What's so scary?
Halloween just went past. I heard through the family grapevine the other day that someone we know who grew up in India but moved overseas after she got married told her young daughter she couldn’t celebrate Halloween. “We’re Muslim and that’s not part of Islam,” this relative narrated to us with pride in her voice at how this mother had somehow “preserved” the essence of Muslim-ness even while living miles away from her home country.
I sighed in my head.
And I’ll sigh here for a few different reasons.
It’s classic immigrant behaviour to desperately hold on to cultural rituals in the fear that not doing so will dilute who you are and where you come from to the extent that future generations might entirely assimilate in an adopted home. I’m sure we all know real-life examples of this. I get the sentiment. I do. I don’t always agree with it but I know many families will defend the decision. And maybe, if I were a parent, I’d feel differently. I don’t know.
What I can’t shake off though is the sense that Halloween was denied to the daughter but if the son had asked, it might have been different. The little girl who asked to do Halloween has brothers too. I can’t help but think if one of the boys wanted to dress up as Spiderman or Batman and go door to door in their white suburban neighbourhood, their mother would have said something like, “Oh, kids will be kids,” and let them have an evening of candy collection with friends.
It’s the double standard that grates.
I obviously have no way of confirming this. But it’s a hunch I’m willing to bet I’m right about it. And it’s only one example of the many ways in which many South Asian families, whether living in India or another part of the world, perpetuate misogynistic patterns, generation after generation.
I don’t have a brother and my sister and I were raised with plenty of freedom and privilege. But every now and then, I wonder how our life would have been different if there had been a boy in the family. What would he have been allowed to do that we wouldn’t have? I’d like to think not much because my parents weren’t like other parents in our extended family. But I think about it because I’ve seen it happen in so many families that have boys and girls, in big ways and small. So many girls have been married young, at the cost of their education, their dreams and bear children quickly, because that’s what is expected of them. That’s what they’re supposed to do to keep the family’s honour in society. I wonder how they feel when so many of these girls watch their brothers go off to fancy foreign universities to study what they want, live how they want, marry who they want.
And it starts with the little things like telling a little girl she can’t celebrate Halloween or Christmas or Thanksgiving or even Diwali because she’s Muslim.
I don’t understand why a family’s “honour” is so intimately tied to its women when so much of the power and control in these families belong to its men?
Just like I don’t understand why a religious identity is so fragile as to be threatened by celebrating something like Halloween.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Halloween, especially the adult tones it tends to take as people grow older. But as a child, I think it’s a harmless bit of fun they eventually grow out of and I’m not sure I agree with the point a parent is trying to make by not letting them do it. I also think it’s hard for me to understand because for the brief period that my sister and I lived away from India while growing up, we were allowed to celebrate Halloween, complete with costumes and trick-o-treating. And I’d argue both of us turned out just fine.
I’m not a parent. But I imagine many parents fear that if they don’t lay down these rules early, their kids go wayward. And kids do need structure. They need rules, to learn the difference between right and wrong, to develop empathy, to understand accountability and have a conscience. Many parents argue it’s not their children but the terrible influences that will corrupt their kids and turn them into someone they’re not. And that’s true too. There is such a thing as peer pressure. But depriving children of things that aren’t rooted in a real reason or simply because the parent can’t be bothered to “parent” their child through the experience just seems like a cop-out.
No going out with friends.
Everything that a parent forbids instantly becomes more appealing. It’s the classic “forbidden fruit” syndrome. The question I really want to ask so many parents: Why don’t you have more faith in your parenting?
The mother who won’t allow Halloween is visibly Muslim. I wondered whether that’s what made the difference — would this mother have done differently if she didn’t wear a headscarf, if she wasn’t such an observant Muslim? But that argument doesn’t hold up because I saw other Muslim mothers who wear a hijab taking their kids out to celebrate Halloween. So denying your kids Halloween doesn’t seem like a Muslim/Islam thing.
In Women Wins this Week
Rent the Runway is an American e-commerce platform and rental subscription service for women’s designer wear. More than 12 years since it began, the company is now the first female-founded publicly-traded company that also has a woman in the positions of CEO, CFO and COO.
Always a champion for diverse stories, voices and entertainment, Mindy Kaling is adapting Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin for Amazon Studios. Sahar Jahani will write the script. All the details are here.
A big week for representation, this happened, and it matters,
Michelle Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States, at only 36 years old, has just been elected as Boston’s mayor, the first woman and person of colour to hold this office. Read her profile by Ellen Barry.
Nearly a million Muslims in NYC and Shahana Hanif becomes the first Muslim woman to be elected to New York City Council.
And here’s Taylor Swift looking cute dressed as a squirrel for Halloween.
Also on my mind this week
Do you know why women’s underwear often has tiny bows on them in the front? This is outrageous.
This stayed with me. It is incredible that for all the progress in women’s affairs, affordable childcare is still not a reality for so many — and how deeply this affects how so many women navigate a return to work, if at all, or a life outside of work, post-childbirth.
And for anyone who thinks the things men say to women online couldn’t get any worse, watch this video.
Diwali just went by aka one of my most favourite times of the year. I hope you usher in something new and bright into your home, your family, your heart, in keeping with the spirit of the season. I hope we all find a renewed appreciation and openness to what’s different from how we think, to see beauty in what’s not familiar to us as we approach the close of another weird year and to realise that there are many ways to be women’s allies. It doesn’t always have to be big grand gestures. Sometimes the greatest, most powerful, most necessary step is by treating daughters and sons equally.
Love. Light. Lightness.