006: Made (they/she)
Made discusses navigating family relationships and prescriptive gender roles. They also discuss their experiences living independently and navigating a predominantly white institution as a mixed-race person.
Participants: Made [M] & Interviewer [I]
Location: Bhuvaneshwar Mandir, Queens, NY
Date: March 10, 2019
(00:00) I: Hi. My name is [...]. I'm here with Made on March 10th at Bhuvaneshwar Mandir in Queens. So, Made, can you tell me about yourself?
(00:13) M: Yeah, so like I said, my name is Madeline. I go by Made. I use she or they pronouns, depending on who I'm around. I am Guyanese, but I am mixed race. My mom is Indo-Caribbean and my dad is Black and Indo-Caribbean.
(00:30) I: Were you born here?
(00:31) M: I was born in New York. Yeah, but both my parents were born in Guyana, so I'm first-generation. I'm 22. I currently work at a housing discrimination non-profit in Long Island City.
(00:46) I: And do you live with your mom or...?
(00:49) M: No. I live by myself in my own apartment but I have roommates but I don't live with my family.
(00:56) I: So you're independent?
(00:56) M: Yeah (laughs).
(00:58) I: Tell me about the major things in your life, a few of the major things in your life, that influenced you and who were the important characters in that?
(01:08) M: I guess the most immediate thing that comes to mind would be who has influenced the person I've grown into today, which...I am a very independent person. Everyone in my family likes to joke around about it because I'm not really around a lot, but a big reason for that is just because I've always kind of had to take on a lot of responsibility growing up. So, also the maternal side of me comes out because I spent the majority of my childhood kind of taking care of my sister in place of my parents, just kind of emotionally raising her, if that makes sense, or just being there for her in ways that my parents weren't able to because they were just working all of the time and not really home. And then because of that, I felt like I had to grow up quite fast compared to most people, and then also definitely not getting along with my parents very well growing up made me want to get out of the house as soon as possible. So, I was very independent as far as just deciding I was gonna leave whenever I wanted to leave, and then once I left the house for good, just staying very away from as much as possible.
(02:34) I: So you're a liberated woman.
(02:35) M: (laughs) Yeah, I guess you could say so.
(02:39) I: So describe any messages that you learned or that throughout your young life--you know you're still very much a young woman--things that you were taught or taught to you that no longer serves you.
(02:57) M: My mom definitely had a very strict idea in her head of what gender roles were in the household growing up, and I actually got a lot of mixed messages growing up because when I was a very small child, probably up until I was around 8 or 9 years old, she very much raised me to be a tomboy. I had an older brother who was very active and she was always pushing me to hang out with him and his friends, roll around in the dirt, play football with them and everything, and [she] was constantly telling me, "I'm not raising a girly girl." But, as I got older and I guess as I started growing more into my womanhood or whatever you want to call it, she immediately started imposing very strict gender roles on me where I had to act very feminine, I had to be very feminine, I had to dress very feminine. And with that also came her constantly insisting that I take on a lot of household chores while my brother didn't necessarily have to do anything around the house. It definitely impacted the way I was allowed to act and speak in the house. She definitely pushed me to kind of be more quiet, not be more outspoken around the house, to sit up properly and everything. I had to be very much quite ladylike around her. So, those are things that don't serve me now and that I kind of never really adhered to, and was a point of tension in our relationship. It was difficult not because...I don't think at any point I had internalized any of it. I don't think at any point I was just like, "Alright, well I'm a girl and this is how I'm supposed to be." I was always very much had the mindset of "I don't agree with this. I don't think this is how I should be." And so the difficulty just came from interacting with my mom around it because I'm a very stubborn person, and so we would get into fights a lot because I would just be like, "I don't understand. I don't want to do this," and she would say, "Well you have to do this because you're a woman now." So, that was the majority of the difficulty, just the constant fighting around that.
(05:12) I: Do you feel that perhaps she was, in her own mind, preparing you for a particular role in a particular way?
(05:23) M: Yeah, I think now that I'm older and I've had the space, especially to reflect on my childhood and my relationship with my mom, I think that she just comes from a time and a place where that is just how a woman acts and, especially for security in life, you need to get married and you need to have kids and everything. So, I think that, in her own way, she was really just trying to prepare me and even though my mom also in a lot of ways is a very strong independent woman, I understand where she was coming from with it.
(06:02) I: Are there ways that you've experienced discrimination against women and girls in your family?
(06:09) M: Yes (laughs).
(06:11) I: Or in your community? First let's look at the family.
