Settled around elders, heeding with keen minds and ‘respectful’ hearts, they listened to the cultural and social scripts narrated to them in a consultatory manner. The thoughts of even expressing negation or defiance of any set order rooted in guidance, was too abhorred of an act that they could envision, let alone render. They may have not likened something stated so, but it remained in their hearts. Their actions always exhibited affirmative gestures with whatever the elders communicated. But then gradually, everything began to change.
The same society, started witnessing a transmutation. The same elders began facing opposition and confrontation from the same audience. What accounted for this deviance? What caused this ‘respectful’ demeanour of the audience to be shed? Let me take you along on a journey of exploring the Asian familial dynamics, trying to understand its transmutational strains, and whether or not they signify an evolution or devolution.
Family and Familial Values in Asia
Family is a sacred institution in the Asian culture. It is a source of identity as well as protection. The dynamics of the family are embedded in the collective affirmation that its members are to be always prioritized over other general concerns and matters. If we talk about the traditional Chinese familial setup, we observe that it comes off as a collective unit. This means that individualistic decision making and perspectivism is considered as destructive to cultural values. When it comes to matrimonial unions, parents tend to play a pertinent role in who their child decides to marry. It therefore does not comes off as a surprise that spousal relationships assume a secondary position to parent child relationships. The father, the paterfamilias, is the head of the family and all final and formal decision making commences from that end. On the other hand, women are seen as home makers and care takers, with an affectionate and self-sacrificing posture.
They are expected to comply to the thrice obeying rule, which means that they follow the directives of their fathers when they are unmarried girls, heed to their husbands when married women, and listen to their sons when widowed wives. In the Japanese Culture, women are deemed to be the transmitters of cultural values to their children whereas men are seen as financial providers. Coming over to the Vietnamese Culture, we notice that like other Asians, they hold elders in high regard. Since a young age, children are taught to maintain silence in the presence of adults and listen to their guidance with great intent. If they try to give a retaliatory response to elders or maintain eye contact with them, it is deemed to be a highly abhorred.
South Asian culture exhibits a cumulative display of all these values. It is highly required of young people to seek guidance and consultation from their elders prior to engaging in any act or decision making process. It does not matter if it verges on personal matters or not, it has to be discussed and decided upon after consultation. This is hailed to be a form of ‘respect’ one tends to hold for his/her elders.
Family: A Representation of Collectivist Asian Culture
Since the Asian familial dynamics support a collectivist and communal posture, unlike the western society that deems individual needs and desires as of primal importance, the Asian families are generally seen as modes of social control. In Western societies, a child’s independence and autonomy is highly regarded. Since childhood, parents train their offspring’s to make decisions based on their own ‘good judgement’. This gives them the room and space to work out and see what suits best to them. On the contrary, in the Asian cultures, any decision, big or small is always made collectively in the light of the considerations of family, biradri or other social networks. Since parents tend to play an overarching role in the decision making processes, the child generally never learns to make independent decisions. When it comes to women, these decisions are always framed keeping in view the consequent repercussions they may have on the izzat and reputation of the family. Their social experience comes to be navigated in the light of the society’s gendered expectations. Women are thought to be the carriers of family repute and hence are ‘expected’ to be modest and respectful in their demeanour as well as their interactions.
The association of family and male ‘honour’ and ‘repute’ on the females of the society is a problematic attachment. To associate an intangible concept onto a human being, and to believe her to be responsible for upholding it, irrespective of circumstances, situation or personal experiences is an unjust act. Let’s understand it in the light of an example. Divorce comes to be a highly stigmatic occurrence in Asia. If an Asian woman wants to seek divorce due to personal reasons or abusive behaviour of the husband, she will be highly discouraged to so. Many women will not even consider this act, for fear of social judgment and for bringing a bad name to the family. Many women succumb to silence in abusive marriages, for fear of tainting family izzat! Even if they raise a cry for help, they will be taught to bear all for the sake of the family’s name and for the sake of their children.
Transmutational Strains in Familial Dynamics
With growing societal awareness as well as technological advancement, familial dynamics in Asia have witnessed a sharp transmutation. Earlier on, if children were afraid of vocalizing their concern’s to the family’s elders or hesitant to express a difference of opinion, today many do not restrain from doing so. Interactivity, exposure to western cultural practices as well as evolving learning methodologies imparted at schools have taught them to be conscious of their voice and to speak and express their concerns when they deem it important. This single change has bred alterations in multiple other areas. For instance, today an Asian son, after reaching a certain age, might not be willing to live at the patrilocal residence unlike before. Reasons could be a desire for greater autonomy in a separate nuclear setup after his marriage, or a simple decision to move away to fulfil his career ambitions.
Similarly, if we talk of Asian women, many have joined the working sphere to fulfil their desire for financial autonomy. But most importantly, many have realized the exigent need to develop an independent identity of their own. They want their sense of self and worth to be something that is not defined in terms of the male figures of their life. They yearn to be welcomed as someone else besides being cherished as a someone’s daughter, someone’s sister or someone’s wife. The execution of this desire has signalled a movement beyond the precincts of their homes into the public field.
Evolution Or Devolution?
Respectfulness must not to be assessed on the basis of ones austere adherence and silence to norms. Conveying across your concerns or opinions, in a polite and socially agreeable manner can be a respectful act in itself. If Asian children today include themselves in conversations ‘involving’ them, it does not mean that they are devaluing the cultural values. It simply entails that they want to give in their opinion on what concerns them. Similarly, if psychologically or physically abused women decide to seek divorce from their spouses, it does not mean that they are hurting their family’s repute. It simply means that they want a respite from a terse environment of abusive control that they no longer want to deal with. It does not make them lesser of ‘good women’ nor does it make them unmarriageable. Analysed amidst these conversations, transmutation of familial dynamics is not a devolution in Asia. Instead it signals an evolution. Afterall, autonomy and independence brings along with them a greater share of personal responsibility. How can a society devolve, when personal responsibility becomes its cherished asset?