The Changing Role of Dads

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a homemaker (when my kids were little), I was in this playgroup of 5 kids and their parents. 4 of them were moms and there was one dad. It was my first time meeting a full time stay-at-home dad. He was completely capable and handled tantrums, diaper leaks, eating disasters, and slushy mud puddles with ease and a great sense of humor. This was about 10 years ago.

Now I meet stay-at-home dads everywhere – in my neighborhood, at work, at my kids’ school, in my support group. Some of them work from home. Some of them run businesses from home.  Others take care of their little kids and the house full time.

In the last post, Chaiwallah brought up the point about a man being discriminated for being a homemaker. I do not see this discrimination as something separate (men’s suffering versus women’s suffering in patriarchy) but as connected. The more we encourage gentleness and caring in boys, the more nurturing and helpful they will be at home when they become parents. Dads doing their fair share at home supports moms’ empowerment. If men are free of stereotypes, then women are free to make more choices. If men can choose to stay at home more, then women can choose to be more career focused (in families that prefer to have this division of labor). If both parents choose to work outside the home, then both can share the housework and childcare fairly without attaching gender labels to these duties.

Here’s a sampling of some recent ads about dads. Of course, for every one of these ads, there are a 1000 others that show women in traditional roles.  In reality, (if we look at stats worldwide) men have a long way to go in terms of doing their fair share at home. But, look around you. Things are changing, little by little. The fact that businesses want to spend millions of dollars positioning their products around this cultural shift means that the shift is happening. It means we are beginning to lean toward the following notions:

  • gentleness, warmth, and caring don’t make a man any less of a human being
  • the ability to demonstrate emotions makes a human being stronger, not weaker
  • dads are not clueless at home, they can be relied on to do their part at home and keep the family running smoothly, and they can multi-task as well as moms
  • housework, cooking, and cleaning are not “inferior” jobs assigned to “less capable” people (read women), they are simply – jobs that need to get done -and every person (man or woman) has to learn to do them.

Swiffer Ad – dads cleaning the house, watching kids jumping in puddles. Dad complains, “no such thing as deep couch sitting” :-)

Dove Ad –Dads kissing, hugging, playing with their children. Dads helping kids out of stuck shirts, cleaning them after toilet use, ready to help when they’re stuck on a road, when they’re afraid of water, when they have a bad dream, when they’re distressed.

Tide – Child napping with dad.

Cheerios – A funny ad about a capable, confident dad – it’s called “How to dad” :)

Extra gum Origami – Dad is there with daughter through all the stages of growing.

Johnson’s – Dads comfortable conveying their love through touch, caring for their babies, being delighted in them.

And here’s a dad who’s better at cleaning than mom – because cleaning is just like any other skill – it isn’t gender specific – some people are great at it, others not so great :) Some people enjoy it, others don’t.

 

Watching these ads, I am reminded of my childhood. My father would practice volleyball with me to help me win the matches at school. The ball would keep going over the fence and he would quickly scale the fence and get it back in a jiffy. Bonus points for teaching me as well how to scale the fence :-) He was also a great cook and could make the best eggplant bhajjis. He would slice them so thinly and dip them in such light batter that they would just melt in the mouth.

Please share if you had fun experiences with your dads at home doing things that break stereotypes. Also, if you have seen other nice dad ads, please share.

Do you agree that things are changing in this regard? Or do you feel they are predominantly the same?  What has been your experience with your father/husband/siblings/friends/coworkers?  If you’re a guy, please add how you feel about all this.  Do you want to change things?  Do you want to be a different kind of dad from your own (assuming your own played a traditional father’s role)?

Related Posts:

I Want To Be A Dad. – Radhika Vaz

“My problem is my wife doesn’t like me hanging out with friends.”

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s body and Willow Smith’s hair.

An email from an Indian father: I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone…

Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

The Men in Our Lives

Why are these dads such a threat to patriarchal social structures?

Dad wears short shorts to teach daughter what she wears is everybody’s business and everybody’s approval proves her great worth.

“My dad tells me not to wear skimpy outfit when he is around”

“I know my dad is short tempered but he was never this aggressive until my relatives started making him over think about my marriage.”

Dad knifes girl for speaking to lover

Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.

“Freedom can wait, I’m staying put for Dad”

Abhishek Bachchan as a Working Dad in the new Idea ad.

“My husband says he can’t go against his family. My father says study but not without your FIL’s permission.”

“Ask your father if he has never beaten your mother!” Please adjust.

Response to “Koi Baap Apni Beti Ko Kab Jaane Se Rok Paya Hai”

Haryana killing : Here is a father A P Singh might want to defend.

“This dad is openly threatening his daughter and is instigating others to burn alive their daughters.”

The father threw the baby on the ground and tried to strangle her with his legs: No case registered.

Father wants the world to know her real name.

Feminism Is Good For Society

Where do they go away?

 

 

“I have met a lot of Indian guys who say their parents have done a lot for them so they can’t leave them now…”

” …So what about the girls? Haven’t their parents done a lot for them?”

 

Sharing an email from ‘A born feminist’. 

Dear IHM,

I hope you will post my letter. I would love to read all the responses that I get from the readers and I think it will help me a lot in making my decisions.

I think I am a born feminist. From the time I was a child I was highly ambitious and demanded equality. I somehow had a natural knack of
observing and analysing inequality between men and women in my  surroundings. To my great amazement and frustration this was treated
as something ” normal” by everyone.

I remember seeing when I was 7 or 8, I used to visit my Bua’s (dad’s older sister) place and saw that my bhabhi (cousin’s wife) would finish her job, come home, take a quick shower and help my bua in the kitchen. She then sat down with her kid to help with the homework and stuff like that. I remember her being busy from morning till night. On the other hand, my cousin who had his own business and worked from home most of the time didn’t have to do anything once he was done with his job. He came home and ordered for tea while watching TV. This was considered to be completely normal by everyone.

I think here I got the first taste of my growing feminism when I asked my mother why didn’t my cousin help his wife in the kitchen? Why didn’t she get to rest and watch her favourite shows? What made him special? I was amazed that no one questioned it. I was a little disappointed in my parents for not questioning the inequality. However, I was young and soon forgot all
about it.

As I grew older, I noticed a lot of things around me which just didn’t feel right to me. My mum comes from a small town and I remember spending the best times there with my cousins during my summer holidays. I also noticed all my female cousins helping their mums with housework while my male cousins worked in their shops and hung out with their friends. But atleast my male cousins had weekends off. The town was apparently not safe for young women after 8 pm when all the young boys would go out in their bikes in a big group and create a ruckus all over town. This made me mad because I was not allowed to go out because parents did not have control over their 20 something years old boys.

When I was 14 my mum suddenly decided that it was time for me to learn
how to cook and let me tell you it didn’t go down well with me. There were more tears and clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen than actual cooking. If only my mother had said that cooking was a skill that every individual should have rather than something that a girl needs to start learning when she hits puberty in order to prepare her for marriage. I have no regrets not learning and learnt all on my own when I realised I needed to cook for my own survival as a freshman in a new country.

When I was 25 and decided that I was now ready to settle down with a “Nice, Indian boy” one of my criteria was that I didn’t want to live with In-laws.

I am now 28 and let me tell you, all of the men that I have met over these three years have been utterly shocked by me not willing to live with in-laws. I think they consider me self centered and selfish. Here are the reasons why I am justified in not wanting to live with in-laws.

