“Women are not expiring milk."
After a Desi woman’s 21st birthday, the countdown begins. It is drilled into many Desi women that their life and freedom will end at 25.
A woman’s 20s is a phase in her life, an exciting journey, where she will have the opportunity to adventure with her friends, decide on a potential career, explore her sexuality.
This pressure stems from community expectations. A woman must have a job, be married, and have at least one toddler wreaking havoc by 25, or 24 if she is lucky.
Therefore, countless Desi women spend their twenties dreading the countdown to come, anticipating the army of aunties preaching their beliefs.
DESIblitz takes a look at the pressures and challenges faced by those Desi women who face the constant burden of not being good enough.
A Woman’s Career
From a time where Desi women were housewives and stayed at home to look after the family, to Desi women now seeking the ideal career. Things have certainly changed.
But expectations have also shifted with this change.
It can feel like a robotic cycle, that one’s life has been pre-planned. One must go to school, get good grades, go to university, and immediately get a 9-5 job.
Life goes at a rapid pace, and this can create a feeling of turmoil, an out-of-body experience.
Many know what field they would like to work in and what steps they must take to achieve that goal.
But how does one know what their dream career is? Since personality, mindset, and beliefs change over the years. It is called growth and development.
Some Desi women might not know what career inspires and excites them, which is not helped by parental and community pressure.
When many Desi students come back home after university, it is quick to become consumed by the thought of “what do I do now?”
Moreover, this is worsened by the hovering spirits of Desi parents repeatedly asking, “have you found a job yet.”
Likewise, the current pandemic and its disastrous economic impact have resulted in many losing their current jobs and halting the process of finding one.
The impact this can have on an individual’s self-esteem and mental health can be astronomical.
Therefore everyone should be supportive during these pressing times and not pass judgement.
For many, happiness stems from being satisfied with their life choices. Being at peace with who they are and their future to come.
Of course, this might be impossible for some. Since, what might make someone happy, might be judged by upset family members.
The path to happiness can be a strenuous journey for a Desi woman. As they will always have input from society.
Feelings of guilt and shame can emerge, considering most Desi parents love to compare their children with others.
Nonetheless, every single person is on a different path in life.
Similarly, it is easy for women to feel powerless and overwhelmed, but in fact, they have the power, and they have a choice.
It is important to remember, most people do not know what they’re doing at 25, let alone the ultimate meaning of life.
Desi women must be encouraged to chase new perspectives and opportunities. They should not feel the need to dwell on what society thinks.
At the age of 25, feeling pressurised to marry is one of the most common feelings that women have to endure.
For single Desi women, the discussion of marriage can be a draining, frustrating conversation.
With parents consistently and consecutively enquiring, “have you found a nice Punjabi Munda yet?”
It is laughable how drastically Desi parents attitudes change to dating and romance.
From demanding their daughters to never speak to boys in school, to now sending WhatsApp messages of newly single men from India who “comes from a good family.”
This nosey behaviour is always at its peak at family weddings. The flock of aunties circle the young women like bloodthirsty vultures, usually just before the roti is served.
The feared but the most anticipated phrase, “you’re next”, rolls off the tongue so easily.
History and culture decided that women must marry to continue their family’s legacy, and it is the principle that this can only happen in her ‘prime’.
For a woman, this custom can appear as a threat, removal of freedom and self-confidence.
The constant hounding from parents to settle down can come across as them desperate to shake the burden of responsibility, that is their daughter.
Furthermore, if a Desi woman were to admit she is not ready to get married or even wish to marry, she would be labelled as rebellious.
Moreover, because of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions, single Desi women currently living at home with their parents are on the front line of facing suffocating discussions about dating and marriage.
Being single is often depicted as a lonely, dreadful period in one’s life.
However, the countless benefits of single life most definitely outweigh the negatives.
For instance, there can be more focus on individual passions and more time to spend with friends and family.
There is also less drama, and of course, no arguments over whose boyfriends are liking whose pictures on Instagram.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment and is ultimately a lot of work, but with the right person, it can be bliss.
Therefore, rather than rushing women to find a less than adequate husband. They should celebrate not settling and congratulated for being patient in finding true love.
