The assumption that sons are needed to carry a family name and bloodline can be seen throughout history and numerous civilizations. The South Asian community is no different. While education, experience and an open mind has taught many that there is no difference in terms of capability, possibility and purpose for their sons and daughters, years of socialization are difficult to combat, even for parents that love their daughters.
It's these nuances that daughters in these families can explain, or at least try to, so bear with me in my attempt.
I'm the oldest of three siblings in my family and with that I am also one of two daughters born before a son. A son. The much awaited son. In our home there is a long standing story of how when my mother was pregnant with my brother, she went to the temple every week to pray to God to gift her with a son (f**k science, right?).
Lo and behold, she was bestowed with a son. My mother is a very religious woman. Not in the "Have you found Shiva yet?" type of religious person, more so she believes that your deeds add up before you go, to be a good person -- and that good deeds lead to good things.
Is having a son a reward for a good deed? Is having a daughter a punishment for doing bad deeds? These are the types of questions I would pester and still to this day place in front of my parents, and it makes them uncomfortable. That's a good thing though.
We are given every opportunity, every social, or economic advantage that our parents can afford, often at the expense of their own comforts.
Although we love our parents, and they love us, they are not perfect. They are not immune from false assumptions, biases and prejudice. Therefore as children who love our parents, it is imperative to point out these flaws to them -- just like they would to us -- because regardless of what some people believe, it's never too late to learn.
To someone reading this that isn't a second-generation Canadian (Canadian born child to naturalized Canadians) with South Asian roots this is probably a head scratcher. There is an assumption that son preference is can only be female feticide, suppressing daughters, marrying them off young, and only having opportunities for their sons at the expense of their daughters. While this reality exists in some families, it is not a universal reality for my generation of females in Canada, in fact it's this odd mix of three steps forward and one step back.
We are given every opportunity, every social, or economic advantage that our parents can afford, often at the expense of their own comforts. In fact education is considered the highest accomplishment and often an absolute must -- where obscene pressure and expectations are placed on our generation to rise to the educational summit (that's a whole other issue all together though) -- by our parents because they were unable to obtain a formal education in many instances.
Our parents believe that an education is the key to not having a stressful and laboursome life like they have experienced. They have worked multiple jobs, numerous shifts and have worked away to ensure that their children, sons and daughters are able to obtain futures which are stable, respectable and in their eyes a true testament to their hard work and sacrifice, and completing what they see as the Canadian Dream.
They want this for both of their sons and daughters, yet they're unable to let go of these odd backwoods thoughts and nuances when it comes to gender roles and the value of these roles. Each daughter can give different examples of this experience, some more extreme than others, others literally may not have any experience to share because their parents may be more educated or were brought up in a more neutral environment.
The onus seems to always be on what girls should and should not do.
I can only share with you the tangible nuances that I've experienced; that is not to say that it's the universal experience, but I'm sure there is plenty of overlap. Here's one that to this day irks me and makes me really question my mother's thought process:
An RCMP officer pulled over my parents for not having seatbelts on. My mom, became nervous and started praying. The officer -- who was young and of South Asian descent -- took my father's license and registration and let off my father with a warning as it was a first time offense. As we're pulling away -- with them having their seat belts on -- my mom said, "My God bless him with sons."
My response was, quite immediately, "Maa, are you f**king serious?" She started laughing softly like she always does when she's being called out on her internalized misogyny. My question to her was: "If you received a ticket -- that you deserved by the way -- would you have cursed him to have daughters?" Silence was the only response.
Other interesting comments directed at females in my household include: "Girls should know how to cook"; "Girls don't look good fat"; "Girls need to know how to take care of a household"; "Girls need to look pretty when they go out"; "Girls shouldn't wear such revealing clothing"; "Girls shouldn't stay out late"; "Girls should not swear." The list goes on and on and on. The onus seems to always be on what girls should and should not do. And that's disturbing, because you should be raising your child to be a great person not a "good girl" or a "good boy."
Adults and parents always have room to grow. For my parents their growing up happened alongside mine. When I was in 12th grade my father started his downward spiral towards kidney failure. Years of hypertension and Type II diabetes were placing a stress on his kidneys meant that my mother needed help to run our household. It wasn't an 11-year-old son that could step up to the plate to fill in my father's financial absence; it was an 18-year-old daughter. Fifty-plus-hour work weeks along with full-time university meant that I shouldered the burden of being a "son."
My father proudly states to anyone should the topic come up, that I am "more than a son" to him, and while it is in itself backhanded compliment, I understand what he means: That while in many communities, including our own, it is thought that it is your son that will be your legacy, shoulder your burden and help you in your time in need that is not remotely true.
Any child, regardless of their gender can rise to the occasion to fulfill any dream and aspiration their parents may have; they can be your legacy, your shoulder and your support system. That includes daughters. While we can't erase how our parents were brought up, we should not give them a free pass for any bigotry, biases and prejudices they may hold.
I believe that as Canadian children it's our responsibility to challenge these values; because no child should be "more than a son" or "just another daughter," our value is in our character, and our character is a product of this mystifying environment we've been brought up in: Canada.
Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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