1) I am expected to not live with my parents so how do the boy’s
parents become more special?
2) I have no intentions of living with my parents either after marriage
3) I am ready to give my 100% to my parents and in-laws when they need
me (emotional support, during illness or disability) and I will be more than happy for them to live with us.
4) I want my freedom with my husband.  I have no issues with them visiting us whenever they like.
5) I have no expectations from my parents or my in-laws to help me out
in any way.
6) I want to create a lifestyle with my husband where we create the
way we want to eat, sleep, travel, decorate our house, watch TV, raise
our kids, use our money
7) I don’t expect my husband to be better in any way. I want us to work
together, save together, make plans together, cook and clean together.
I am ready to work hard with him. [link]

So how do the above seven points make me selfish in any way? I have met a lot of Indian guys who say their parents have done a lot for them so they can’t leave them now. So what about the girls? Haven’t their parents done a lot for them? Doesn’t it then, make the girl selfish to leave her parents who have done so much for her and live with a new family she
hardly knows just for her own happiness?

I clearly don’t understand the Indian marriage system and the rules of
patriarchy. I find them very archaic and suffocating. Even if my in
laws are uber modern and supercool why should I have to live with
them? Why cant my ubercool in laws just visit my new family with my
husband over the weekend? I wouldn’t want to live with my MIL even if
she was Sonia Gandhi or Hema Malini. Does it make me selfish?

Related Posts:

A detailed check list of conditions from modern young women of marriageable age.

Is your relationship healthy?

“I am trying to make a list of soooooooo many advantages a girl can have if she is born in a Western family as compared to being born in india.”

“…it’s better if he is NOT a family guy. Extra points to the one who hates kids.”

“I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

An email: Salary of the prospective groom must be 3-6 times more than the salary of the prospective bride.

An email: “My in laws want me to stay here with them while my husband works in another city.”

An email: I am 18 year old male from a traditional (read:backward) Indian family.

An email: What worries me is, will we be able to find guys who have a similar thinking process?

“I have no other option than to move in with my very orthodox in laws. I need tips to not get hurt.”

“Reading all the comments jerked me up. Really. It was like a bang! And the mind fog moved slightly…”

Sharing an update from Not a good wife. 

Dear IHM,

I have been wanting to write to you for a long time. Every time I started writing, I stopped myself thinking I will contact you only when I am ready to share the news with you that am completely out of the difficult phase I was in 3-4 years back.

I don’t know if you remember me but I had written to you in 2012,
An email: He says what am I expecting out of this marriage if I cant even make him happy.

Writing to you was one of the most sensible thing that I had done then. It gave me such a large access to different thoughts, perceptions and advice of so many people. A majority of them even helped me understand that I was actually not weird in feeling certain things. When I wrote to you that time, I was in a terrible haze, it was as though a fog had enveloped my brain and was simply refusing to fade away. I was too engrossed in dealing with everyday issues that I had forgotten who I was, who I wanted to be. I had grown so different from what I had imagined myself to be and I was hating myself for not having the courage to stand up for what I believed in.

And then I wrote to you.

Reading all the people’s comments jerked me up like anything. Really. It was like a bang! And the mind fog moved slightly to let small whips of fresh air to come in.

In the days after that, I was determined to be assertive. I stood my ground on 2-3 occasions. I also made a major decision, call it the most risky thing ever, but i left my job and tried to give my marriage another chance. I was more clear-headed though I knew what I wanted.. and I realised it was not working out.

I am glad I realised that I cannot really pinpoint to one reason, could be the age gap, could be control issues, could be different wants, could be sexual issues, could be ego, could be stubbornness, could be anything for all I cared. I realised in the end it really didn’t matter to me, all I knew was that I wasn’t me… and if I continue like that I am the loser.

I took necessary steps and am now on the brink of getting a divorce. I wouldn’t say life was smooth soon after that. There have been occasions where I thought I was wrong, where I have questioned myself what I was doing… however, the bouts of indecisiveness was always removed by the various incidents that followed suit.

I would say it took almost a year and half for the fog to be lifted from my mind. There is no better word for the ‘haziness’ I used to feel. I was like a zombie. If I think of it now some of the things I used to do makes me feel ashamed of myself. I used to actually keep a notepad and write down the tasks he used to mention casually, lest I forget it… coz if I forgot, it always ended in tantrums, concluding I didn’t love him enough because I forget his needs and wants. Once he complained that there are many mosquitoes in the night, and he called me the next day while I was at office to shout at me that he couldn’t sleep in the morning because of too many mosquitoes and that I hadn’t remembered to buy the mosquito all out liquid before I left for office the next day. These may be small incidents but all these incidents make my blood boil when I think of them. How I used to actually believe that I was not a good wife!

But now I am glad am out of it. I have come out of that. I joined work again. I am doing quite well in that. My life is so much better now. I am actually laughing and smiling without fear that I will be shown my place because of something I didn’t do or some task I missed out doing. I came out at the right time I think.

And I thank God, my family and You and your readers for that!

I still have few more months till it becomes legal. I have always wanted to share this with you after it was all over but today when I saw my post in the related post section, it brought back all the memories and I knew I had to connect with you.

Having gone through a phase of difficult life, it has now made me appreciate the freedom I have. The freedom to think. The freedom of my mind to have ‘thoughts’ that are ‘My thoughts’. And it makes such a huge difference!

Thank you once again and I shall write to you again when everything is sorted out once for all.

Regards,

From No More ‘Not a good wife’

Related Posts:

The moment to walk out of a relationship by Simbly Bored

Not Perfect Enough for Mr Perfect?

Some assertive ways to deal with manipulation. – by BB-Dlite

To an Anonymous DIL

Recognizing Emotional Abuse – by Priya

When she says she no longer wishes to stay with him, why isn’t her word enough?

Are Happily Married Daughters a status symbol in India?

Feminism has gone to women’s head. Divorce has become like selling onions.

When a daughter refuses to go back.

Remember the Anonymous Confused Wife?

An email: “But my parents, fearing the society and their reputation begged him to take me back.”

Disability and how it affects the family

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Disability comes with many names – autism, Asperger’s, muscular dystrophy, bipolar, Downs – basically any condition that interferes with day-to-day functioning. People with a disability are usually reduced to a bunch of letters and labels – ADD, ADHD, MS, DS, CP, and so on. Disability can be physical, developmental, or both and can vary in degree (mild, moderate, severe). But disability evokes ONE single emotion in the minds of every family hit by it. Fear.

Fear is what you first feel when your child has been diagnosed with something. Fear of what lies ahead. You feel the ground under your feet slipping away.

The general stages that many families go through are Fear, Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, and Positive Acceptance. They may not happen neatly(one at a time) and in any particular order. Just when you think you’ve gotten past the stages and progressed to Positive Acceptance, a challenging phase can trigger one of the earlier stages.

Each family must traverse it’s own individual journey. No two disabilities are alike, no two people affected are like. And no two families are alike. My younger son, 12, has autism. (I also have an older, typically developing son, who’s 16.) I do not have knowledge of disabilities other than autism and I will use that heavily in this post, in terms of examples. I will also write this from a parent- young child perspective (please translate the situation appropriately to other disabilities and other relationships such as caring for a sibling or a parent).

What I hope to share here are some thoughts, experiences, and strategies that may be helpful to all families with disabilities, regardless of the individual diagnoses or differences in the challenges they are facing.

Practical Considerations

1. Get a Comprehensive Evaluation

A thorough evaluation by a professional is not only important to understand your child’s diagnosis, it also becomes the basis for appropriate services.  Do some research and find a professional (such a psychologist, physician, developmental pediatrician, or other expert) that you feel comfortable with in terms of both knowledge and manner.

In the early days, my son’s evaluation gave me the first piece of clarity in all of the chaos – it not only captured his diagnosis accurately, it also summarized his strengths and developmental challenges, and recommended a list of therapies, tools, and services that would help address his challenges. Having something concrete in my hands was a lifesaver. I had a purpose. A sense of direction.  I needed to help him. Therefore I needed to be okay.

2. Research interventions related to the condition.

Beside’s the doctor’s or psychologist’s recommendations, do your own research on what is out there helping those in the same situation. Look for therapies, tools and technology that will help your child learn, communicate, and grow. Get trained in these interventions.