Much like marriage, Desi women have an innate understanding that they must have children, and ideally, before 25.
30 is also acceptable but will most definitely raise eyebrows.
For women who chose not to have children, society perceives them as sad creatures who will never understand the significance of bearing a child.
However, it is unfair and critical to put this pressure on a woman to procreate, suggesting that this is their only purpose.
If a woman is fulfilled with her life and does not want children, then why does society see this as a heinous crime?
A woman being vocal on her opinions and views on this topic will immediately invite a wave of questions.
Arguably, parents do have the best intentions, and they might not acknowledge that their judgments can be harsh and unfair.
It is now a different world, with developed customs and beliefs.
Tradition and culture are all that Desi parents knew for most of their life, and seeing their children be vocal and progressive can be intimidating.
DESIblitz recently sat down with father and daughter Baljit Singh, aged 61, and Munpreet Kaur, aged 25, to discuss community and parental expectations.
Baljit and Munpreet
Munpreet believes these expectations and obligations placed on women exist to restrain them.
“I don’t think life ends at 25. It’s a myth created by a patriarchal society. It’s a way to control women, in every aspect of life like their career, sexuality, etc.”
She explained that she understands how parents might have good intentions, but the pressure can be overbearing for young women.
“I understand how a parent might feel, but I still disagree. As we live in such a modernised society, where women are more vocal and opinionated. So I think they need to acknowledge this.
“They want you to have kids before a certain age, and they say it’s because they want you to have enough energy. But in fact, they do not want Desi women to appear to be promiscuous.”
However, Baljit believes it is important to preserve culture and tradition, “when parents migrated to the western world, they had to adjust to these new lives. But they still wanted to maintain a sense of tradition.”
In terms of love and marriage, Baljit said:
“I believe that the younger you get married and have kids, the stronger you are, the more energy you have.
“We want to guide our children the right way. 25 is a good age because they are no longer a child. They are more mature and know more about life.”
Munpreet believes the Desi community can be too controlling over women and their lifestyle choices.
“They think women are helpless. If she’s not married by 25, no one will look after her because her parents will be too old.
“Women are not expiring milk. Who are they to tell me what to do with my life?”
On the contrary, Baljit believes that it is unfair to call Desi parents overbearing, “I wouldn’t use the word pushy, I think it is more encouraging.
“We love our children, and because we have watched them grow up, we feel like we have to say things. Even if it is pushy, it is simply out of love.”
Young people often fall victim to community pressure, which creates feelings of anxiety and low mood.
There is an inherent perception that they must preserve the family’s reputation and status at all costs.
“Why do you not have a job yet?”
“You’ve gained a bit of weight, haven’t you?”
“You should pray you have a son.”
Fortunately, there are now organisations, like Taraki. They work with communities online and in-person on tackling the controversy around mental health.
Founder of Taraki, Shuranjeet Singh, said:
“We need to create spaces where people feel comfortable and feel like they can talk, and more people will come forward.
“That person needs to know they are not alone. There are people out there who will connect and understand you. Our generation is very good at searching online.
“So if you don’t see immediate support from family or friends, you can find this support externally.
“We need to invest this time into our mental health, as this will help us in the long term.”
Over the past three years, Taraki has challenged the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Mr Singh said:
“We do virtual events once every month because of the pandemic. We have different events for Punjabi men and women, and the Punjabi LGBTQ+ community. It was important for us to move these things online so people can access these services.”
Taraki believes seeking support should be seen as a sign of strength and not a weakness.
The End Goal
Young people regularly encounter this familiar strain, a suffocating pressure of societal and community expectations.
A cultural barrier can exist between parents and children. Therefore, an open, uncritical conversation between parents and children should be encouraged.
The overall cultural messaging about women approaching their thirties still holds negative connotations. This suggestion that exploring options beyond the age of 25 as radical is false.
Being twenty-anything is to be youthful. Desi women should use this time to decide what they like, what they want to do, and even who they want to do.
There should not be a checklist when it comes to life and societal milestones like marriage and kids.
Rushing to achieve all these goals by 25 is unrealistic because life most certainly does not end at 25, it only gets better.