Tampon Talks. Mama Says Good Girls Marry Doctors

// 24 March 2010

MAMA SAYS GOOD GIRLS MARRY DOCTORS

Retaining Control, Negotiating Roles: Diasporic Women and their Parents

Part 3 of 4.

Tampon Talks

By Shalini Gogia

It was 5:30 am. I was jet lagged and roaming in the dark. Should I use this time to unpack my suitcase, which was lazily resting against the back of the living room couch? I went into the kitchen and made myself a cold smoked cheddar sandwich and then sat cross legged in front of the suitcase, staring at it as I took a big bite.

The flight home had been long with a quick plane change at Amsterdam. I had dashed out and purchased some colorful wooden tulips at Schiphol airport. I rotated my shoulders, they were sore. The last two days of the spring semester, right up to the point till I had boarded the plane, had been extremely strenuous. I felt my arms. I had built some muscle between packing my stuff and moving all the boxes into the basement. I smiled, remembering how I had wet my underwear while lifting the carton loaded with books. Was it common for women to ejaculate during heavy lifting? I made a mental note to check that up on the internet.

I heard the mynahs (starling) chirp. Morning must be approaching. Looking up at the window, I saw pink streaks emerge across the vacant sky. I took one last bite, dusted the crumbs of my hands and opened up the suitcase. Out came the clothes—new and dirty, the shoes—heels, sneakers, ballet flats, boots, yes boots that had been very useful to fight off the eight inches of snow that covered Knox’s campus in Galesburg. A bag loaded with chocolates and cheeses made its appearance and I went to dump it in the refrigerator.

I came back to find my half awake mother staring confusedly at the remaining contents in my suitcase. “Hi ma”, I cheerfully exhaled but she didn’t respond. She was too busy squinting. ”Can you get me my glasses Shalu?” she asked. Sure I said, as I went towards her bedroom, wondering what could have caught her attention so intensely. I only had undergarments left to unpack. By the time I found her spectacles, she didn’t need them. She was sitting on the floor holding an opened box of tampons she had plucked out from amongst the thongs and pushup bras strewn about.

Oh that! I said to myself as I bit my upper lip.

“Are you having sex?” she whispered suddenly.

“No” I lied instantly.

“Because only married women use tampons. Young girls should not. It is very shameful if we sent you to America and instead of studying you are having sex.”

“Just relax mom, Ayesha asked me to carry them for her sister, who is married.” I lied again. She smiled hesitatingly, obviously relieved and turned to me and asked, “Are you still a good girl?” I blurted out a yes too fast.

She patted me on the back as she continued to whisper, “Please don’t have sex with anyone until you are married”, and then she leaned over even closer and added, “And even if you do, don’t make the mistake of telling anyone. Not even your best friend, not even Ayesha, because one day she will use it against you.”

I just nodded so as not to encourage this topic of conversation, but really, why was premarital sex such a crime to my mother? “Your grades are good and soon you will get your degree. You have a good education and good health and soon you will get a good job and find a good husband. But if you want to find a really good husband, then you must have a good reputation in society.”

I was getting increasingly amused by her obsession with “everything good” that I decided to be a bit of a saucy tart. “What does a good reputation mean ma?” Happy that she could impart wisdom to me, she stroked my hair and said, “It means that people in society—your neighbors, your relatives and your friends—all can expect you to behave with good manners and make good choices. That is how a person’s reputation gets formed.”

“If you sleep around” she said as she inspected one tampon closely, “you will find you have many boyfriends but none of them will want to marry you. Is that what you want?” Taking a deep breath she concluded her sermon, “All your father and I want for you is a good husband from a good family.”

She got up to go to the kitchen and make her morning cup of tea. “Would you say dad came from a good family?” I asked cheekily. She was silent as she put the water on the boil, tossing some ginger and cardamom into the pot. She needed a few minutes to form a politically correct answer.

“Well your grandfather, Gogia Pasha, was a famous magician.”

“But you also said he was an alcoholic, and that two of dad’s brothers were mentally unwell, so how is that good?”

“Your father is a good person” she shot back defensively, “the character of the boy you marry should be good. That is what is most important.”

“What about your family mom? Would you say you came from a good family?”

“Of course! We are Brahmins and everyone in my family has a masters degree.”

“But didn’t your father beat your mother and didn’t she leave him and separate? You said that your whole life you were ashamed that your parents were divorced and that you grew up with very little money…”

My mother’s face turned red and her nostril’s flared. I tried to reason, “All I am trying to understand is what makes one family good and another not when all families have their sunshine moments and their dark secrets…”

She had lost interest in this conversation (or any conversation that challenged social norms). My dad woke up and walked towards us. She smiled at him and quickly chucked the tampons into the suitcase and shut it, probably to save me from embarrassment.

