Great Expectations : You Should Have Been A Son!

Being a daughter means often being reminded that "You should have been a son". How does it feel to be told that you'll never be 'enough'? This post says it all.

Being a daughter means often being reminded that “You should have been a son”. How does it feel to be told that you’ll never be ‘enough’? This post says it all.

I wish I could say that I am very happy and my world is hunky-dory. But well, it is not. Because being the younger daughter among two means that you learn to hate the seemingly innocuous question — “How many siblings do you have?” Or, in typical Nepali fashion: “Ani, daju bhai katijana chan ta?” It’s only me and my sister, I reply cheerfully, willing to give the person a chance.

Now, three things will happen at this point. Many people (particularly these days) will be polite, and say “Oh,” and add something nice, such as, “It’s so much fun to have a sister, I always thought,” or “Where is she?” These people I like, and I am enthusiastic in my answers. And more often than not, we will remain good friends. Because I do, with all my heart, think I am nothing without my sister.

A bit more difficult are those who indulge in a lot of gush and, for want of a better word, sympathy. “Only you and your sister, no brothers? Oh how cool!” With these people I am polite but not particularly calm, knowing that they might say what they like but that they think my parents are unusual, and me not much of an addition to the family.

Then there are the third kind of people. I will tell it once and for all — I hate, abhor, detest them with all my heart. I know I should be kind to them because they do not know any better, but I can’t. I have grown up with these people aiming their barbs and asides at me in the hope that I will be hit hard and die. That I haven’t keeled over yet must mean I have some strong fiber custom-built into me.

I know I should be kind to them because they do not know any better, but I can’t.


If you think I am being a bit too sensitive, or that I am overreacting, ask any middle-class girl who is born the younger of two daughters (and who preferably has a large number of cruel relatives). She will tell you what it means to be humiliated and ridiculed until there is a feeling of omnipresent ‘lack’, of a ‘void’, that nothing can fulfill. Ever.

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A typical conversation with such people usually takes this turn. I will call them PD (People who force me to Detest them). It will interest you to know that eight out of ten times, the PDs belong to my sex. 

PD: Okay, one sister. And brothers?
Me: I have none.
PD: What? You actually have no brothers?
Me (Beginning to clench my fists): No, I don’t.
PD (Disbelief written all over their face): You mean no elder brother, and no younger one either?
Me: No.
PD (Voice dripping with syrup): Oh, I seeee. Don’t worry about it. After all, there is no difference between a son and a daughter.
Me: (Fake smile)
PD: You should study well and work hard so your parents are proud of you. You should show the world that you are no lesser than a son.
Me: Uhhm mmm.
[End of conversation, perhaps for ever]

But “…uhhm” is not what I want to say. What I really, really want to say is “You are not making things better for me. I do not worry about not having a brother at all until people like you mention it to me. I don’t want you to console me with the unrealistic adage that there is no difference between having a brother and not having one. On the same note, I do not want to be as ‘good’ as a son either. I am a daughter and want to remain one, however good or bad I might be.”

But I obviously never say this to anyone, because of two reasons — the first one being that my parents have taught me to be always, always courteous to elders, no matter how rude they are. But the more important, seemingly latent but essential reason I don’t vent my feelings is that I don’t want to waste my precious words and energy on someone who will never understand my anguish, but go around telling everyone that “so-and-so’s daughter has started answering back.” If it only involved me, perhaps I would have given back a mouthful. But well, there are two people for whom you sacrifice a lot of things.

Talking about my parents, they have tried as hard as they can to shield me from this cruel populace, often taking on the blows themselves if it means I don’t get hurt. I cannot say that they succeeded entirely, but they are only human after all. And all of us know how one particular god (as told by males) decided to add a female child to his kingdom as an afterthought (and as a plaything for his favoured child).

Sometime ago, I heard of how, when I was about to be born, the midwife said, “It is the turn of a boy now.” How disappointed everyone must have been when they saw that it was a measly girl again. I have heard snatches of how, after my birth, one of my grandfathers and the other grandmother always told my mother that she must have “one son at least.” (Euta chora ta hunai parcha.)

I ask Ama how she took the decision to be content with two daughters a quarter of a century ago…

I ask Ama how she took the decision to be content with two daughters a quarter of a century ago in the sleepy hill town of Dhankuta. She doesn’t even have to think of the answer. “We had already decided upon two children,” she says, “What if the third child had been a girl, too? Why would I want to bring up an unwanted child?” And I shiver at the thought of how close I was to being unwanted.

Many such ghosts cling to me. I must have been about six or seven when I was travelling in a rickshaw with two of my aunts.  One of them said to the other, “I have told Bhauju (my Ama) to visit Pathibara, the Goddess is sure to grant her a son.” I recall felling very weepy and resentful all of a sudden. And I am sure the aunt visited Pathibhara enough times, for she begot two sons after two really lovely (but cumbersome, no doubt) daughters. I am sure my Ama did not visit Pathibhara too, and for that I am glad.

I am neither a radical feminist nor a misandrist. I do not even resent the hankering after sons, being the first to admit that it is a man’s world. I am just an essentially feminine woman who believes I will make a lot of peoples’ life on earth as heavenly as it is (dubiously and illogically) claimed that all males do after life.

It is also not that I will lose my confidence to these sadistic people and weep about my cursed existence, for I did not choose to be born. And now that I am here, I had better make the best use of it. It is just that a little bit of acceptance, of give-and-take and a little less of the unwarranted criticism would make life a lot more beautiful — for all of us. I am certainly not going to apologize for my birth when I had no choice but to wail into the world.

 This post was first published here.
Pic credit: vocabulicious (Used under a CC license)


About the Author

Richa Bhattarai

Richa Bhattarai is passionate about communications as a career, and writing as a vocation. Her anthology of short stories, Fifteen and Thr3e Quarters, was published in 2011. read more...

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