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Refusing to stay quiet as an Indian-Australian woman is my act of cultural defiance

WORDS BY GITIKA GARG

How wearing shorts and a singlet made me question what I had been told about being a girl.

For International Women’s Day, Converse launched its My Story collection, a female-designed reimagining of the classic Chucks. Inspired by fearless, bold and independent womxn, My Story helps give you the words and colours to tell your own story. To celebrate this release, we’ve given Fashion Journal readers the opportunity to have their own story published in our pages. Here, Gitika Garg tells us how she stands up to sexism in her community.

When I was younger, every family holiday to India would begin with my grandmother’s concerned comments: “Oh you have gotten so tanned, this cream will help lighten it”, “Look how much weight you have lost”. The string of remarks came from a place of love and habit I was told. I never quite knew what to make of it at the time, simply masking my annoyance under a polite smile and nod.


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Our trips would continue with constant arguments between my mum and me after being told I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts or low-cut tops whilst being out and about. Why? Because “men would stare”. This was the answer that I was always given leaving me frustrated and confused.

No one ever told my male cousins they couldn’t play in shorts or that they needed to be careful of what others would think, so why me? Naturally, in the spirit of teenage rebellion, I mustered the courage to wear my funky shorts and sleeveless cami after being told not to. I was completely shocked at what happened next.

I vividly remember walking down the streets and noticing people’s gazes lower, staying still a bit too long for comfort. Sometimes it was even a full head-to-toe scan followed by an insidious smile. At the age of 14, this was a kind of discomfort I had never known before. Maybe everyone was right, maybe I should’ve just listened. I believed this was how it would always be as a girl in India.

I never really questioned these little incidents that continued to occur. I wasn’t ever encouraged to either. Yet as I grew older, the truth of these seemingly ‘normal’ experiences started to become far more apparent to me.

I began to reflect upon the numerous encounters I’ve experienced where binary gender has not only created a barrier but has actively been used to compare and disparage women. I had never realised how my South Asian culture had been guilty of actively perpetuating this very behaviour.

The thing that I have come to understand is that gendered bias within my community flies under the radar. When sexist comments or actions are overt, it’s sometimes easier to grapple with. At least it’s blatant and everyone can clearly see it, right? The danger lies in subtlety, where people don’t even realise something is wrong. This is even more jarring. How is no one able to see what is happening right in front of you?

I remember my grandmother saying to me, “Women shouldn’t drink but they all do these days”. I remember my cousin telling me how she never gets offered a drink at family events while her male cousins happily enjoy beers with all the uncles.

I remember my aunty telling our family friend, “Wow your wife must be so happy” simply because he offered to help clean up in the kitchen. Why would I be “so happy” if a man was just doing the bare minimum any decent human should do? Never have we as girls been congratulated for picking up the plates or helping to serve the food. If anything, I’ve heard disproving judgements when we don’t.

What troubles me is that these comments are made by the very women who stand as inspirations of courage and power. These are the same women who have carried the burden of trauma and suffering upon their resilient shoulders and come out the other side stronger. On the one hand, they serve as role models of empowerment, and on the other, the product of unchecked male dominance and culturally accepted sexism.

On the occasions that I try to speak out, my dad replies, “I’m tired, I don’t want to hear it”. I’ve chosen to look at all of these experiences through a lens of opportunity for learning and change. They have undoubtedly influenced my perception of womanhood and ultimately brought me closer to sculpting what I want my identity as a young Indian-Australian woman to look like.

Overcoming these gender obstacles means unapologetically creating space for normalised discussions where I don’t stay quiet, even if I’ve been told to. It means slowly bridging this generational gap through communication and by challenging expectations.

It’s about women being heard, valued, appreciated and celebrated. Praising our opinions rather than blocking them out. It is about inclusivity and mutual respect. It’s having the conversations that make people uncomfortable and forcing them to take their blinders off.

View Converse’s My Story range here.

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