Shadows, Echoes, and Reflections: Gendered Standards

Shadows, Echoes, and Reflections: Gendered Standards April 1, 2012

As you know, I have a very large number of younger siblings. As more of my siblings have begun growing up, I’ve been noticing a pattern in how my parents have treated their children’s relationships with those of the opposite gender. Let’s just say it’s a gendered difference. A major gendered difference.

The girls have all had their prospective beaus scrutinized in detail, and each time there ends up being drama and pain and heartbreak. And it’s not just the beliefs that are scrutinized. It’s everything. The boys? Nope. Nada. The boys can bring home a prospective marriage partner and all they get is excitement and a pat on the back. Their prospective sweethearts aren’t questioned or scrutinized at all.

There is a serious double standard here.

And in case it’s not already obvious, this makes me mad. It’s not that I want my brothers to have their relationships put through my parents’ strainer, it’s just that when I watch how my parents treat my brothers’ relationships I can’t help but think I wish that was me. I wish they had reacted that way when I brought a boy home. And the whole situation just feels so unfair. It hurts.

But it has also made me think. Why is there this difference? What all is involved? And I’ve come up with two things: First, my parents belief that husbands are to lead and wives are to follow; and Second, my parents believe that parents are to serve as gatekeepers and protectors for their daughters, but not for their sons.

Husbands Lead, Wives Follow

My parents’ belief that it is the husband’s job to lead and the wife’s job to follow affects how they view their adult children’s romantic relationships. It’s pretty simple really. As my parents see it, my brothers are looking for women to follow them, to echo their views and their vision, but my sisters are looking for men to follow, men whose views and vision they will echo.

It’s almost like a wife is to become her husband’s shadow, to cling to her husband and lose herself in him completely. She becomes her husband’s echo, her husband’s helper, her husband’s reflection.

When one of my brothers brings a girl home, my parents look at that girl as a prospective shadow of my brother, as someone who will follow my brother and do as he does, say what he says, and live as he lives. Who that girl is in and of herself becomes less important, for first and foremost she is to become a shadow, and echo, and a reflection.

When one of my sisters expresses interest in a young man, it’s completely different. My parents look at that young man as the person my sister will become the shadow, echo, and reflection of. That young man must therefore be perfect, completely ideologically pure and economically prepared. As my parents look at that young man, they ask themselves whether they want their daughter to become this man’s shadow, echo, and reflection, losing herself completely in him and in his vision.

The result is that my sisters’ marriage interests are subjected to a grilling the likes of which my brothers’ marriage interests never face. And I was no exception. My parents put their daughters – and their daughters’ marriage interests – through hell, trauma, and pain. My brothers and their marriage interests? Nope. They, in contrast, are welcomed with open arms, smiles, and immediate wedding planning.

Daughters in a Tower

There’s something else going on here as well, though. My parents believe that parents – and especially fathers – are to be the gatekeepers and protectors of their daughters.

Imagine a world in which parents lock their daughters in towers and stand guard around them. At the same time, they send their sons off to seek their fortunes. In their travels each of these young men eventually finds a young woman – locked in a tower – who strikes his fancy. He must apply to the young lady’s parents, who are carefully standing guard, to release her from her tower. Only if the young man passes the parents’ inspection will they unlock the tower and free the young lady to leave with her suitor.

Now of course, the towers we’re talking about here are figurative, but the idea is the same. Parents are to stand guard over their daughters while young men are to go off and search for brides. Every adult daughter, then, is to have a protector and gatekeeper – her parents, but especially her father – whose scrutiny a young man must pass in order to obtain her hand in marriage.

Now back to how this relates to my parents. My parents don’t see themselves as gatekeepers or guards over their sons, but only over their daughters. It is their duty, they believe, to protect their adult daughters by carefully screening marriage prospects, but the need not do the same with their sons. Thus they treat a daughter’s marriage interest completely differently than they would a son’s marriage interest.

My parents, of course, expect that their sons must pass the scrutiny of their marriage interest’s parents, and especially of her father. I suppose that if one of my brothers was interested in a young woman and her parents said “no” to the relationship, my parents would encourage my brother to let it go. If my brother and the young lady in question decided to start a relationship in defiance of her parents’ wishes, my parents would almost certainly object. They would not, though, object because they objected to something about the young lady but rather because they objected to my brother not gaining the proper permissions from her authorities and protectors to start a relationship with her.


Wow, I just realized how very much these ideas relegate women to the position of property, property to be bought and sold, unthinking automatons to mindlessly follow their current male owners. There was a time when I would have said all of this sounded natural and right. That time is long gone.

What it seems like my parents cannot conceive of is two equally capable young adults finding each other, falling in love, and forming an equal partnership in which each retain their own individual thoughts, minds, and desires. They cannot understand that for some people, marriages really are equal partnerships, or that some people see young men and young women as equally capable of choosing the direction of their lives for themselves.

Indeed, my parents seem to see young women as incapable of making good decisions for themselves, and incapable of having their own independent identities. For my parents, adult daughters must be carefully guarded and protected, and once they are handed off to husbands they will morph into shadows, echos, and reflections of those young men.

I am no shadow. I am no echo. I am no reflection.

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