A Response to “On Catfighting”

Last week, an article was published in the Maroon-News which put forward the notion that women of lower classes and/or born of immigrants are more likely to use marriage, instead of education, as a tool for upward mobility, which then, supposedly, translates into increased “cattiness” on their part. Cattiness, according to the article, is defined to be competitiveness rooted in a woman’s insecurities, in regards to her looks and romantic status. The assertion was made to serve as a contrast to the women from middle/upper classes, whose parents support their academic prowess and, so, are then apparently less catty. 

Let me start off by saying that all of that is absolutely preposterous and simply wrong. First of all, to correlate class structure and a negative attribute, such as cattiness, segregates women by considering women of upper classes to be superior to women of lower classes. Second, I think it is safe to say that a woman’s cattiness has absolutely no connection with her class status; an upper class woman and a lower class woman have an equal chance of being catty, regardless of their background. Every person is different and to make such an extreme generalization, without any evidence of such a link, is ridiculous. Instead of attempting to figure out which women are catty and which women are not, women should, instead, come together and attempt to mitigate this sense of competitiveness. Because of the ever-present struggle that hinders women to this day, we should be unified, not pitted against each other.

What aggravated me the most from the statement, however, was the conclusion that women born to immigrants, influenced by their home-cultures, seek marriage instead of education or a career as a way to gain status. I, myself, am the daughter of two Indian-born immigrants and have not once felt that marriage is required for self-satisfaction or that my own accomplishments would not be enough for me to be considered successful.

My father came to this country with, literally, a twenty dollar bill in his pocket after being recruited for an IT job, while my mother followed suit a few years later to pursue a job at a hospital in New Jersey. My parents, like many immigrants, came to the United States in hopes of pursuing the “American Dream.” They wanted to achieve success through perseverance and they recognized that America has better tools and opportunities to do so. Although my parents come from what the author might call a “traditionalist culture,” they were certainly not married for the sake of upward mobility.

Although my parents’ marriage was arranged, what some people fail to understand is that, in a society like India, it is nearly impossible for people of two different classes to get married; a “traditionalist culture,” like India, is actually more prone to reject social mobility through marriage.  It does not matter in my case, though, because my parents have never even considered the option of arranged marriage for their children. In fact, my parents have continuously stressed that school is the most important factor for success and have, therefore, only expected the best academically from my sister, who now studies economics and political science at Johns Hopkins University, and me alike. This has not only been my experience, but that of many students with immigrant parents. Because realistically, why would an immigrant tell their child to “marry up” when they themselves left everything that they knew in order to give their children the opportunity to live a better life?

If you don’t believe me, there is plenty of research that supports the notion that children of immigrants are generally supported by their parents to pursue an education. According to a study from the U.S. Department of Education, conducted in 2010, half of the student body in higher education is comprised of first-generation students whose parents have not received a four-year degree. Also, an article entitled “A Profile of First-Generation College Students at Four-Year Institutions Since 1971” states that “despite the assertion that first-generation students are at a disadvantage due to their parents’ lack of knowledge about formal educational systems and higher education, our…trends show that both first-generation and non-first-generation students placed similar importance on parental encouragement for college.” In fact, the article also points out that from 1991 onward, more first-generation students attributed their desire to go to college on the encouragement of their parents than non-first-generation students. So, not only are there a significant number of first-generation students, but those students mainly attribute their successes to their immigrant parents. These students, despite drawbacks such as class and parents who are unfamiliar about the American education system, actually excel academically in this country. Also, in regards to specifically females in an education setting, according to “Those Invisible Barriers are Real: The Progression of First-Generation Students through Doctoral Education,” not only do first-generation students make up almost half of the student body, but they are also predominantly women and “individuals of color.” It is evident that these students come from families who, instead of urging marriage, are enforcing education and professional careers. This certainly is not a trend, as some seem to believe, just for the middle- and upper-class.

It was disturbing to see that someone could believe these ideas ring true about women of lower-classes and different cultures. The only thing that redeemed my faith was the quick response of those in protest to those sentiments. However, to the people who still cannot see what I am saying, I recommend that you look around campus and try to find some of these women and meet them. It won’t be hard because they are literally everywhere: out on the quad, at the Coop, at the gym, at various club meetings and even in your 300-level economics class. Regardless of their personal story, I can guarantee that they will be brilliant, witty, determined and hard working. They will also exude confidence, strength and independence. In no way are these women inferior to the other women you find on this campus. These women, too, are worth getting to know and I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Contat Cynthia Kumar at [email protected].