(06:15) M: So my mom's side of the family is quite conservative and traditional, so all my extended family members, my aunts and uncles and my grandparents, all had the same mindset of my mom of kind of trying to push me to tailor the way that I act and exist to be more subservient, especially to be a lot more quiet. I've always been a very loud person, especially with my younger sister. The two of us will laugh for hours very loudly and I remember being at my grandparents' house and my grandpa getting really angry with us and yelling at us that we needed to be quiet because we were just making too much noise for girls. I definitely, on that side of the family, feel like I get treated differently because I'm a woman. Because a lot of times, I will compare myself to my brother, which I feel like is a good way of looking at it, where my brother can get away with everything under the sun and really has gotten away with a lot of very serious harmful things and the family response to him has always been, "We still love you. You mean a lot to us," blah, blah blah. Meanwhile, I will make a small mistake and get chewed out over it. I think the biggest example, recently actually, at my brother's college graduation, I had worn a romper, that I guess was a little too short, and my uncle was really upset about it and ended up screaming at me in front of the entire family for a good half an hour, cursing me out, calling me a whore and a slut for no reason other than he thought that what I was wearing was a bit short. That's treatment I've gotten from them pretty consistently.
(08:13) I: How did you defend yourself or how did you protect yourself from that?
(08:19) M: At that point, when someone's just screaming at you like that, I just didn't say anything, because there really is nothing that I can say. With them especially, any time that I try to defend myself, it's seen as me being rude or me being impolite and I get yelled at even more for trying to defend myself. I just kept my mouth shut and then talked to my brother about it later because my brother, only recently, has tried supporting me a little bit when it comes to my issues with the family. I told him about what happened and he went and talked to our uncle and told him, "That was really inappropriate what you did and said, don't ever do that again." There really is no way for me to advocate for myself in the moment, so what I do now, I just don't really interact with them.
(09:07) I: How do you digest it afterwards? Process it?
(09:11) M: Cry. A lot (laughs). I'm a really emotional person, so I try not to cry in front of other people in the moment, but I'll go home and cry a lot about it. But, crying feels good. It's a way for me to recognize that, yes this is something really horrible that happened to me and I have right to be very upset about this. Then I talk to people who do love me, like my sister and my brother about it. Yeah, just remind myself that they all have their own issues. It's not the end of the world if any of this happens and it doesn't really mean that much in the grand scheme of things.
(09:54) I: Very good. Very wise. So in society now, in the whole community, have you experienced discrimination and what that might be?
(10:04) M: The majority of the ways I've interacted with the larger Indo-Caribbean community has been through my dad's side of the family more so than my mom's side of the family. My dad's side are very supportive about spoken women. So, there's like a theme in that side of the family of very independent women, my grandma being a big example of one of them. So, thankfully whenever I've had to interact with the larger community, I've never really had anyone attempt to treat me different just because I'm a woman. I think it definitely helps that literally everywhere we go, my dad and my grandpa are always like, "Oh, this is Made. She's the smartest out of all the grandkids and she's gonna go do all these amazing things." They love bragging about me and all the thing that I do, so I think they already establish me as this very independent, strong-minded woman that you shouldn't try to talk down to.
(10:58) I: What about the society as a large, say the whole living in New York?
(11:06) M: It is really rough to be a woman in the world, or I guess perceived as a woman because I have a lot of issues around my own gender identity, But from everything ranging from street harassment, which I get constantly, I've been followed home before multiple times when I was living in Boston, going to school. When I've been living here, I've been followed home. I think the thing that upsets me the most out of all of it though are office dynamics. When I feel like I'm not being listened to or I'm being treated differently because I'm a woman, that frustrates me so much. It makes me really angry because I know my worth. I know that I'm an intelligent person and I don't like people dismissing me. I don't like it especially when men talk to me in a very gendered way, so when they're like "ma'am" or "miss" or just like "this lady". You know the way that they change even their body language when a woman's in a room? It's really difficult to describe but they act like very different around women than they do around men that I feel like disrespects me because they don't see me as a colleague, they see me as a woman that they need to cater their behaviour towards--or other things where I'm expected to cater my behaviour towards other people. So it's an issue during a meeting [if] I'm not smiling...but it's a serious meeting, why would I be smiling? Meanwhile, men have a serious face and are talking very seriously about what's happening. Just stuff like that. I've gotten comments made to my boss about the fact that I don't really smile or laugh or whatever during a meeting.
(12:54) I: How do you navigate yourself around that?
(12:57) M: I push back a lot in as gentle of a way as possible, just because I don't wanna push things too much because I understand that my position no matter wherever I am isn't always secure and I don't want to get that reputation of that loud-mouthed trouble maker. But I will, like I said, just push back gently so be like, "Actually, I think that this is what's happening," and bring up some factual information to back it up and I guess just hope that that person listens to me or I guess in those instances where people have complained about my body language, I have very plainly told them, "Well why should I be smiling?" I ask them to answer that question, and if they can't give me a good answer to it, it kind of shows what their motivations are.
(13:46) I: Now that's about sexism, what about racism? Have you ever, in the larger community, living in New York...?
