Being born a girl is hard enough, but coming into the world as a brown girl is seemingly harder: forced to face the most violent, burdensome subjugations of the Diaspora, still holding onto the traditions of lands left behind, a culture so rife in patriarchy, abuse and placing izzat on the shoulders of its daughters’.
The microcosms of the South Asian population ingrains itself in the upbringing of their children, the difference in the ways sons and daughters are raised, conquering and dividing with girls being the family’s honour and boys being the family’s pride, and the downfall of it all coming with a toe out of line from a girl, a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife. She is expected to uphold the family’s reputation to utter perfection, yet he carries the family’s legacy with no repercussions, no belittlement, and no guilt. The sexism wielded by parents is taught from previous generations, passed down like an heirloom of gold, forsaking the rights given to women by religion, changing it all to suit their own narrative. Some parents don’t allow their daughters out the house after a certain time, yet their sons can come home at 4am drunk or high, and it’s overlooked.
Tradition and respect is a mask worn by men using religion as a shield, hiding behind the rules of not disobeying one’s parents or husband proclaimed in Holy Scriptures as a way to control and dictate. In desi cultures, women are regarded as property of men; if they’re not under the control of their father, it is the brother or the uncle or the husband—always men, always subjected to the aggressive projections of patriarchy in a society that should be changing. There are a number of ways in which brown boys and men take part and encourage the misogyny and backward minded behaviours, from rape culture and condoning abuse, to not realising their positions of privilege and the freedom they possess compared to brown girls, in all areas—conspicuously, within sex, relationships, marriage and divorce and the difference in treatment, rules and expectations.
So what exactly is brown boy privilege?
Brown boy privilege is when brown boys (and men) are given the treatment, freedom and choices which are withheld from brown girls and women, and are able get away with everything. Under everything falls assault, abuse, premarital relationships and sex, drugs, drinking . . . the list can go on. Where brown girls are subjected to feeling guilty over the most miniscule things, or even prioritising their own happiness, brown boys are allowed the reins to choose and pave their own paths, their wrongdoings pardoned and gleaming with excuses, with the privilege to do whatever and be whoever they want. They’re excused and the weight of the family name does not rest on their shoulders.
Brown boys are not expected to compromise, be careful or to protect themselves unlike girls, who are blamed and shamed for their shortcomings, and a brown boy’s shortcomings are the fault of the woman. From birth, girls are taught to be quiet, small, vulnerable, put the izzat of the family first: they’re told to cover themselves, to sit with their legs closed, to be pretty but not openly, to obey the men in their lives—being born a girl is something to be ashamed of, something to fear because it means being ‘less than’. And brown girls are always less than their male counterparts.
Brown boy privilege is having every advantage that brown girls don’t.
Being born a boy in the South Asian culture is seen as the greatest honour, when in Islam having a daughter is the biggest blessing there is. The variation in religion and culture is so vast, the lines have become blurred and it is harder to see where one begins and one ends. Of course, looking deeper into religious scriptures will help you to see that women are given a high status in Islam but when this honour is warped into something so pervasive by men, often also upheld by women from elder generations, it becomes a question of where religion fits in when it comes to culture.
In Hinduism, women are held in high esteem and there are many female deities, goddesses to be worshipped. This is contradicted by the culture, where women aren’t even allowed to enter the temple when they’re on their periods. For some unknown reason, periods are seen as shameful and embarrassing.
A few months ago, I had some pads in the bathroom (it’s just easier than having to go to the bathroom to check, running back into my room and then changing) when my aunt and cousins came over. One of my cousins (a grown man with a wife and children) went into the bathroom, and afterwards, I was called into the kitchen and lectured on periods being sharam and to keep it a secret.
I mean, I’m pretty sure brown boys are aware of the entire reproductive system and the changes that arrive with puberty. It is beyond frustrating, knowing they have the power to commit vile acts and still have the protection of their family, still treated like kings when in reality they’re akin to devils. This stems from rape culture and the abuse condoning attributes, all rooted in patriarchy, misogyny and power.
