Negotiating Conflict between Personal Desires and Others' Expectations in Lives of Gujarati Women


  • Vaishali V. Raval

    1. Asian/Asian American Studies Program, and the Center for Human Development, Learning, and Technology at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
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Abstract A substantial body of literature in psychological anthropology has challenged the stereotypical depiction of South Asian women as passive subordinates in patriarchal families, and has provided accounts of these women as actors in their social world. Focusing specifically on situations of interpersonal conflict in this article, I analyze the narratives of Gujarati women from two cohorts, daughters-in-law in Gujarat, India and mothers-in-law in Gujarati immigrant families in Canada, to argue that these women actively engage in negotiating the conflict between their wishes and others' expectations. The mode of agency that they exercise is less egocentric and more relational—the decision making and negotiations occur within the parameters of their familial roles, rather than rebellion against family structures, and their actions are driven by motivations involving the welfare of their children and grandchildren, rather than “individualistic” desires. These narratives, along with ethnographic works exploring South Asian personhood, call for the need to broaden the conceptualization of agency, and challenge the appropriateness of traditional individualistic feminism in understanding the lives of women globally. [India, women, personhood, agency, interpersonal conflict]