Moving to India was not an idea I came up with overnight. A small part of me was somewhat seduced by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love – I know, what a cliché right? But really, travelling to the other side of the world was my first cry for independence, or better yet, the first real life decision I took on my own. I’m originally Brazilian and I’m passionate about travelling and learning, so I took the challenge of interning in a start-up based in Bangalore.
Living in bustling Bangalore
“It won’t be that hard” – people told me – “Bangalore is one of the most Westernised cities in India”. Eight months later, I can say it isn’t, indeed, hard at all to adapt to Bangalore. I will skip all the comments over chaotic traffic jams or how hard it is to cross the street on rush hours; neither mention my bargaining techniques with rickshaw drivers (which might lead to a completely different article) or how it feels to be back home at midnight after the club shuts down.
Instead I want to discuss what it’s like to be an expat woman in Incredible India. I’m in my early twenties, and this is the first time I’m in such a diverse environment. Before landing here, I had never seen a woman wearing a burqa or a sari; I had never realized how so many people take skin colour so seriously (I thought most of us had dropped that topic already?); and I had never paid attention to concerns such as girl child infanticide.
From Brazil to Bangalore – the similarities, the differences
In Brazil, we have a lot of social challenges, but these specific ones were new for me. Back home, my reality included picking up a cute dress for the next party, figuring out the next guy I was going to date or planning the next ride to the beach. I’d be happy to take over Sunday’s lunch cooking and spend some family time watching a Hollywood movie. I’d barely step out of my comfort zone or feel any compassion for the girls my age that lived under much harder conditions.
My first engagement with the “feminine universe” and its concerns came during my graduation thesis. I chose to write about beer advertising and macho ideology – how women are symbolically represented as sexual objects in order to increase alcohol sales.
And then, coming to India was like reality slapping me in the face! After living and working here, my point of view and ideologies are different now. I can’t choose to ignore social problems around me and going backwards is no longer an option.
The social constraints Brazilian women face are very similar to those faced by Indian women, but in different ways. In Brazil, we have to fight a much more subtle social battle: a battle of unspoken discriminative words, of the unrepresentative beauty stereotypes of soap operas, and of the expected passive girly behaviour.
In India, however, discriminative words and actions are clearly spoken; beauty stereotypes look a lot more Western than Indian; and the passive girly behaviour is not only expected by your partner, but by your family, your boss and society around you, no matter to what community you belong.
Being a woman – in India, in Brazil, in the world
An inexperienced eye would assume being a young woman in India is much harder than being one in Brazil, but isn’t it hard anywhere? Upon our birth we’re expected to be strong, smart, sensitive, and healthy lovers, sisters, mothers, daughters, and workers. We’re all fighters, independent of the country where we’re born.
But if I had never come to India, I wouldn’t be aware of the differences in our similarities, nor would I empathise with our cause as much as I do now. And I owe this enlightenment to my work colleagues, to the unborn baby girls, to the female entrepreneurs, to the women gurus and to each and every change maker who’s making a difference in this incredible country. Thank you for giving such inspiring life lessons. Happy Women’s Day!