This mindset of vilifying the victim and protecting the perpetrator is a (unfortunately) normal “what will people say?” brown culture reaction, from shaming and hushing the woman whose life is now irrevocably changed, to an attempt at absolving the rapist or assaulter of any guilt by concealing his crimes, all to make sure the family’s name and reputation stays intact. Islamically, it is haram to force oneself on another, to oppress anyone and take away their rights—but culture, especially brown culture, does not see this, and humanises the abusers and forgives them for a crime against a girl, all because “she shouldn’t have dressed like that” or “she should’ve known better” or “she shouldn’t have tempted him”. Worst of all, they victim-blame and gaslight, by saying “who will marry her [you] if this gets out? She’s [you’re] damaged goods.” This very thing was said to me, when I was twelve years old. Hiba Sohail says: “There is no link between rape and sexual desire. Don’t tell us to dress better—become better men.” The question that arises from this is, how will men become better when they are coddled and their crimes covered up by the people meant to protect their daughters but doing the complete opposite?
Brown boys are given the lit torch to burn down a forest, when it’s reduced to a pile of ash; girls are blamed, because they should’ve stopped it from happening. Never mind that they didn’t even know or they weren’t there: they’re automatically blamed and shamed and belittled.
It doesn’t, and never has, begin or end with rape: that’s the worst of it. It begins with catcalling, groping someone in passing, in public, without their consent, laughing, making dumb jokes about rape and girls and passing around her nudes in your lads’ group chat, or even showing it in person. Rape is never just excessive force. Rape culture, as defined by Oxford Languages is: ‘a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.’ It has become the norm amongst brown boys and men to trivialise sexual abuse, and it has become the norm to hear about an experience of it a woman has gone through.
Every woman I personally know has had at least one experience of sexual assault in her lifetime—if it wasn’t rape, it was assault or catcalling or non-consensual touching or perverted comments or a ‘joke’ that wasn’t really a joke. Because it never really is just a joke. I have been a victim of sexual assault at the hands of my cousin and he had his own brown boy privilege, a man married with three kids, more than old enough to know better. I was a child and told to remain quiet for the sake of the reputation and to still be deemed as marriage-material.
Rape culture isn’t just fuelled by the men and boys who actively take part, it is carried on by the ‘good guys’ who do nothing when their boys are making rape jokes or any kind of insensitive comments under the guise of ‘dark humour’. It is the good guys who stay quiet when their boy mentions that drunk girl he fucked the other night (drunk people can’t give consent!), or about how he coerced his girl into sex (if the answer isn’t a straight yes, and if you continue to beg and plead and badger and manipulate your way to sex? It’s rape.)
“The men we consider ‘the good guys’ consolidate that silence as they awkwardly stumble out of the room whenever the word rape is dropped, too uncomfortable to endure the conversation, as always, leaving it up to the women to discuss and deal with.”Salma El-Wardwany
Men need to start taking accountability for their actions and the role they play in promoting this violence, aggression and stigma surrounding the abuse and trauma inflicted on women. It continues to be so damaging and inherently detrimental to the psychological and emotional wellbeing, affecting them not just now, but later in life, and the generations to come. This culture will probably always continue to glorify its sons, allowing them to get away with anything, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it carry on.
We cannot bear the weight of patriarchy any longer, not when it is so destructive to the lives of so many women. It’s up to us to change that narrative, to talk back to family members or the community, to demand equality in the way we’re treated and spoken to, to be so unapologetically proud of being a woman we’re able to free ourselves from the chains of Brown Girl Guilt, tying us to backward traditions and values. Because if Brown Girl Guilt is real, then so is Brown Boy Privilege, dripping in patriarchy and misogyny. It’s about time we fought back and claimed the respect we deserve.