South Asian Standards: a double-edged sword


Image courtesy of Anjali Nair-NBC News

South Asian society and culture oftentimes clashes with American culture.

It was shocking. It was rare. It was a complex experience. There he was. 


The crowd goes wild. Everyone is cheering him on. Fireworks are sparkling through the night as if it was the Fourth of July. This is an experience that his mom would talk about for the rest of her life. Alas, it doesn’t stop there. 

He became “The Man” at age 15. All parents treated him like he was their own, all the girls swooned over him, and all the boys wanted to be him. Other than being bashed by Taylor Swift, he had it all. The whole community cheered him on. 

The mantra? His mistakes were not mistakes; they were remarkable achievements and goals that we should all look up to. 

And I hated that.

I was part of a small, complex brown community not too long ago. Growing up, it was an integrated friend group with a mixture of boys and girls ranging from 8 to 15. Every Saturday, we would play in Tom Bass Park. Our younger days featured never-ending bike rides (with training wheels) around a 3-mile trek that would only end when one of us fell. It was a simple lifestyle. 

Middle school was a wake-up call to a “new” life. A life revolved around “who was dating who” and “who befriended who.” Little to my belief, I found that one of my friends was dating. I was shocked. This would ruin him if this came out. My parents told me the dangers of dating at a young age and how that affects you and your prestige. It made sense, and I valued what they told me (as I usually do). After all, their dictum was stated in the South Asian Handbook as listed below:

Rule: You date, you die.

Simple and to the point, right? 

In a couple of days, the news was out. All I could hear was how so-and-so got a new girlfriend at such a young age. But who would snitch on a kid that outwardly disobeyed the overbearing rules of South Asian society? The rat was not an angry and jealous peer. It was his mom. Boys embraced breaking the rules. The mom flaunted it, and he kept his head high as he told people (by the way, he was in seventh grade). I guess the community wasn’t as strict as I thought it was. This was nice. 

But little did I know that this dating rules is not for South Asian society but primarily for South Asian girls. My friend started dating someone part of the Indian community, and she was shunned. 

A slut. 

It shocked me how they didn’t even try to disguise their double standard. It was so blatant that girls in our community stayed hidden. It was enraging. As more of these occurrences happened, the story remained the same: he was the player, and she was the whore. 

Thankfully, my family and I moved, and we lost touch with them. I still talk to a few of my friends there, and it’s shocking how this issue got progressively worse. While the girls have not come out of their shells, my best friend and a few of his friends are publicly dating. It feels like the older generation’s manipulation worked wonders on our self-esteem.

Not to mention how many times I’ve heard aunties talking about how scandalously dressed we are while their sons are taking half-naked pictures on Instagram. As I hinted before, it’s hypocrisy. Not because the boys were showing themselves, but because girls were unable to.

I spent so much time hating the guys in the brown society because of the slight advantages they had at the time. I ruined so many relationships because of my jealousy of them getting a closer look at a normal American life than I was and not being scrutinized. It took me years to realize that it wasn’t their fault; they were just taking advantage of standards established ages ago. It seemed like no one controls their life, while society’s expectations always made boundaries for women. 

After reconnecting with a few of my friends, I also realized that these standards don’t apply to just dating and clothing. After my friend came out as part of the LGBTQ+ Alliance, he was also shunned. It made me understand that some people want a “conventional lifestyle,” and they take whatever measures they can to get there. 

Although I am generalizing this to South Asians, this may not always be the case. This does not apply to all scenarios, but systems always favor some people. Whether in a small community or a vast academic setting, people are good at finding loopholes. Thankfully, my parents raised me to understand that we live in a world that places a social hierarchy, and the best way to beat it is to acknowledge it and keep going.