"Melissa, I'll tell you one thing: before you marry a man, make sure his salary is higher than yours. You don't want your husband to feel ashamed of himself when he sees his wife making more money than him."
Mouth agape, my mind was unable to comprehend what I had just heard. Albeit, I found humor in the realization that this came from a man whose wife was, indeed, making more money from her career than he was, I could not find humor in the meaning behind the degrading advice itself.
I was born into a conservative, misogynistic culture through my Guyanese background, despite living in New York City, a setting notorious for being liberal and modernized. It is a culture where young girls involuntarily wed a stranger after finishing school, a culture where a woman's main expectation is to bear children and raise them at home, a culture when a woman must adhere to her husband's every demand. It is a culture that demoralizes women, restraining them from pursuing a "man's job," but a culture that shapes the other half of my identity.
At 14 years old, I realized these traditional morals my family upheld had contradicted the morals I developed as a millennial who is indulged in a city and era where our youth is at its peak of liberation. I felt helpless and defeated, having not expecting my parents to react in such an obscure way towards my career goals.
But I remember one day coming across a compelling quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel, "We Should All Be Feminists:" "We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, 'you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you will threaten the man.'"
I was captivated. Adichie perfectly illustrated the underlying cultural misogyny surrounding me - the reasons I felt constrained in my liberty to pursue whatever life I please. It made me realized that I'm not the only woman of color who had to encounter parental disapproval in future aspirations due to internalized sexism in my culture.
Aside from the tendency of East Indian culture to demean the daily lives of women, I have sincere admiration for my ethnic roots. I take pride knowing I am from the only English-speaking country in South America. I'm fond of the cultural diversity, music, and the unique Guyanese dialect that sounds like home to me, however, I am not fond of the traditional and oppressive values that I am expected to inherit. I don't want to be a statistic of my culture.
I want to be someone my grandparents are proud of, someone my daughters can look up to.
In spite of that, I consider myself to be enlightened. Empowered. Inspired. Adichie's work taught me to disregard the factors that portray sexism in my life. It helped me understand that women should not be subjected to lesser achievements for the sake of preserving those of men, but rather craft their own pathway towards a prosperous future. It allows me to withstand those who deny the existence of my full potential and embrace a divine future that subdues oppressive gender normalities. Ambition is for everyone of all genders, ages, and ethnicities: freedom that should not be limited nor restricted to anyone.