I endured infinite glares, lectures, and snubs from the community, after I moved into my own apartment a few years ago. But from distant acquaintances in the community, that I don’t even talk to regularly. An auntie who I hadn’t seen since her daughter’s 9th grade party, glared at me in Target. Auntie, you don’t know me.
Sure, there are times when questionable actions call for discussions: like joining a gang or drinking alcohol. But, it should involve someone you know and trust, like an actual blood relative, or an older family friend you grew up with that gently and privately advises you, not publicly shames you.
Don’t get me wrong, I value community and elders, contrary to what people might think. The problem is when community members bypass their role as a supporter during hard times, and instead become judges. Giving strangers familial roles (calling them auntie, uncle, cousin, etc) allows them to further assume intimate roles typically reserved for actual blood relatives: inputting their opinion on all of your life choices. This structure may be beneficial in village communities, you don’t have your own family and need extra support but in developed, Western societies, it’s showing itself to be an extra burden.
Sure, there are times when questionable actions call for discussions: like joining a gang or drinking alcohol. But, it should involve someone you know and trust, like an actual blood relative, or an older family friend you grew up with that gently and privately advises you, not publicly shames you. tweet
Now, back at home in my 30’s, I feel like a kid. But are my colleagues that much more advanced than me? One colleague regularly lamented that her albeit sweet mother- in- law sent her and her husband meals weekly, without being asked. She even planned their weekend activities. My colleague would suggest an event to her husband and he would say, we already have plans that night. She would say, “Those are your parents’ plans, not ours!” But they were a unit.
South Asian aunties will pull the ‘respect your elders’ card when their bullying-bordering on ancestor worship- is challenged. However, according to Islamic history and law, younger people deserve respect too, and can refuse abusive demands.
The Prophet pbuh set the example for us, saying, “Treat children fairly, treat children fairly…” (Nasai). Also, he established the value of females by rewarding those who treat them well: “Whoever has three daughters, or three sisters…and he keeps good company with them… then Paradise is for him.…” (Tirmidhi)
Don’t worry, the aunties took me off their blacklist. (How they decided, I don’t know. At their yearly Chai Convention?) I learned I was accepted again through one of their forms of communications: rishta, or marriage suggestions. Aunties will communicate that they like you, or want to make up with you, by suggesting a single guy for marriage to you. That is their way of breaking the ice. It’s pretty funny, and slightly flattering, but can be a bit manipulative. I don’t think we need to involve an innocent guy’s future in our reconciliation; a simple Hi how are you nice to see you again works well too.
South Asian aunties will pull the ‘respect your elders’ card when their bullying-bordering on ancestor worship- is challenged. However, according to Islamic history and law, younger people deserve respect too, and can refuse abusive demands. tweet
However, the matchmaking form of communication works better for me than their most common form: gossip. Gossip is not a normal form of communication, although it’s widely used. Women may enjoy doing it for a few reasons, such as it brings them closer together, or makes them feel important, but I think the underlying reason women do it is they are passive-aggressive. When they have a problem, rather that addressing it head-on, they vent in a roundabout way by gossiping. When a woman is angry with another woman (usually boiling down to jealousy) she will badmouth her to the entire girl group- who are expected to conspiratorially denounce said woman- rather than discuss the problem directly with the involved individual. What follows, taking sides, bullying, and is totally un-Islamic, and boils down to fitnah. What happened to hearing both sides of the story (especially when both sides are supposed to be your friends), and trying to mend friendships, instead of encourage disagreements? Gossiping is an easy way out, the gossiper lays the damage and if confronted, denies denies denies. Meanwhile, they get to play ‘good cop,’ happy and innocent in front of their frenemy, while they friends are left with the burden to act as bad cop. I’ve personally dealt with this numerous times when I assertively handled a disagreement. South Asian women are so used to the passive aggressive communication in the community that they are nervous when you compliment them as ‘assertive.’
Recently, I’ve realized why South Asian mothers and aunties are so invested in their children’s lives: they were taught that their children’s futures and happiness are most important. They were taught their identity is determined by their children’s successes, not their own, that their sons and daughters dreams count, not theirs. They were made to feel guilty for pursuing their own dreams and enjoyments. This realization melted my anger to annoyance.
It wasn’t that they thought we were incapable of doing things ourselves, it’s that they were taught to think it’s their duty. Their value rests in helping us. They feel they are only loved when they are needed. Enter codependency.
At least we know the hourly texts and criticisms aren’t personal; they’ve been ingrained since the 5th century when a wizard in India came up with them.
Another reason for their involvement is their need to control. A woman does not have control over her life in the South Asian culture, her husband does. She accepts this as normal. Oftentimes he tells her if she can work, how to raise the kids, and doesn’t help her with household. Besides tasks, she is told what to do and left with a void in the emotional support department. But to exert the natural need to control something, she takes over the decision making of her children. I’ve observed this unhealthy cycle in Desi culture: Husband controls wife, wife controls child. Son grows up, had no control in his own life, so controls his wife. See the pattern? You might have lived it. I did to a certain extent. Specifically, a potential rishta disintegrated because the mother insisted on choosing her son’s wife herself. Thankfully my mom refused. (Special shout out to the Shaykh at the Orange County marriage conference for calling out Muslim guys as ‘mama’s boys.’)
Perhaps what bothers me most about the auntie army, is that it’s now recruiting women my age. Once a woman gets married, it seems her main form of communication becomes gossip and her main hobby is now judging. If you’re not careful, at first you will get swept into their smiling invitation to attend a baby shower, then get whammied with questions about your jobs, single status, and outfit. It’s not them that’s asking, it’s the Queen auntie who trained her because she needs new information to fill up her empty afternoon. So beware of these ‘aunties-in-training.’
Aunties, your personal interests matter and you deserve to live out your dreams. You are in control of your own life. Now leave me alone. This likely won’t happen for awhile, so until then:
Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar available here.
And to make sure you don’t become one, follow these 3 simple rules:
- Don’t gossip.
- Don’t judge.
- Don’t cut in the buffet line at weddings.