“Good morning Shalu” dad said as he hugged me. “Welcome back! Did you find the driver easily at the airport?” I nodded smiling. Our maid woke up and made me and dad some green tea. “So how was school” he asked as we both sat with our legs stretched out in the tropical sun.

“It was good”, I winked. “I really enjoyed my art appreciation class…”

“Art? Why are you studying art” my mother interrupted, “that isn’t a good subject! What happened to economics?”

“Geeta let her finish talking”, my dad gently chided my mother, “so tell me beta, what other classes did you take this semester?”

“French, macroeconomics, political geography and marketing…”

“Sounds good” dad said and then got lost reading the several morning papers that were on his tray.

“Did you hear about the Chandok’s daughter” my mom asked out loud.

“No, what happened to her” dad responded without looking up from the paper.

“She just graduated and got engaged to this boy whom she had met in college. The Chandok’s thought he was from a really good family but two days ago Kimaya walked in on him kissing some English blond girl in his hotel room, and now they have called off the engagement.”

“All boys are like that Geeta, they want to have a fling with a blond girl before they settle down…”

“But Kimaya was a good girl; she didn’t deserve this after she got engaged to him…”

Blond girl versus good girl, hmm—my parent’s theories were very amusing. “Mom, why do you say Kimaya was a good girl?”

“She always wished all her mother’s friends at parties. She didn’t avoid them like you do.” I would have said something to defend myself but I didn’t want to break her train of thought. “She always dressed up very nicely and I think she graduated at the top of her class. This boy was her first boyfriend.” My mother sipped her tea as she looked at me, very satisfied with her answer.

I didn’t want to ruin her good impression of Kimaya or ruin this good day by telling her that Kimaya had an abortion last semester. Rumor has it that she had gotten pregnant by an African-American football player at her university. She had only started dating this loser Amar on the rebound as he had helped tutor her through Calculus last semester, which she was badly failing.

And as for me, yes I was having sex and using tampons. I was playing around with many subject choices and was finding economics hard and boring. I didn’t avoid my mother’s friends; I only excused myself when they started to ask prying questions. I was perhaps, not making a very good impression, but I was having a good time.

As I leaned forward to grab a copy of the Times of India, I quickly pulled down my t-shirt. I didn’t want any of my parents seeing my butterfly tattoo right above my butt crack. My mother would only have two words to say.

Not good.

________________________________________

Are you a good girl? You know what we mean: you listen to your parents, there’s no gossip about you in the “community.” Or are you a bad girl? Were you caught smoking in high school? Did you marry that white boy against your parents’ wishes? This is part three of a four part series about “Mama Says Good Girls Marry Doctors”. Stay tune for the last of the 4 part series next week. If you’d like to tell your own story, check us out at Goodgirlsmarrydoctors.webs.com or email Josephine at goodgirlsmarrydoctors@gmail.com

Comments From You

FeminaErecta // Posted 24 March 2010 at 1:36 pm

My mother also hit the roof when she found out I was using tampons when I was about 15. She was utterly convinced that I must have been having sex in order to be able to use them- strange how these myths survive.

Laura // Posted 24 March 2010 at 1:48 pm

Interesting story, Josephine. Do you think many young women actively challenge their parents’ expectations and assumptions, or do more take the easier route (as in the story above) and placate them with lies and “good” behaviour when in their presence? Do you think things would change if more women challenged their parents, or would the personal cost of doing so be too high?

Ro // Posted 24 March 2010 at 2:37 pm

@Laura

That’s an interesting question – I think some of us do. I certainly try to challenge my parents views and particularly my mother’s because she is the most vocal. However sometimes it isn’t worth the hassle. I’m very lucky in that my parents aren’t the type to unleash hellish consequences on me however I do keep in mind how they will feel about certain behaviours or actions I might carry out so in a sense am still policing myself.

I try to remember that my mother (and it’s definitely more my mother that the problem lies with and not my father) had a very different upbringing to me and so temper some of my comments to her but sometimes I find her views intolerable and we just argue.

I’m nearly 30 now and I’ve seen the effects of this kind of thinking amongst my own family and friends. I don’t consider myself part of any particular community per se. My parents are from two different Asian communites and our Asian friends span a variety of communities and religions but despite this there is pretty much consistent thinking across the board.

