end of the day(lifetime), what matters most, truly, is coming home to a house full of kids and a spouse?

      I am in this big dilemma dip of finding it incredibly hard to settle… the word itself scares the crap out of me.

      1. J, I’m the most average person you can find. Back when I was your age, thoughts which you’re going through was never questioned by the young ‘me’. I’m very comfortable being in the box. I wanted to get married & I wanted kids. I’ve never questioned if there was a world which was ‘out of the box’. It could be home influence as well. My mum is the superwoman housewife but there was little discussion/teaching about girls being independent and all. Mum’s life is an even smaller box.

        But as years passed, the older and more experience gained, I finally woke up to thoughts which you’re going through now (you’re so mature for your age *thumbs up*). That’s why I now tell my kids differently. I tell them that they’re free to make their own choices. All I can do is to prepare them to face the future but the fight is theirs. As long as they’re happy, it’s fine with us. Box or not, it’s their decision to make. They’re probably too young to understand now LOL!

        Back to your Q, if I had your thoughts back when crossroads are aplenty, I may have taken another route to achieve a lot more just for myself! A more selfish but hopefully fulfilling decision. But to juggle that & a family? I really don’t know. I’m in awe of women who are able to juggle both. Your mum seems to have achieved both and can be your best teacher. But then again, you’re so young. Why do you put yourself through such difficult thoughts? My advice is to go with the flow. You’ve watched many dramas and can see that you can’t stop love when it comes. When love comes, most of the time unexpectedly, you’ll not remember that darn box, but happily living in it subconsciously!

        ps. Mum’s right about men. They’re naturally egotistical. Seems from her comment she’s thinking from inside the box!! Lol! All mums want the best for their children and for most mums, the box = a happy future with hub/wife & kids.

        1. Thanks Teri, for everything said in this and especially this comment itself – leaves me with plenty to think about and reflect upon :) (Psst I find it interesting, how you define the box)

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