For my son, a host of therapies have been effective – Communicating Partners, Floortime, Applied behavioral Analysis, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Relationship Development Intervention. There are literally 1000s of apps on the iPad to choose from – I use the ones suitable to his needs. I also attend workshops, read books, and get trained on how to use specific techniques to help him learn and grow.  It also helped to teach my older son some play-based strategies so he could find ways to connect with his brother.

3. Start a Journal

Make observations about your child.  Keep track of missed developmental milestones. Also make note of your child’s unique traits, preferences, dislikes, and fears.  What motivates him?  What gets him too excited?  What calms him down?  How does he communicate?  How does his responsiveness vary, based on the environment?  How does he relate to various members in the family?

One of my journal entries from many years ago reads “he likes spinning balls”. Over the years, he was taught many things using various balls (some shiny, some springy, some squishy) as rewards. Now he has graduated to playing basketball with his brother and at school. The next step is to teach him to play basketball in the community (like a neighborhood league).  It all started with a spinning ball.

4. Do some research on funding.

In the US, insurance companies cover some therapies and services, while the government covers others. While at least half the services we use are covered, the other half have been out of pocket – because what is covered can often be inadequate/minimal or have many conditions attached or may not be appropriate for the child in question. Therefore, you might also want to set aside a separate fund for educational tools, supports, and medical appointments. There may be specific government grants and scholarships, educational savings accounts and living trusts, specific to each country. Yes, a disability can be a huge financial drain and requires smart financial planning both for the short and the long term.

5. Read up on Disability Law

There is generally a body of law governing the education of people with special needs. For instance, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law in the US that ensures that every disabled person has a right to an appropriate education, which must be provided by the schools. However, what’s ’appropriate’ can be wishy-washy. Therefore knowledge of the law is crucial.

One day, I was in a meeting with 8 other professionals whose jobs depended on denying as much funding as possible (a psychologist, a behaviorist, a lawyer who was mediating on behalf of the funding agency, my case manager, etc.). I felt so alone. They were all disagreeing with me, denying my son services that were helping him make progress. But I had done my homework and come prepared. I quoted cases, laws, precedents that were relevant. I also had detailed reports and records, videos and proof of his progress. The data spoke the truth. I got the services he needed.

Of course, I would never let them know that there was moment in the meeting when I came close to crying. We seldom realize how strong we are – until we are forced to be.  That was the day I realized – when you understand your rights, knowledge is truly power. You can advocate for a range of services that will help you child achieve his full potential and live as independently and productively as possible.

6. Make a plan for sharing responsibilities. 

Make a list of your new responsibilities and things that need to be done. Discuss with your spouse or other family member how you will share responsibilities and juggle your respective tasks.  Your workload practically triples when your child is diagnosed with special needs.  All of a sudden, you will find yourself becoming a teacher, advocate, therapist, behaviorist, and counselor (besides being a parent).  You will be making multiple appointments, doing a lot of paperwork, and driving a lot more – to therapies, playgroups, support groups, workshops, etc.

Planning, being organized, and sharing responsibilities is the only way to fit in everything and ensure all the important areas are being addressed.

Emotional Well-being

1. Allow yourself to Grieve

I researched interventions, recorded behaviors in journals, built spreadsheets for tracking goals and flowcharts to design his programs. What I couldn’t do easily was grieve.

I felt grieving was an act of betrayal toward my son. If I sit down and cry (even in private), will he sense it on some level? Will it sadden him? Which child would want to feel responsible for making his parents sad?

My husband, like many men, was also uncomfortable with talking about our son’s autism outside of problem solving.

It was finally on our first visit back home, (2 years after diagnosis) in India, in my childhood room that it happened. We were talking about his autism and my husband broke down. I was caught by surprise. I had never seen him cry. I too cried about it, for the very first time.

I realized I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t disloyal. I wasn’t weak. I just needed to cry. It was intensely cathartic.

The crying did not change our love or commitment to him one bit. It opened the floodgates for us. We’ve had many discussions since then about things we were uncomfortable broaching. About our fears. About his future. Giving words to the unknown makes it known. And the known is easier to deal with.

2. Start Building Supports and Networks

Recognize that you are in crisis mode, at least in the first 2 years, until you’ve figured out supports and services. Look to your family and friends for supportive people who are willing to help and can take on tasks for which you simply do not have the time or energy.  Sometimes having a cup of coffee with a friend can go a long way in relieving some of the stress. Form a support group with other like-minded parents in the same situation.

3. Don’t forget your child is a child first. His condition is secondary.

Your child still needs to be loved and cared for. He needs to play and have fun. For that, he needs a relaxed parent.

It was hard for me to be relaxed in the beginning because I had so much on my plate. But playing with my son and letting him be a child magically reduced my stress levels. If he does something annoying, I try to remember he could be doing it because he’s a child and not necessarily because of his condition. I try to refrain from looking at every action of his through the autism lens.

4. Build independence and pride for your child.

I also have been working on making him as independent as possible. We don’t have a handicapped-parking permit because I taught my son to walk safely in the parking lot, so others who truly need it may avail of it. We don’t use special passes at amusement parks because we have managed to teach our son to wait in line (again so these can be used by people who genuinely need them). I want him to know he will be given help and support but he does not need crutches. My son needs to help out with chores like everyone else in the family. I will not do anything for him that he is capable of doing himself. He has developed a sense of pride in himself. He will struggle with something for the longest time and do it himself rather than take help, in many instances.

5. Figure out ways to support the needs of other members in the family.

Siblings get the hardest hit. Make sure you dedicate one on one time with your other child/children. Be involved with them, partake in their activities, and be supportive and understanding of their own struggles. If they have negative feelings toward their sibling with special needs, you need to listen, validate, and teach them practical ways to deal with everyday problems arising out of their sibling’s condition.

Siblings of children with special needs can go in two very different directions. They can take on a lot of stress and break down under it and really “act out”. Or they can learn to deal with the challenges positively – in the latter case, they tend to become mature beyond their years.

Reading, running, and chess are three activities I share with my older son. When we discuss books or play chess, we are being friends and equals. When we run, he beats me every single time! The rest of the time, I have to be a parent to him, an adult, of course. But when we do something we both enjoy, we are building an easy bond that sort of helps us tide over tensions during other times.

6. Humor can be survival.

Humor is the best medicine, yes. In the absence of a cure, it’s the only one. Don’t forget to kid around. In my family, we all poke good-natured fun at each other. It’s our most cherished tradition.

7. Don’t get exhausted. Take breaks.

I religiously go for my Sunday morning hike with my friends. I also go to my monthly book club. My husband and I go out for Friday lunch dates, every other week. My husband likes to go to Fry’s Electronics to browse or watch the local baseball matches with his buddies. We stick to these activities no matter what. Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of our children. Also the latter is ineffective without the former. (Remember the flight attendant’s safety mask announcement.)

8. Be an Effective Parent

Remember that no professional can know and understand a child to the degree of intimacy that a parent can.  It is only possible for a parent to deeply know his/her child due to the constant proximity and the very nature of the parent-child relationship.  However, many parents may be so distressed by the diagnosis that they may lose sight of this important fact – a knowledgeable parent can be an indispensable and powerful member of the child’s intervention team.  You truly have the power to help your child be the best that he can be.  You will not be able to do it alone – you will need help from professionals, family, and friends – but it all begins with you.  When you are able to set aside the ‘Why Me?’ question, when you are able to overcome your grief, you will start seeing how beautiful and unique your child is – you will then be a powerful force in aiding his development and shaping his success.