(13:55) M: In my everyday life, I don't really get a lot of racist street harassment, which is really great because I have been racialized in a lot of ways where there have been a couple times where I have gotten islamophobic hate slurs thrown at me even though I'm not muslim and I'm not middle eastern. It's just because of the way that I look. Honestly, the biggest issues I've had with racism have actually been when I was at school doing my undergrad, being around a lot of very wealthy, elitist, white students who just don't know better, but when you try to teach them, they are very resistant to it. I've had to deal with a lot of racism from my peers at school, from professors at the school as well, who ended up having really not healthy learning environments because they just refused to address their racism. Then being a student of color in that classroom, having to just put up with it because you need to take this class is really difficult. Then another layer on top of that, I went to a school that has a really intense police force for some reason. We're on the cusp between two towns, so we already have two local police forces monitoring the campus but our police force, for some reason, the summer before my senior year, got militarized with automatic weapons, bulletproof riot gear, unmarked police cars, the whole nine yards. This had come after police will routinely stop black and brown students on campus, basically assuming that they're not students on campus and they're just wandering around. I've gotten stopped before and asked if I'm a student. They will purposefully break up specifically black parties on campus in really disruptive almost violent ways where they will come into the house with their guns and start yelling at everyone that they need to leave. Meanwhile at frat parties, they'll stand outside, go talk to someone, tell them they need to shut down the—be very polite about it. But, the majority of the very visceral experiences I've had with racism have been when I was at school.
(16:20) I: I'm gonna go on to this question, that's number eight if you want to look at it there. Are there any misrepresentations in your community that you are important to speak back to, given your own experiences or the experiences of women in your life?
(16:37) M: I don't think it's so much of a stereotype than an expectation, but I feel like women in the community are constantly expected to take care of everyone else. No matter what age they're at, no matter if they're married or not, whatever their relation is to other people, they're always expected to be the ones taking care of other people, and that just shouldn't be it. If anything, it should be, if you're talking about taking care of each other, then why aren't men stepping into those roles to be taking care of other people? How come every time I walk into any family function or whatever in a house, it's all the women in a kitchen and the men are sitting around drinking a beer, talking to each other? There is so much labor put onto women that are just expected for them to do that it really just shouldn't be. Or that we're constantly expected to wait on the male counterparts in our families. You know, if your uncle or your cousin asks you to go get something from the kitchen, you're supposed to go do that. I was definitely taught that as a child. I was taught I had to pick up after my older brother as a child, which is not okay. So, I think really a lot of that.
(17:57) I: How do you navigate that? How do you push back against that or do you at all? Or are you just...
(18:02) M: I've kind of already established this reputation in my family, I guess, of being the black sheep of the family, so everyone knows kind of not to test me in that way. And I will be polite, you know, if there's mess around, I'll clean it up and everything or if I know that there's only one of my aunts in the kitchen cleaning up, I'll go and I'll help her out. But everyone kind of knows already not to be like, "Go get me a beer," because I'll be like, "Go get it yourself. I am already sitting down. I am nowhere close to the cooler. You go do that."
(18:38) I: Do you ever find yourself defending the other women in your family or protecting—?
(18:45) M: I try to sometimes, mostly with my younger cousins and everyone. Because I feel like if I were to step in for my older family members, it would just be received as being disrespectful, and I also don't wanna speak on behalf of them. For example, my mom...she expects herself to be doing all of this, so for me to step in and be like, "Don't ask that of my mom," she'd say, "Why are you saying that? I'm fine doing this." And for her she is fine. But for my younger siblings, especially my younger cousins, who are 10, 11 years old, I'm just like, "They're in the other room hanging out. Why are you calling them in here because you need something from the kitchen? Your daughters aren't your slaves."
(19:27) I: You're so young yet, but is there anything from you past that you feel that future generations shouldn't have to know, that you protect them from it?
(19:38) M: I think that's really difficulty because I've been through a lot in my short life so far that, especially because I see my younger sister a lot as a daughter to me in a lot of ways, just thinking about future generations, it's important to talk about some of that stuff with them, like racist hate crimes I've experienced. I feel like it's very important to be quite candid about that with the younger generation. Even though my hope is that they never have to experience that, I want them to be prepared for the reality of it. If I were to have children, who are obviously going to people people of color because I am their mother, I want them to know the reality of what interacting with the police is like, for example. Even though I hope then in the future the police force will be a lot better, it's just, I want them to be prepared. And especially if I were to have daughters or if I were to be an aunt for any nieces, I want them to be fully aware of how rape and sexual assault happen and the fact that it is never their fault, but there are ways that unfortunately you need to defend yourself as a woman in this world. Even though, like I said, I hope that none of them ever have to go through this, I think it's so important to talk about, though. And I would be comfortable talking from my own personal experiences and being like, "This happened to me." Because then also, I want them to feel comfortable that if any of that were to happen to them, that they can come talk to me about it, because I will understand.
(21:20) I: Leading right into the next question, briefly, what are your other hopes for the next generation?
(21:26) M: I hope that they're kind to each other. I think that that's so difficult sometimes, especially when you feel like you're going through some really rough patches. It's difficult to remember to be kind to each other, but also on being really kind to yourself and loving yourself. Because a lot of people will try to put you down in the world, whether they're aware of it or not, but just reminding yourself to be gentle and patient with yourself and where you're at are really important.
(22:00) I: Thank you so much for sharing.
(22:02) M: Thank you.