“Girls don’t need to play sports. You should be studying. Why do you swear so much? Can’t you be more ladylike? What’s your mother-in-law going to think? Why do you need to go to the gym? You want muscles like a guy? No… You’re staying home.”
Pretty much the narrative I grew up with. It was frustrating growing up with strict parents but they raised me the only way they knew how; the way their parents raised them. My brother had all the freedom in the world, whereas I would have to beg to simply go to a friend’s house. He could stay out late, but I needed to be home on time after school/work to make roti and get things done around the house.
It wasn’t until I began university that I started pushing their buttons and testing their boundaries. I did my bachelor’s degree in Psychology (not by choice) but I didn’t become a clinician or psychiatrist as my dad would have hoped. I worked a couple different jobs before becoming a Youthworker. My dad questioned why I left a good job at a health insurance provider for a job that gave me less pay. “Because it makes me happy, Pops.” Working in the mental health field and working with youth can be incredibly challenging, but it’s more fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done.
I’m not trying to sound ungrateful by any means. My parents have been supportive of me in many ways. They got me through school. My basic needs have always been met. My dad is one of the most generous, big-hearted people I know. But the one thing I always craved was being an equal to my brother. I think this is a common theme for a lot of Punjabi girls… being treated like they’re less or that they’re weaker.
I’m 26 years old. I work full-time as a Youth Worker, but photography is my second passion. I have a bunch of piercings and tattoos. While my brother can flaunt his half-sleeve tattoos around the house, I wear hoodies to cover up my art. I’m not ready to share that with my family just yet. I play recreational basketball in my spare time. These are things that my parents really struggle to accept – especially the whole photography gig. “Who spends 5 years in university then decides they want to pursue photography?” It’s my creative outlet. It’s how I share what’s beautiful and important to me. It allows me to show others how I see people and the world.
Womxn: you can be whatever the hell you want to be and you can do whatever you want to do. You are strong. Smart. Important. You matter. God put you here for a reason and you have a purpose. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If anything, use that as motivation to work harder towards your goals. My hope for future womxn leaders is that they break any barriers that are in their way and that they support and uplift each other. Be confident and believe in yourself… it goes a long way.