DEALING WITH STIGMA

I’m lucky to live in the US. My neighbors know my son and his issues but they don’t let it bother them. They find ways to connect with him (by casually asking, “Hey Ryan, wanna help me out here with this lawn mower?”) and if he’s not there, always check in on me and ask me how I’m doing and if they could help with anything. Same thing happens at our neighborhood cafes and restaurants. They know what his usual order is.  They don’t freak out if my son does something weird. I have been reduced to tears (in the beginning) at the absolute kindness and helpfulness of random strangers. The public spaces in this country are tremendously accepting of people with disabilities.

When I visit my family in India, I do sense a lot of stigma and silence on the issue, although I also sense it is slowly getting better. Still, some mean people ask rude questions or call him rude things. Once I was on a local flight with both my sons and the family behind us kept making rude comments about my younger son.

I put up with it until I heard, “If he’s mad, he should be in an institution, not on a plane.”

I finally stood up, turned around and told them “My son has autism. I have the right to inhabit this space as much as you do. He is not being disruptive. He is intelligent with a high IQ, sensitive, and a really nice human being, but I don’t expect you to understand that, not in a million years. He has the right to travel without discrimination. Please refrain from making rude remarks. If you continue to do so, I will not hesitate to complain to the authorities.”

I highly doubted that “the authorities” cared, but singling the offensive people out put the focus back on their behavior. It was sufficient in getting them to leave us alone for the rest of the flight (during which they maintained a deathly silence). While my boys and I calmly carried on with playing magnetic Scrabble.

The key is confidence. Do NOT be apologetic. It is NEVER the child’s fault. EXPECT adults to behave courteously and if they don’t, then DEMAND courtesy. I’m a veteran now at handling ignorant remarks about my son.  In the early years, my eyes would sting with unshed tears, my throat would catch, but I would gulp it down and pretend I was fine.  But ignoring comments is losing an opportunity to take a stand.  Remember Rosa Parks. Refuse to sit in the back of the bus.

And that’s how you deal with mean people, what about good people?

Good people in India tend to avoid the subject altogether. Although this is well intentioned (they don’t want to hurt you), I feel this is not acknowledging the elephant in the room. Their being careful comes off as indifference. I start talking about my son’s autism. Once I share willingly and enthusiastically, they begin to relax and ask me more and try to understand more. It’s okay to ask. It’s better than being indifferent. The more we talk about this, the more we break the silence and the stigma around it.

The good news – autism schools and services are burgeoning in every Indian city and from what I hear, the quality is top notch, and the professionals are empathetic and dedicated.

IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS FACED WITH DISABILITY

If a friend or a cousin or a co-worker you are close to is battling a disability, you may wonder how you can be of help. Here are some ways to be helpful:

1. Ask how you can be of help.

When I was a student in Canada, one of my fellow students lived in the same building. He was in a wheelchair but incredibly independent. He drove a specialized car and worked a part time job to pay his way through school. We would sometimes run into each other in the parking lot when we returned home at the same time. We would be talking while walking, he wheeling next to me walking. When we reached the building’s entry door, I would always wonder if I should run ahead and get the door for him or not. What if he reaches a step ahead of me? Would it be rude if I insisted on getting the door? Does he see that as ‘forced dependence’? So, one day, I just asked him what he preferred. He told me he’d appreciate it if I got the door for him. Problem solved! I happily got the door for him every time after that. I also told him since I lived in the same building to please ask me if he needs help with anything else. He did ask for help with unloading groceries, so every Sunday, I would get them from his car to the elevator. Then elevator to his door. Such a small thing for me. But every little thing counts, when you are faced with something big.

2. Understand and read up on the challenges.

When I saw my cousin suffering emotional abuse, it bothered me quite a bit. Here was a guy who had followed me around like a little brother when we were both kids. Here was an aunt who had been kind to me in my early years in the US. What has happened to this family, I wondered. They are all good people, yet they are suffering. I found myself reading everything I could find on the subject, so I could start pointing him in the right direction.

One of my close friends (who has typical kids) began reading up on autism after she met my son for the first time. I was surprised and touched. She said she wanted to understand him better. Learning about something that doesn’t affect us, is, I think, an act of love.

3. Let them know you are there.

Don’t offer sympathy. Most families affected by disability are like any other family. They have their own challenges. They will find ways to deal with them. Challenges make people stronger, more capable, and more empathetic. Rest assured they will find ways to be happy and enjoy life. But letting them know you are there – to listen or to help – is meaningful and genuinely supportive.

4. Know that different doesn’t mean inferior.

Know that someone who may act strangely on the outside may be very intelligent on the inside. The intelligence is trapped in a body that is difficult to control. There may be great ideas inside the brain, but to be expressed, neurons must carry them from point A to point B, then to C, then to D. If the neurons misfire, the idea is trapped inside. It can only be brought out by providing supports (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.) And this is now being done through the use of various technologies (devices, apps and various software programs).

If I tested you in Mandarin today, you’d fail miserably. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. It just means I need to find the right language to test you in –one you are fluent in. With autistic people this “right language” is technology. Give them a multi-media way of learning and expressing and you will see that many of them are incredibly gifted. The giftedness is a result of overdevelopment in certain parts of the brain that seems to be a way of coping with deficits (neural connectivity) in other areas. Those autistic individuals who’ve had everything fall in place for them (a complex combination of supports, people, technologies and figuring out the blocks) show giftedness in math, programming, music, and poetry.  Notice how all four areas require excellent pattern recognition – little surprise since many autistic minds are obsessed with patterns.

Those whose ‘puzzles’ haven’t been solved, whose systems haven’t been ‘configured’, who are constantly battling sensory overload – although just as intelligent as those described above – continue to be trapped in their prisons – unable to demonstrate how much they know and understand.  It’s a little like suffering stroke.  You see a pen.  You know it’s s pen.  You just can’t get your mouth to say the damn word.  You are immediately labelled “not smart”.

You’d think most people instinctively understand that jokes about disabled people are in poor taste. You’d be surprised. President Obama himself made a derogatory joke about the Special Olympics. In case, you’re still using words like “retard” please wake up and step into the 21st century and refrain from using words that demonstrate ignorance.

Please, no matter what you do or don’t, DO NOT feel sorry for disabled people.  They don’t need your pity, they need your respect, and if possible, your help.

You can help disabled people in the following ways:

  • allow them to live with dignity and autonomy
  • ask them how you can be of help
  • give them ways to become independent and productive
  • give them ways to talk about their condition without secrecy or shame
  • accept them as human beings with human weaknesses, strengths and dreams

Related Articles:

Building Trust Non-verbally – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/building-trust-non-verbally/

The Stories We Choose To Tell –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/the-stories-we-choose-to-tell/

Holding it in Letting Go –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/holding-it-in-letting-go/

Starting on Green – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/starting-on-green/

The Road Taken – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/the-road-taken/

A Day in the Life of a Family with Autism –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-family-with-autism/

Life with These Boys – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/life-with-these-boys/

The Art of Asking for Help – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/the-art-of-asking-for-help/

Light It Up Blue –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/light-it-blue/

 

15 lines from ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’.

Let me just share some dialogues (roughly translated/in my own words) from Dil dharakne do and you decide what you think of the movie.

1. ‘Does he beat you? Is he a miser? Does he stop you from shopping? No?! Then what do you mean you want divorce?’ [Rahul Bose is the ‘he’ here, and the entitled look on his face, when this is being said, makes the movie a must-watch]

2. ‘There has never been a divorce in this family and there never will be.’

3. ‘What have we done to you that you are punishing us like this? Do you want me to fall at your feet? Let me cut my wrists with this knife…’ (picks a butter knife)

4. ‘How times have changed he heh… when we were young we women could never speak like this in front of our elders he he he…’ [The effect is the exact opposite of Saas Bahu serials]

5. ‘What you write about is so depressing, why do you exaggerate so much? Can’t you find something positive to write about? Like, look at us, in the previous generations women did not work, but I have allowed my wife to work!’

(The response is amongst the things that make the movie worth watching.)