For the boys there is a lot more freedom. Their non-Asian girlfriends are tolerated and even welcomed if they end up marrying – particularly if she is amenable to adopting certain cultural ways. In my experience though most of the boys cave to family pressure and end up marrying other Asians whether from the UK or abroad.

However it’s a very different story for the girls – mainly in the area of relationships. As far as education and careers are concerned the girls are encouraged as much as the boys (at least in the circles I move in). However any whiff of a boyfriend particularly a non-Asian boyfriend and it all goes quiet with the families often pleading the girls to leave him. They will not mention this boyfriend to any of their other Asian friends because it doesn’t ‘look good’ and ‘people will talk’.

A close friend of mine had a boyfriend who was in fact Asian and of the same faith and background for 4-5yrs but was too afraid to tell her parents as she knew they wanted to ‘choose’ someone for her or at least have a hand in this. I knew about the boyf and one day idiotically accidentally let slip to my mother. My mother was very good about this and kept quiet for a couple of years until she accidentally let slip herself (I still wonder whether it was accidental).

Anyway my friend was being pressurised to meet some boys chosen by her family and that’s when the existence of her boyf was revealed. It was after this that my mother let slip she’d known for some time. This didn’t go down well – my friend’s mum was devastated that someone else knew that her daughter had had a boyfriend for this long despite the fact that they were engaged to be married at this point! Understandably my friend was angry with me and we didn’t speak for ages and I felt awful…

But then I got angry – if people were honest about these things, this type of nonsense wouldn’t happen. I promised myself that I wouldn’t lie to my parents about any boyfriends I had. This was an easy promise for me to make however as up until that point I’d never had a boyfriend.

Fast forward a couple of years and now I’m wondering whether I did the right thing in being honest with them. After the initial shock of the existence of my non-Asian boyf (I think they were beginning to suspect I might be gay) they seemed to take him very well.

However there has been talk of marriage… from their end. They also told me not to tell too many people (code: Asian people) about him. My father even went as far as to say not to put up any pictures on Facebook etc because of my cousins in India reporting back to the rest of the family there…

Of course that’s not what I care about – I’ll tell whomsoever I please. What worries me now is that if we break up the fall-out will be even worse than if it were in a non-Asian family. I’m starting to feel compelled to remain in this relationship. I will admit though that this is partly also due to my non-Asian friends expectations… it’s all quite confusing and I’m wondering whether I should have kept them in the dark until I was more certain about the relationship. One of my asian female friends told me not to tell them unless I definitely wanted to marry my boyf but that’s utterly ridiculous – there must be a middle way.

Anyway I have quite a few friends of a variety of ages and backgrounds with exactly the same problem. Each of them challenges their parents in a variety of ways but most are open about their relationships to their immediate families if not the wider community.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 March 2010 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Laura!

I think we need to acknowledge that there are no easy routes. The possible costs can be extremely high. The “Good Girl” image can be heavily protected from family that family may deny evidence even if it’s extremely apparent. Out of the women I have interviewed the costs can include being ostracised from family, homelessness, being shunned from the community, financial manipulation, and right up to physical violence. I once talked to someone whose father stopped speaking to her for two years (despite living in the same house) because she decided she no longer wanted to be a medical doctor.

I would also like to point out that although this situation can be highlighted amongst immigrant or diasporic families, it’s an issue that crosses cultural boundaries. We’re still seeing violence in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. Can you imagine if you brought your Catholic boyfriend home to your Protestant family?

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 March 2010 at 3:35 pm

Hi Ro,

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you sharing one of your personal stories.

I think it’s difficult to say whether we should be more transparent with our family or not. It’s different with everyone and you never know how your family’s going to take it until it actually happens.

Thanks again.

Josephine

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 March 2010 at 3:40 pm

One more thing I’d like to add.

We can’t really say that we should all challenge our parents in their values. Our parents have these values for a reason. They believe in their values with absolute conviction and they love their daughters, which is partly a reason why these situations can get absolutely escalated.

There is nothing wrong with wanting your children to marry within a certain set of norms. There is also nothing wrong with wanting your children to be abstinent until marriage. The problem lies when children start to question their parent’s values and choose something different. How to honour and respect those differences are skills we could all use.

Anne Onne // Posted 24 March 2010 at 5:10 pm

Thank you for this. Very meaningful and honest look at how the patriarchy forms how women treat each other, even the ones they love.

“And even if you do, don’t make the mistake of telling anyone. Not even your best friend, not even Ayesha, because one day she will use it against you.”

