7 Things I Didn’t Realize Were Sexist In India Until I Came To America

by Nikhita Mahtani
Thais Ramos Varela

If someone forced you into getting married to someone you'd only met once, you'd probably consider that a form of oppression... right?

Well, if you grew up in India like I did, you might think otherwise.

As a developing country, India is still miles behind places like the US when it comes to women's rights... especially in more rural areas.

For instance, did you know the literacy rate for females in India is only about 74 percent, as opposed to around 88 percent for males? Or, did you know it's illegal in India to choose the sex of your unborn baby?

Sex trafficking and rape are two of India's biggest problems, with a woman being the victim of a crime every two minutes.

And don't even get me started on the pay gap, which shows women earn 25 percent less than their male counterparts.

But this inequality isn't just restricted to small towns and villages. I grew up in Mumbai, which is considered one of the country's biggest metropolises.

Even as an urban, educated woman, oppression still exists. The only difference is, it's being disguised under cultural norms, religion, or just plain "common sense."

Coming to the US made me realize oppression is definitely, 100 percent NOT normal.

Here are just some of the stereotypes I experienced:

1. Marriage

If you're a single woman above the age of 25, time is ticking for you to get married. To wait until you're past 30 means you're too "old," and nobody will want you.

It's also very expected of older relatives or parents to pressure you and insist you get married, or try to "set you up" with someone of their choice... also known as an arranged marriage.

Apratim Saha

While arranged marriages aren't like the olden days where you married someone after only meeting him or her a few times, they exist in a way that people get engaged after meeting through family or family friends, and then "date" during the course of their engagement.

Getting married was always an expected thing. It's only later that I realized it didn't have to even be an option if I didn't want it to be.

But that doesn't stop the questions coming from the inquisitive relatives, that's for sure.

2. Gender Roles

Loud, independent women were not something I saw often.

It was always expected for a woman to "behave like a lady." I was told by my own parents I needed to know how to cook if I was to get married, and for some reason, it was unheard of to ask my husband to cook.

And other gender roles that are still alive and well today? Women take care of the house. They look after the kids (for the most part). They clean. They don't need to earn any money. They have to stay with their in-laws.

I could go on and on, but let me just say this: They don't necessarily have any autonomy.

3. Beauty Standards

Fairness in India is considered SO beautiful. The skin bleaching industry in India brings in more than a whopping 450 million dollars every year.

Fair & Lovely – which is India's top skin bleaching cream – is mainly targeted toward women... obviously.

Fair And Lovely

Besides fairness, other traditional ideas of beauty stem from the stereotypical view of femininity: full lips, long hair and a curvy body.

Also, being "too muscular" is a thing, which is why so many women don't lift weights.

4. Workplace Expectations

I was proud growing up because it seemed to me more and more women were in the workforce.

Movies and TV didn't really portray women as working, as they were expected to take care of all the household duties.

My mom doesn't work, but all the internships I had in India surrounded me with powerful, smart women who knew what they wanted. They were great role models, and I loved working with them.

But soon, I realized something about a lot of them that made me sad: They were planning to quit their jobs after they got married.

Is it any wonder, then, that their male superiors would be unwilling to promote them or give them more responsibility if they were just planning to quit in a couple of years?

Apparently, the "man" will take care of you after you're married; you don't need to work, even if you might really love your job.

OH, and prenups aren't valid in India. So, you really have nothing of your own at all.

5. Outfits

I didn't wear dresses or shorts after I turned 13... until I got to college. I wore them as a kid, of course, but no strapless or low cut tanks for me.

I was told not to dress in a way that was too "revealing."

And because of India's massive sexual assault problem – not to mention the millions of male chauvinists I encountered every day – I kind of understood why.

I assumed my parents and relatives were just trying to protect me.

But let me tell you one thing, ladies: YOU ARE NOT "ASKING" TO BE RAPED... no matter what you wear. Wearing jeans will not guarantee your safety, and it is NEVER your fault.

By putting the responsibility in the hands of the women as opposed to educating MEN, India is feeding into the stereotype that men can't control their hormones, and it's a woman's job to stop them.

But that isn't the way sexual assault works.

6. Property Rights

This one annoys me the most because it's disguised under religious rights.

In traditional Hindu culture, women were not allowed any rights to ancestral property, thanks to the Hindu Succession Act in 1956.

This was only amended in 2005, but even then, the changes have not been wide-reaching. Several women aren't aware the amendment exists. Similarly, if one's father died BEFORE the 2005 amendment, the amendment doesn't apply.

Similarly, because prenups aren't valid in India, you can possibly have to give half of your worth to your ex-husband – always husband, since gay marriage is illegal in India as well – in the case of divorce, but have no right to own property that isn't ancestral.

So yeah, that makes sense?

7. Family Restrictions

In India, a woman living alone is pretty much unheard of... even in urban communities.

The rule is you stay at your family's house until you get married. Then, you move into your husband's house.

So, you never live alone.

The only time I experienced women living on their own, or with their partners, was when I came here.

You're not "allowed" to live with your significant other before you get married, for fear of what "society will say."

Oh, and if your parents don't approve of your significant other? Well, that's a deal breaker.

It's strange of me to think back and realize these things shouldn't be "normal" or "accepted."

Looking back, it feels like common sense to realize a woman SHOULDN'T quit her job after she gets married, she can live alone if she wants to and there is no reason a woman can't be the breadwinner in a relationship.

But when you're stuck in a bubble that inflicts these notions on you from a very young age, it's easy to get brainwashed.

After all, you live in an urban city! How could you possibly be oppressed?

But if you open your eyes and start questioning the things around you, you soon realize how archaic some of these beliefs are.

You don't have to blindingly accept them. You can always, ALWAYS fight them.