6. ‘You are offended because I insulted your husband? But he was insulting you… doesn’t that count?’

7. ‘She is married, now she is a **** (husband’s surname). Now his home is her home, his family is her family.’

8. ‘I am on top of the world, god has been kind. There is only one thing I want now – dear daughter please give us a grandchild.’

9. ‘What do you mean you are not sure you want to marry her? The business (that’s floundering and can be salvaged with this marriage) is not just our business, you are our only son, it’s your business too.’

10. ‘Who is that girl with him?’

11. ‘You want a divorce? What will our friends say?’

12. ‘Every marriage has problems. The easier way out is divorce. That’s not the right path. The difficult path is the right path.’

13. ‘There is no place for you in this house if you divorce him.’

14. ‘There is no place for you in this house if you don’t marry her.’

15. ‘I don’t want to hear about this.’ (But don’t you dare do what you were about to suggest you might)

And here are some points the movie made:

1. Financial independence and success does not automatically give women the confidence (or mindset) to expect to be treated as an equal, to object to misogyny, or to walk out of unhappy relationships.

Why PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi Can’t Have It All

2. Parents don’t always know, and/or even want the best for their children.

3. No divorce does not mean happy marriages.

4. Many women stay married because they have nowhere else to go. Women also stay married because they are pressurised to stay married.

5. ‘Get Married Stay Married and bear male children’ is viewed as the main goal for every Indian woman.

6. Daughters are viewed as Liabilities, or Paraya Dhan.

7. Sons are viewed as precious – but only because they are Assets, to be controlled for parents’ benefits (dowry, obedient and/or rich daughter in law, family business etc).

8. Creating a good impression on ‘everybody’ is more important for many Indians, than happiness of loved ones.

9. A son spending a night with a young woman is not the same as a daughter spending a night with a young man. One set of parents smiles proudly.

10. I am sure this movie succeeded in making atleast some conservative viewers look at Successful Divorces as a Happy Endings. (Queen managed to do the same thing with broken engagements)

Related Posts:

Eleven questions the family elders ask women in unhappy marriages.

Are Happily Married Daughters a status symbol in India?

Please watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha – where a man is asked to Please adjust and save his marriage.

Please watch ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ :)

Piku in Patriarchy.

Shuddh Desi Romance : When Getting Married and Staying Married is not an Indian woman’s life purpose.

‘Both families arrived at a compromise and she decided to continue to live with her gay husband.’

An email: “He told my MIL that he doesn’t like me. I knew he was depressed so I tried to console him.”

Recognizing Emotional Abuse – Priya

Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.

Pretty brides who respect elders and identify themselves with their husband’s families.

Catch all the dialogue promos of Dil Dhadakne Do here

“Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.”

Do you agree with ‘Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution.’?

Should societies wait for everybody to evolve so that changing to justice and equality doesn’t offend any sensibilities? 

I am reading Those Days: A Novel by Sunil Gangopadhyay, Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award. How difficult was it to ban widow burning and to allow widow remarriage?

What were the objections? Who was objecting? 

“Change, if it came at all, would come from within—by a process of evolution. He had opposed the Anti-Sati Act for this very reason and now he set himself resolutely against widow remarriage.”

“… contention was simple. The problem of Hindu widows was their problem and they [IHM: The ‘they’ here does not refer to the Hindu Widows] would solve it in their own way and in their own good time. An alien government had no right to interfere.”

So how do we bring change? Who should have the ‘right to interfere’? 

“Putting up a petition for a new law sanctioning widow remarriage, he (Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar) started collecting signatures from many eminent men. Thirty-two signatures were taken—the last on the list being Vidyasagar’s himself. Radhakanta Deb flared up when he heard of the petition. Intellectual enquiry and debate was one thing. But getting a law passed to overthrow centuries of tradition was quite another. The rulers were aliens, who knew nothing about Hindu culture. What right had they to interfere?”

“The British government chose to ignore the mandate, overwhelming though it was, and passed a bill, legalizing the remarriage of widows. Not content with that it passed another, decreeing that a widow’s children by her second husband would have full legal claim to their father’s property.”

What if we had waited for every misogynist to agree to allow widows to live and get married?

What do we do if we have no rational arguments to continue an inhuman crime? Try to prove that someone, somewhere in the past said or did he same thing. 

“Besides, he (Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar) had to get a law passed by rulers who were wary of hurting the religious sentiments of their subjects. The only way to tackle the problem was by quoting shloks from the shastras themselves, justifying his proposition.

And what about widowers?

“The lucky man loses his wife; the unlucky his horse. The old adage was justified for with the death of a wife, a new bride was brought into the house, together with a new dowry. But the death of a horse spelled financial loss and a gap in the stables.”

Related Posts:

21 Married Women in Chennai Remove ‘Thali’ Despite Husbands Being Alive

Why Indian women wear toe rings (BICHHIYA)? there is a Science Behind this..

The girl whose mother was not allowed colours and celebrations.

“It was very cruel whatever they did with my didi. Even the ladies were abusing her.”

Sindoor, Tali and Mangalsutra.

Oprah, Indian Family Values and Widows of Vrindavan.

“My husband would tell me to stay with my in laws for some more time and that he didn’t want any discussions.”

Here is a heart breaking example of how Patriarchy enables abuse.

What made it possible for this husband to demand that the wife lives with his parents and helps them with their business – against her wishes? How common are such expectations? 

What do you think should the email writer do?

Also – shouldn’t there be legal assurance of financial support for every child, whether or not the parents live together? 

Hi..

I am sharing my story here. I am really distressed and I wish you could post my story in your blog.

so here it is..

So I stay with my husband in South India and my in laws ( ILs) stay in Haryana. When I was pregnant, my husband forced me to stay with ILs. I was treated very badly by them, specially by my MIL. They were never very nice to me in the past, but I never, in my worst dreams, imagined the things I had to go through. I used to tell my husband everything on phone and he would just say that he’d talk to his parents and that I should also adjust. I cried/ pleaded/begged him lots of times to let me come back to him but he was like a stone. He told me once that if I only complain all the time then he would stop calling me or picking up my calls.

He promised me that when the baby is 2-3 months old I’d move back with him. But he betrayed me even then. He is doing a course which is 3 years long. Now he asked me to stay with ILs for all these years. For the sake of baby’s care and that his father needed me for family business.

All these plans and decisions were taken after discussions between my husband and my fil. I wasn’t even asked. Only when I used to ask if I could come back he would tell me to stay for some more time and that he didn’t want any discussions. Finally one evening my ILs crossed the line and my patience ran off. I couldn’t take their constant abuse so I left and went to my parents’ place in Delhi. My husband told me that this meant separation. that now I can never come back to him. I said okay. I was prepared. although I messaged him after a week or so asking if we could find a middle way.. that I would never live with his parents but may be we can live in the same building on different floors… and that he also has some responsibility towards his own 3 month old son and wife, his reply was cold and he just said that he wished I knew what I was doing while leaving his parents’ house.

We didn’t speak for one month. And I was taking all this very well. After a month he started calling. Then he and his family came to get me back and apologised.

As a fool I agreed but asked him to make a few promises. He made me resign from the job I had got in Delhi without even serving the notice period as he said that he had suffered a lot in the previous one month and now he can’t even stay away from me for one more day.

We came back to South India and started living normally. However his behaviour started changing again. He started breaking all the promises that he made. He again started taking me and my feelings for granted.

His family again started interfering and bothering us by complaining on small silly things. By bad mouthing me about me to him on phone and making issues about every small thing.

After 3 months we went back to ILs place for some function. I was again treated very badly by my MIL and just one night before we were supposed to come back my FIL said that all the things that they said when they came to get me back and their apologies etc was all a drama. They didn’t mean a thing. It was all just to get me back. and that now I should apologise for doing this bad deed of leaving the family. My husband was there when all this was going on and his dad kept on abusing me. How I wasn’t brought up properly and I had no values or I don’t know the way to be a good dil. etc etc.