This in particular is so sad. I have no doubt that for many women around the world this is the case. I think it answers the question of ‘why was premarital sex such a crime to my mother?’. Because there are still enough people who punish women for their choices that playing to the ‘good girl’ image really is ‘protecting yourself’ in some cases, from a whole lot of pain or worse. But it’s such a high price to pay. Heartbreakingly sad.

At least with every generation, we consider things a bit more that the last took for granted, or could see no way from escaping.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 24 March 2010 at 7:11 pm

Hi Anne,

Thank you for the comment!

I like how you compare being a good girl image to really one of protecting yourself.

Josephine

Jeff // Posted 24 March 2010 at 8:01 pm

My best friend is in something of a similar situation to this. he’s been steady with his girlfriend now for 4 years, and yet they’ve had no sexual activity of any kind, due to her parents insistence that she remain abstinent until marriage. His girlfriend herself isn’t religious in the least, but she also has very strong morals, and wouldn’t even consider lying if asked whether she is sexually active by them (and they have), so they are essentially staying celibate in order to not piss them off. Now chances are they will get married so perhaps it won’t be such a long term issue for them, but I really detest the outdated attitudes displayed by this sort of thing. The simple fact is that these days marriage may not be in young peoples mind, and to insist that they refrain from healthy sexual relationships (and I mean no disablism here, merely that sex, excepting abusive circumstances, generally make for a healthy relationship) merely because of your outmoded ideals is really really stupid.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:53 am

@Jeff. There is no such thing as a “healthy” or an “unhealthy” relationship. There are bad relationships and good relationships. It has nothing to do with health. The idea of a healthy relationship is just something invented by magasine writers and pseudo-academics to propagate what they consider to be a normal or good relationship as something virtuous that should be universally pursued. Abstinence before marriage can often make for better relationship experiences. Good relationship models don’t ‘go out of fashion’ just because they aren’t the most common way of doing things any more. A relationship is not a dress.

Josephine Tsui // Posted 25 March 2010 at 10:00 am

@Ally & @ Jeff

I think there is such thing as a healthy or unhealthy relationship. You can have unhealthy relationships.

But I don’t think we have to assume that a healthy relationship automatically means being sexually active. We can choose to be abstinent. I think the issue with Jeff’s story is whose choice is it to be abstinent? If the couple in question chose to be abstinent and were happy with it than I think that’s a great values choice. If the couple chose to be sexually active and they’re happy with it, that’s also a great value choice. The problem is that the girl is doing based on fear from her parents.

There’s also another aspect of healthy relationship: parental and child. Is it healthy to make choices because you fear what your parents think?

Laurel Dearing // Posted 25 March 2010 at 10:43 am

doesnt the term healthy relationship come because unhealthy relationship implies that its actually having a bad effect on you? like not necessarily DV, but over clinginess or control, or 2 people that bring out the worst in each other, or edward cullenism, or even romeo and juliet?

Jeff // Posted 25 March 2010 at 11:08 am

Ally,

I disagree, I think a fulfilling relationship can be very healthy indeed for those involved, both mentally and physicall. My issue, as Josephine rightly noted, is not at all that they are abstinent, but rather that they are abstinent against both of their wishes due to her fear of offending her parents.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 7:21 pm

I’d like to see where you found the evidence that people in good relationships are physically healthier than single people. And the idea of psychological health is one I disagree with. It is based on the medical profession deciding the acceptable normal range of human experience and then deeming the rest to be “illness”. There is no reason why all suffering should be defined as illness. It makes a link between two things which are separate.

Jeff // Posted 26 March 2010 at 10:36 am

Ally,

I never said “more healthy”, or indeed compared couples to single people in any way. My point is simply that, in my opinion, being in a relationship can improve your physical health. For instance, I take long walks in the countryside with my girlfriend which I would otherwise not do. I also go for bike-rides with her. I sleep a lot better when she’s there, and regular sex also offers health benefits.

This is not to say that people outside a relationship won’t do those things, but I certainly think that being in a relationship has helped my physical health.

As to the psychological stuff, if that’s your opinon, fine. I’m certainly not going to argue with it.

Lianne // Posted 2 April 2010 at 6:53 pm

Eerily familiar (though my tampons are kept hidden at the back of my cupboard).

Will definitely consider contributing something to the book, if I have the time to write something between now and July, and the courage to be so honest.

Thanks,

Bell Bajao Fighting Domestic Violence // Posted 7 May 2010 at 7:18 am

There is a huge difference in the thoughts of the previous generation and today’s generation, in marriage, premarital sex, etc. Alot of families put pressure on their children, specially daughters and it takes great courage to go against your parents views.

But people must realize that a person does not become good or bad, based on their occupation or class.

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