Although Maher and Sothy lead utterly distinct lives with different circumstances and intersectional identities, they share a gender identity that shapes their responsibilities, self-perception, and relationships with men. In Amna’s “Café May,” Maher is “unmarried and childless” and employed. Maher’s cultural upbringing dictates that as the unmarried sister, she must contend and acquiesce to Salma to retain the sibling bond she shares with Razi. Maher must “compromise and compromise and compromise” her values and beliefs to remain close to Razi. Since women are expected to have nurturing traits, Maher perceives herself as a nurturer. This is evident from Maher’s obligation, as most of her responsibilities entail caring and being accommodating to the needs of others. Maher conforms to this stereotype when Razi and Salma pay her visit. Maher takes the nurturing role and convinces the six-month-pregnant Salma that the trip to Hamburg should not be “an ambitious jaunt through Europe” (Amna). While on the trip, Maher refrains from going to bars “in respect to Salma’s belly” (Amna). In addition to illustrating Maher’s nurturing character, these nurturing acts show conformation with the common expectations of women, especially when they are expectant. Maher also retains some responsibilities to herself, evident when she moves to Hamburg to pursue her career. However, in doing so, she deviates from the gender-specific expectation of a woman consulting a man before making her career choices, especially when they are in a relationship. Amna explains that Maher’s relationship ends when she takes the “job without telling him.”
Unlike Maher, Sothy is divorced, self-employed, and a single mother. Nevertheless, like Maher, her identity as a woman shapes her responsibilities, self-perception, and relationship with men. As a divorced woman, Sothy is responsible for caring for her two children, which conforms with the common expectations of motherhood. Following the divorce, Sothy’s days are “weighed down by the pressure of supporting her daughters without her ex-husband” (So). In addition to showing her responsibility as a mother, this illustrates the common expectation of single mothers financially struggling to provide for their families. Labored by the obligation to provide for her daughters, “rest is not an option” for Sothy, and as a result, she perceives herself as having “stubby limbs” and a “plump face” (So). Despite this harsh perception of self, it helps her support her family.
Further, Sothy perceives herself as lacking the necessary skills or education to improve her financial situation. She mentions that her G.E.D. and her husband’s job as a janitor may suggest that she feels limited by her educational background and job prospects (So). Additionally, the reference to frying dough as her main skill implies that she may not see herself as having marketable skills or talents. This self-perception makes it clear to Sothy that her limitations may cause her to fail in meeting her responsibilities as a parent. As a result, she secures a loan from her husband’s distant uncle to open Chuck’s Donuts. Men play a role in Sothy’s deviation from common expectations of women. After the divorce, Sothy has to deviate from the common expectations of women and become the protector and provider of her family.
While Abbu’s strict adherence to gender-specific norms and behaviors ensures the proper upbringing of his children, Sothy’s ex-husband’s deviation from gender-specific norms causes him to abandon his family. Abbu strictly abides by the gender-specific norms when he disciplines Razi and Meher for playing “dress-up” (Amna). This also shows that Abbu adheres to the specific gender role of being the disciplinarian in the family. Further, Abbu also “threatened” to make Razi and Meher sleep on the “bathroom floor” (Amna). Due to his strict adherence to traditional gender norms, he was able to raise his children properly. Meher confirms this by saying they “turned out fine” (Amna). On the other hand, Sothy’s ex-husband rejects the traditional gender roles of a man. The ex-husband deviates from his role as a father infecting Tevy and Kayley with “so much anxious energy” while leaving Sothy with too many responsibilities to handle alone (So). In addition, he loses Tevy’s respect, who cannot “stomach” him (So). The ex-husband’s rejection of the traditional male gender roles causes emotional distress for his children and leaves Sothy with many responsibilities. The children’s negative reactions to their father’s deviation suggest it damages their emotional well-being.
Amna, Dur e Aziz. “Café May.” Catapult, 13 Aug. 2021, https://catapult.co/stories/cafe-may-hamburg-in-laws-short-story-dure-aziz-amna.
So, Anthony Veasna. “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts.” The New Yorker, 3 Feb. 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/10/three-women-of-chucks-donuts.