I went into depression and had to take therapy after coming back. That too without letting my husband know.

Now I have developed serious trust issues with my husband. We are supposed to go back to stay with ILs coz of family business after 2 years and I feel my husband is again going to throw me under the bus when the time comes. I am scared to go back to that place. I have been harassed there very badly. Everyone gets on one side and attack me. That’s the kind of emotional abuse that I just have no tolerance for anymore. And I used to be very strong before.

I don’t know what to do.

Should I leave him right now?

Should I wait for 2 years and see what happens.. In this case my baby will become emotionally attached to his father and it’ll be difficult for me to separate them then. Also, I’ll have no savings of my own as I am spending every penny of what I am earning right now on us. My husband is still studying and it’ll be another betrayal..  I am not sure how I’ll take it then.

How foolish is it to trust a person who has always betrayed me?
He gets emotional about our relation only when he wants to. The times when I need him he is always cold and unavailable.

I feel lonely most of the time even in his presence. He hardly ever wants to spend time with me. He calls someone or the other everytime he is free.
We have a very sad sex life and I know for sure that he watches porn to satisfy himself.

He never helps out with the baby. only plays with him for sometime but doesn’t help me out for anything.
He is extremely selfish.
He says he loves me but it doesn’t show in his actions.
Should I consider divorce? Are all men like this? Are my expectations too high if I want a partner who truly is a partner and not just a person living with you without any real feelings?

I want to live my life happily. Is it possible with this person? We had a love marriage and now I can’t find the person I loved. it was all fake.

Related email:

An email: “My in laws want me to stay here with them while my husband works in another city.”

Other related posts:

Marriages are sold to Indian women in a glossy cover…?

A detailed check list of conditions from modern young women of marriageable age.

Indian women and their Easy Wealth.

‘Last month, my sister’s husband picked a fight with her as he felt she was not doing enough for his parents.’

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

“I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

Friendships between men and women

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

I ran into an old college friend here recently. We went out for coffee and caught up with who’s doing what. He’s married now with kids. We talked about our respective families and updated each other on our other friends from the same graduating class. We talked about our interests and I realized he also read “ All the Light We Cannot See” recently and liked it. He also told me he liked adventure sports now, whereas when he was younger, he was “quite the wimp” in his own words.

As I was driving home, a strange thought occurred to me. I had found out more about this guy’s likes and dislikes over coffee today than I did in the entire 2 years I had been in the same class with him and had known him. That’s because I (and many other girls I knew back then) did not have any close guy friends. We knew some guys in our college and we talked to them but we weren’t really ‘friends’ in any true sense of the word.

When I was a kid, (since my sister was much older), I mostly played with three boys – my brother and my 2 cousins who lived down the street. I was not taught to “play like a girl” nor was I bought “girl toys” (did they even exist then?); so playing with the other gender did not pose problems. We played ‘land and water’, ‘hide and go seek’ when we felt like running around. When it was too hot to play outside, we played Scrabble, Chess, and Chutes and Ladders.

It was only when I got older (entered high school) that I began to have less interaction with boys. My brother continued to be my friend, of course, and so did one of my cousins. But he and my cousins now had their own friends and they were a group of boys. I had my own friends, a group of girls. Some of my girl friends had friends who were boys, while others were strictly forbidden from male-female friendships.

My parents didn’t have strong opinions on the matter. They didn’t mind if a boy from my school called about something or dropped by. My aunts and uncles (who lived in the same house) highly disapproved but my parents mostly ignored them. However, I did not form any deep or remarkable friendships (or even casual ones) with boys my age. I found that many of them (if not all) behaved or thought in ways that made me uncomfortable –

  • they stared at girls in an obvious way
  • they made fun of girls’ skills and abilities
  • they made remarks on the appearance and physical attributes of girls
  • they assumed that they are smarter than most girls
  • they wanted to keep their interaction with girls secret from their parents
  • they considered aloof girls “good” and friendly girls “bad”

A few boys did not fit the above description. They did not make girls feel uncomfortable. But the environment of girl-boy friendship was so uncomfortable. There were my aunts and uncles who would be walking around in the background when a boy came over to my house – as if he’s some kind of a convict. Where exactly were we supposed to interact then? Every other public place is equally disapproving and hostile to high school age boy-girl interaction.

And that was high school. The college years exaggerated these differences. Women as a group were made to even feel more self-conscious.

Our female instructors would caution us, “‘Oh watch out your chunni is slipping!!” as they passed us by in corridors.

Another instruction in the labs was: “Be careful how you sit when you wear skirts, your panties are showing!’

We were made self-conscious about what we wore, how we sat, how we walked, and whom we talked to. It was all so exhausting. It was easier to hang out with women. Friendship with men, although not forbidden to me by my family, simply did not seem worth it to me.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone in India – I’ve known a few of my friends who did have men as good friends – but this has been my experience, and I believe what I’m describing here is the experience of the majority in small town India.

It was only after I came to the US to go to grad school that I finally breathed around men. The men in my classes and labs did not stare in awkward places. They looked at my face and listened to what I had to say. They either agreed or disagreed. They did not try hard to impress me nor did they look down on me. It was so casual, easy, relaxed. I stopped paying attention to how I sat or how I walked. I saw men and women wearing shorts and no one spent the entire class time staring at each other’s their legs. I began to wear what I wanted. For the first time in my life, I began to make friends that were both women and men.

There was this guy in our group who loved his beer, Shakespeare, and bungee jumping. Another guy was super smart and super lazy. He would often be caught napping on his keyboard by our professor. There was an Iranian guy who joked, “I ran from Iran.” He could make wonderful gourmet pizza and he often brought us leftovers of his amazing cooking. We would go to the university theater, which aired old B&W films including some Hitchcock classics. Then we would discuss them the next day in the lab instead of getting work done. One of our favorite hangouts was a coffee shop downtown called Second Cup. We would sit there discussing politics, books, and movies, while having a second or third cup of coffee :) For the first time in my life, I began to see men as people.

Some friendships were just friendships. Others became more involved. If a guy liked a girl in a romantic way or vice versa, they would simply take the friendship to the next level. If not, they would just remain friends. There was no automatic assumption that every girl who talks to or is friendly with a guy must have something more on her mind or owes him something.

I think it’s very important to have these friendships between boys and girls, men and women. By forbidding these friendships or creating an environment that makes platonic friendships sinister, an artificial separation is created in childhood and this gap only grows wider with age and takes on unpleasant forms:

  • Girls are objectified from a very young age because boys are only allowed to ogle at girls, not get to know them as people.
  • Girls and women begin appearing “mysterious”. They develop their own way of communicating. Their language is often not understood and thought to have hidden meanings. When a girl’s behavior can’t be explained, it can be interpreted as “whimsical” or “illogical”.
  • Men give up on trying to understand women.
  • Women start thinking “men just don’t get it”.
  • Men stop seeing women as human beings. Human beings can be good or bad, kind or mean, generous or selfish. Men tend to stereotype women as good/kind/generous, which can also in their minds mean weak/unassertive/accepting of unfairness.
  • Women begin to stereotype men as selfish, which they come to associate with assertiveness and aggression, which are seen as “masculine”.

