Take yourself to the festival of Rakshabandhan. When you move ahead to tie the rakhi on your brother’s wrist who is supposed to protect you, you stop and wonder that how can your brother who is many years younger possibly protect you? Being an elder sister, shouldn’t it be you who has the power to protect and the intellect to guide your siblings? But, the patriarchal society considers an elder daughter as always the one who needs protection and guidance from the brother who might be younger than her. While on the other side, the elder son will not be as vulnerable as the elder daughter. Rather, he would be treated as the next patriarch of the family, stern, controlling and the bread-earner.
We are a part of the society where some families still consider a daughter as a burden that makes a family vulnerable to harsh social criticisms. While bearing a son is a privilege that allows the family to live with head held high. But do we consider how much this gender bias affects the life of a woman? A woman who has been brought up as an unwanted daughter either succumbs to the male-dominated society or is forced to quit it if she wants to raise her voice. Her talents, personality and uniqueness never get their due credit because they are overshadowed by misogyny.
Similarly, an elder daughter is at the receiving end of discriminations and disadvantages which are replaced by honour and privilege in the case of elder sons. Our society praises the elder siblings as leaders who have been bestowed with the responsibility of guiding their younger siblings. It is said that elder siblings are the shadows of parents and not everyone deserves this respect in life. But why does the definition of an elder sibling changes with gender? Why an elder daughter isn’t raised as a leader like an elder son? Just because she is a daughter?
In many families, elder daughters become mother figures who take care of the household needs of the family. While the elder sons literally step into the shoes of the fathers. Our patriarchal society has already projected mothers as the weak, dependent and self-sacrificing beings of the society. And when elder daughters are expected to take on the same role, one can hardly ignore the gender bias they face. They too become dependent members of the family. They are expected to help their mothers in the housework and serve the family members in return of protection and security. Like the mothers, they inherit the role of the selfless caregiver who relies on the men of the family for the decisions of her life. Perhaps if our mothers could unlearn the patriarchal upbringing, elder daughters could have inherited their defiance and empowerment.
On the other hand, elder sons are the heir of their fathers’ patriarchal and financial power. They become the decision-makers of the family who have the access to the outside world. Elder sons also become the practical heir of the family business while in the case of elder daughters, it is the younger son who gets to own the family business. Neither are the elder brothers expected to provide emotional care to their siblings; rather the aura of power gives them the right to control and interfere in the lives of their younger siblings, especially younger sisters. The control begins from moral policing of younger sisters and ends at worst consequences of honour killing. There have been reported cases of brothers killing their sisters for having an affair, getting married against the family’s choice or even for voting when it was prohibited by the brother.
What also differs in the upbringing of an elder son and an elder daughter is the question of marriage. An elder daughter, like any other woman, is expected to get married as soon as she reaches the marriageable age. On the other hand, an elder son’s marriage is often delayed because many families consider it inappropriate to marry off a son when there is an unmarried daughter at home, even if she is the younger one. So no matter if a woman is a younger or an elder daughter, she has to get married as soon as possible, settle in her life and relieve the burden of her family.
Why an elder daughter is still deprived of the rights and freedom that an elder son enjoys?
Despite being the elder offspring, why is she treated as naive, irresponsible to handle business and finance and vulnerable to the protection and orders of her parents or the younger brother? Why is a woman always the one who needs to be protected and a man the protector?
Hence it can be said, it is a woman’s gender and the stereotypes related to it that determines their identity, responsibility and uniqueness. If only there were no gender discrimination, an elder sister would have rightfully stepped into the shoes of her father, wrapped around her mother’s empowering saree and become a feminist leader with power and compassion. And so would an elder brother without any gender barrier. The bond between brothers and sisters is crucial to ending the patriarchy at home. And the role of an elder sibling is the pivot. So remove the gendered lens while raising elder daughters and sons.
Views expressed are author’s own