By Sabrina Almeida
Mississauga, October 16 (CINEWS): On two occasions I encountered screaming women (of Indian origin) outside Costco and it startled me. It’s not often that you hear raised voices in Canada. One was miffed about a passerby telling her son not to traumatize some birds and the other was hustling someone out of her way. Had I been in India perhaps this scene would not have made an impression on me. Yelling and honking are the only way to get attention there.
This happens for two reasons. For one, you’ve got to make yourself heard above all the general noise and chaos, and secondly you must establish a formidable presence to show that you are tough.
Traditionally Indian women are expected to be docile and subservient. Breaking away from the mould or even surviving in the male-dominated society generally requires you to imbibe and display some masculine characteristics. Without the brawn to match, women can only resort to loud voices to assert or defend themselves.
It starts right in the morning with the maids and vendors, then extends to school-going offspring, transit operators, male tormentors on the city streets and perhaps an altercation with colleagues at work. It’s a constant battle that only the aggressive can hope to win. Nobody is surprised or offended about the yelling. It’s a challenge for the participants and entertainment for the audience.
Women typically adopt the aggressive or docile nature based on their circumstances. Those that are constantly chaperoned by their male family members and friends tend to be more passive. They have someone else to battle for them. Others might have been forced into submissiveness by aggressive and dominating male relatives and don’t respond differently outside for the fear of being silenced.
Those that are aggressive and loud are also victims of their environment which typically involves fending of unwelcome advances, male bullying and gender discrimination at every stage of life. Women bosses are quite possibly the loudest and meanest but not without probable cause. They’ve probably had to jump through double the hoops than their male counterparts to get there and must fight hard to stay. Any feminine behaviour will be seen as chinks in the armour to be exploited.
Coming to Canada may soften the edges but only slightly or while we are here. Once on Indian soil we tend to slip back into the defensive or submissive mode. There is just no other way. To be polite and friendly in India is often seen as an open invitation to being conned and getting ripped off. So whether it is the taxi driver, the fishmonger or the tour operator the shouting and aggressiveness continues till it gets to a point where we don’t recognize ourselves.
Indians are neither rude nor loud by nature or choice but by circumstance. This includes the shopkeepers who don’t think twice about dictating the terms to their clients. They don’t want to be take advantage of. The customer is right policy is rarely good for business.
We must fight to be heard. Perhaps that is why we are seen as loud and brash around the world. Even some North American and British women admitted how a trip or work assignment to India had raised their aggressiveness.
Anywhere outside India however our aggressiveness or docility stands out, as most women find it hard to maintain an acceptable balance. They don’t know how. Unfamiliar territory and the need to prove themselves probably puts them back into battle mode. You might even find yourself exhibiting different behaviour towards fellow Indians and Caucasians.
If you think you’re past all this, just watch yourself and fellow shoppers revert back to the old mode the next time you walk into an Indian store. Whether it is picking out vegetables from under some customer’s arm, glaring at someone who is in your way or expressing your dissatisfaction loudly… It’s almost like having an alter ego!