Thus, not allowing/encouraging, or enabling these friendships has a cost to individual members of the society, as well as society as a whole:

  • It becomes harder for men and women to work together and effectively in teams. Workplaces are full of gender stereotyping situations for women. This places severe limitations on productivity, by not tapping into the talents and potential of half the work force.
  • For those who wish to get married, how exactly are they supposed to find a life partner and not settle for a stranger? In India, this separation makes it almost impossible to meet people of the other gender, get to know them, date, or find a life partner on one’s own. Many people are left with little choice but to follow the arranged marriage route; they are thus deprived of the opportunity to make a sound decision regarding their primary relationship.
  • Most of all, this gender gap of understanding results in a lot of unfairness in the treatment of women.
  • Women get objectified in the extreme by men raised in conservative settings – they’ve never been given an opportunity to get to know any real women – therefore they don’t see women as people first, they see them as caricatures – the sexy secretary, the motherly teacher, the shrewish boss, the sisterly neighbor, etc.
  • The male gaze (both literally and figuratively speaking) makes many environments (colleges, workplaces, streets, public transportation) uncomfortable, intimidating, negative, or even hostile for women.

But even for people belonging to families that are open minded, there are obstacles to male-female friendships. It is not as simple as not having anything against it.

  • Indian schools actively discourage and even punish interaction between boys and girls. By the time they reach college, they have more freedom – although they’re not punished for platonic friendships, these friendships have less chance of occurring or being successful. Men and women in the college environment already bring with them the baggage of their conditioning. If men can view women in their college only through stereotypes (the outgoing “loose character”, the traditional “nice girl”), women feel uncomfortable and tend to avoid these interactions with men.
  • Boys and girls are conditioned and socialized differently. In some societies like India, boys are raised with a sense of entitlement and privilege. They are often not required to help out with chores. Girls are expected to adjust and accept unfair and unequal relationships. This inequality mars adult male-female friendships as well.
  • In almost all societies, boys are raised to be assertive and girls are encouraged to be docile. The resulting differences in thought patterns and communication styles also pose a problem for male-female interactions. Boys’ jokes may sound ‘rude’ to girls and girls’ interactions may appear ‘mysterious’ to boys.

How can we change this? Some thoughts and ideas that might help break this mindset:

  • The first step is to raise your son or daughter free of stereotypes. If you have a son, assign him household chores. Encourage him to express himself and offer him emotional support when he needs it. If you have a daughter, buy her toys that allow her to explore, design, build, create, imagine, analyze, and solve (rather than dress up, feed, and care for). Examples of great toys for both boys and girls are any type of building blocks (Legos, Bionicles, etc.), pretend spy gear, fossil kits, ant hill kits and other science experiment kits, puzzles, board games, and art supplies. Giving them a journal to write in or a camera to take pictures keeps their minds busy in healthy ways – also writing and recording through pictures can be very empowering to children.  Fun/healthy activities for both boys and girls include reading, hiking, biking, swimming, engaging in sports of any kind, singing or dancing to music together, and visiting aquariums, museums, and historical monuments.
  • If you have a son, emphasize the importance of relationships and working in teams. Teach him to listen more and be responsive. If you have a daughter, encourage her to be assertive and instill the value of physical fitness.  Teach her to be vocal about her preferences and to speak up and object even when the smallest things are assumed or taken for granted. (When someone says to her, You’ll absolutely LOVE the iced latte, teach her to say, Actually I haven’t decided what I want and I’ll let you know when I’m ready.)
  • I’m not trying to imply that sons shouldn’t be taught to be assertive or daughters shouldn’t be taught to value relationships. I think those things are going to happen to some extent naturally. The environment most of us live in encourages those traits already. So, as parents, we can work on teaching them things that the environment doesn’t encourage, or in some cases, actively discourages (assertiveness for girls, listening skills for boys).
  • Send your child to a co-educational school that embraces diversity, if possible. In my son’s school, when kids work on team projects, they must sort through differing ideas and viewpoints. They must learn the process of consensus. They learn to work with kids of all races and both genders. There is also a committee at my son’s school for the protection of gay students from being bullied. This is an ideal environment to focus on people’s minds and ideas, instead of stereotyping/objectifying them. (If this is not possible or such a school is unavailable, home is always a great place to teach inclusiveness.)
  • Allow friendships (for your child) with the other gender. Encourage your child to see his other gender friends as human beings, as individuals. If they start interpreting their friend’s actions based on gender, (she did that because she’s a girl), gently correct them and illustrate how you would’ve done something different even though you share the same gender.
  • Lead by example. Keep in touch with your own other gender friends. I go out for lunch with my colleagues from work that are obviously both male and female. This is the most common type of interaction between adult men and women. Last weekend, I invited some people from work, both men and women, single and attached, with or without kids to hang out with my family on Memorial Day, for a backyard barbeque. Children watch and learn from their parents’ behavior much more than they listen to their parents’ lectures. If you interact with adults of the other gender and from varied backgrounds, if you treat them as individuals and focus on their minds and their ideas instead of their bodies, their skin color, or their gender, your child will likely do the same.

Please share your experiences and thoughts on platonic relationships. How did they happen? Or if they didn’t, what were the obstacles? Do you think it’s important for men and women to interact and be comfortable around each other? Do you encourage your children to have other gender friends?  Why do our elders reject male-female interaction and friendship? What is it that they fear? What happens in societies that forbid such interaction? Who benefits from such rules? Who loses?

Related Posts:

An email: I am 18 year old male from a traditional (read:backward) Indian family Inter sex mingling in coed schools – permitted or not?

“According to my mom, friendship with guys should always be limited to academics, nothing personal.”

“She was warned several times and was used to unethical practices like friendship with boys.”

By an Indian Teenager – “Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something ‘provocative’.”

Sexual abuse victim thrown out of school for being a bad influence on other students.

‘The liberties that are guaranteed to our citizens, cannot be stretched beyond limits nor can such freedom be made weapons to destroy our fundamental values or social establishments like families’

Love Marriages spoil the Family System of our Nation.

How illegal bans on Valentine’s day and birthday parties are connected with dowry deaths and sex selection.

Boys and girls holding hands.

Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?

Please watch ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ :)

The movie passes Bechdel Test with flying colours. The Kanpur accent and Kangana Ranaut’s Haryana accent, the music, the story, the way it ends, and everything else about the movie are absolutely delightful.

And while we are laughing hysterically, the movie conveys –

A woman smiling, laughing, talking, taking a ride or drinking or dancing with a man – may or may not be in love with him.

That self reliance gives confidence.

That courage, confidence, maturity and just plain common sense are not dependent on the language ones speaks or the accent or grammar (etc).

That men grow up and old too.

Men have ‘marital status’ too – even if it not talked about in Indian movies, and is not socially required to be displayed.

Men don’t hate getting married – despite all the shaadi ke laddu jokes one hears about. Men even have ‘marriageable age’ – though one doesn’t hear much about such social pressures. The movie makes references to men’s ages, like the ’35 and desperate to get married’ and 40th birthday shirt.

Men are also advised to Get Married and Stay Married. But instead of praying or fasting, men are offered the option of trying violence as an outlet if the situation gets unbearable – like breaking tube lights in their living rooms.

That the Khaps are fools.

It’s a problem that men’s manliness depends on their Sperm Count.

Men gain weight too.

Tanu does many things that generally only men are permitted to do

1. Complains that she finds her spouse boring and demands that she be pleased.

2. Goes out and has fun with old friends although she is married and loves her husband. She also calls her best friend her soulmate.

3. Meets visitors wearing a towel.

4. Drinks.

5. Gets away with being unreasonable. [Disagree?]

Lastly I think Kangana Ranaut is the Amitabh Bhachchan or Madhuri Dixit of today – only better.

Do’t believe me? Take a look :)

Many of us are going to watch this movie more than once.

Four other recent movies that passed Bechdel Test. 

Margarita with a straw.

Piku

Dum Laga Ke Haisha

Queen

I am optimistic that the success of these movies means that we will continue to see more such works of art.

Related Posts:

Piku in Patriarchy.

Please watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha – where a man is asked to Please adjust and save his marriage.

Please watch Queen. Feels like our country is finally changing.

“Practically, what can an introvert DIL do to communicate that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?”

Patriarchy can’t survive without hierarchy and rigid but complex rules that ensure everybody knows their place. So Indian daughters in law in traditional and patriarchal families may not give their opinion but they are expected to be gregarious extroverts in some situations. 

Reading or quietly listening to music, spending time with their own social circle or not wishing to interact with (and seek approval of) the social circle of those who are higher in the family hierarchy is considered disrespectful and non-sanskaari. 

They are expected to be Sanskaari Extroverts who know how to win the approval of the third cousins, friends and acquaintances of those who are higher in the family hierarchy. 

‘Letter from another Indian woman’ asks  how to deal with this and more. 

Dear IHM,

I have been following some of your recent guest posts about dealing with abuse[link] and manipulation [link], as well as the letters that are often published in your blog. I am 28 years old, and I have been married for about 6 months now. From what I have observed around me, and in my relations with my husband’s family, I have a few questions that I would like to use as topics of discussion.

As background, I married my long-term boyfriend, whom I have known for some years. We met while we were at grad school . I have met and interacted with his parents several times before we got married, and during that period, they seemed fairly normal. My mother-in-law has an advanced degree and was a working professional all her life. His parents often lived in different cities, owing to transfers. My husband was primarily raised by his grandmother, and when he was older, was put in a residential school. Whenever I have spoken to my in-laws, they seemed proud and supportive of my education and career. I found these welcome; I was very clear that I wanted to marry someone whose parents I could get along with, and who would not be unreasonable when it came to my personal choices.

We went back abroad after the wedding. I came to India (without my husband) for a vacation this month, and went to spend some time at my in laws’ place. My husband told me to visit them only if I felt like it – I went because I thought I could get to know them better. I stayed for 10 days. However, I realized to my shock that there were sides of my in-laws that I had never anticipated.

Every day, she had at least ten different friends and relatives over, to ‘introduce’ me to them. She made coffee and snacks (I helped as much as I could in a foreign home), and I was expected to serve it to them and receive praise for being such a ‘good daughter-in-law’ (no, I was just being a decent host-helper). My achievements (education-wise and career-wise) were emphatically repeated to every group. The audience oohed and aahed and congratulated my MIL for getting ‘such an accomplished bahu’, while I cringed with embarrassment, yet smiled politely. It felt really uncomfortable to be made into some sort of a trophy. Their conversations were not something I could participate in: they gossiped about their other friends, their sons and DILs that I was sure the minute they left he house, they would gossip about me as well. And then my mother-in-law bade me to touch the feet of all the women who had come home to ‘bless’ me. Some of us don’t believe in falling at people’s feet. When I expressed my inhibitions to my mother-in-law, she said that this was de rigueur in her circles, and besides, it was ‘good manners’ and ‘polite’ to seek people’s blessings. Some of these people were her bosses at work, so I was supposed to ‘make a good impression’.  Her tone made it sound like she thought I was ill-bred.

Secondly, I realized that she has a temper issue. Whenever she is stressed, she shouts at whomever happens to be nearest to her that she considers her inferior. This includes her household help, people who live in her building and her siblings. I noticed that while they say nothing to her face (they mostly grin and shift their weight), they say nasty things about her behind her back.

I was with them for just 10 days, but I had her shout at me for no fault of mine three or four times. The last time, I lost my temper too and said I had done nothing wrong, why was I being shouted at. She replied saying I was ‘disobedient, talking back to her, had no respect for elders, acting like I was smarter than her, trying to one-up her to gain her son’s affections (!)’ accusations that I now know don’t apply to me at all. However, I was very hurt at that time. I have not been able to talk to her normally ever since.

My FIL took me aside and said that this was normal with her, and ‘if I ignore the temper and harsh words, she is a wonderful person’. He also said that she regrets not having spent time with her son when he was little, and now feels bad that he was not able to get leave and come down to be with her.

When I discussed this with my husband, he said he would speak to his mother when she was in a better mood, and that I did not have to be there any more and go back to my parents’ place. He also said that my MIL had been abused verbally and physically by her father when she was young (they could not answer back when shouted at, or they would be beaten). While I feel sorry for her, and understand where the cycle of abuse began, I don’t think it excuses her behavior.

So here are my comments/questions:

1. I am quite introverted by nature, and meeting lots of people for an extended period of time, gossip and small talk tires me out. However, in Indian families, the DIL is supposed to be gregarious, extroverted and quite the life of the party.While I found it difficult to play this role for 10 days, I shuddered to think of DILs who live with their in-laws and have to face an onslaught of people on a daily basis. In fact, I have heard it said in some homes: “your daughter is not outgoing enough, how is she going to adjust with all the people at her in-laws’?” Why this expectation? Further more, signalling that one is introverted and reserved gets her branded as ‘impolite’, ‘haughty’, ‘thinks too much of herself’ etc. Practically, what can an introvert do to communicate that such expectations are too much for her, and that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?

2. It appears like most families want a woman who can answer questions in a checklist, fit into a mould that they have crafted of an ‘ideal DIL’, not a real woman. I don’t think any real woman can be all that! And I think this expectation is fairly universal – it is the rare parent who is actually open to getting to know a person, as opposed to a checklist. Practically, what can a woman like me do to convince my in-laws to get to know the real me? Is that likely? Is that even a good idea?

3. When I told my close friend about these incidents, and asked for advice to deal with it, I was told that ‘I should have inquired more’ and absolutely verified they were good people before marrying my husband. ‘Now it is too late, why complain now? Just adjust.’ was the refrain. I found it astonishing, but realized it is fairly common. The narrative that if you have a bad husband, or bad in-laws, then it is your fault is too prevalent today.But that’s not really true! Can one ever know a family so intimately without practically living with them for a month?

4. My in-laws are in their 60s, and getting older. While I don’t foresee living with them since we live abroad, if they are sick and ailing, I would want to take care of them. I want to have cordial relations with them if I can. But I am also sure I don’t want to be shouted at repeatedly for no fault of mine. Practically, what can I do to inform them that while I would like to be cordial, I don’t welcome intrusions and certainly not temper tantrums?

5. The very idea of a DIL (or even the son) negotiating boundaries with in-laws is considered rude, impolite and disrespectful. But I don’t think the MIL-DIL relationship is hierarchical. I am just a woman who happened to marry her son. How do we negotiate boundaries without it coming across as disrespectful? What is the best answer when one is accused of disrespect, when all one is doing is negotiating boundaries?

6. I have observed that my MIL inhabits a very hierarchical society. She fawns over her bosses (she practically sat on the floor at her boss-lady’s feet while she had coffee), and expects anyone younger than her to fawn over her. She takes it lying down when her bosses shout at her, apparently, and expects her ‘inferiors’ to not retaliate when she shouts at them. This is symptomatic of a larger social problem.

I don’t consider myself having significant problems. My husband is very fair and understanding, and we get along well. He protects me from having to face intrusive questions (about kids, etc.) from his extended family. I don’t have to live with my in-laws. However, just going by my experiences, I feel like I have experienced a taste of what so many many women in our country go through every day, and how that wears down their confidence and erodes their sense of self. This is practically human rights violation, it shouldn’t have to happen to anybody.

I request you to publish this letter, so that I can hear from your readers.

Thank you!

Related Posts:

“Someone ate without showering, someone didn’t bring mithai! These are trivialities, not social problems.”

‘Older people in our society need to learn to have a life of their own. Instead of seeking happiness in their kids’ lives, …’

‘I feel that arranged marriages are for extroverts, and there is no place for us introverts here.’

‘If you don’t mutter under your breath “I hate you” atleast once in your life, I am not doing my job properly.’

Display of respect to those in power, in Indian culture.

“When there are guests I don’t get to talk to them because I am in the kitchen all the time …even wearing a Nighty is considered indecent.”

Are you an Extrovert or an Introvert?

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Some assertive ways to deal with manipulation.

The Men in Our Lives

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

‘And if you are unlucky, you will get an American daughter-in-law.’