Do Indian women see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem in the first place?

“…Or are they the first to point the finger at women who try to be equal to their husbands/partners/men in general?”

An email from Garima.

Dear IHM,

As a British woman with an Indian background, I wasn’t particularly interested or up to date with Indian sociology. However all of this changed a little over a year ago with the terrible case of the Delhi bus gang rape in December 2012. That was about the time when I stumbled upon your blog. I want to share my experience with you of how saddened and confused I am that the currently generation of women in my family do not seem to embrace female empowerment.

My paternal grandparents were big feminists. They were progressive, kind and strong people, who not only educated their sons but their daughters too and encouraged them all to peruse hobbies outside he house and made sure that my dad learnt the basics of cooking and cleaning when he was still single and living alone. Without meaning to be dismissive or pompous, out of the 4 female cousins on my Dad’s side of the family, I am the only one with a professional future, which I know would have deeply saddened my Grandad if he were alive today.  One gave up work when when she got married, another gave it up when she had a baby. A third never worked and went straight into a marriage (arranged). I am quite a bit younger than them at 21 but I am a medical student and like to think I have a well balanced life – I love playing hockey, long distance running and cooking in my spare time. I can look after my house that I rent with four of my friends, do my laundry and generally take care of myself, which I think is important regardless of if you’re a man or a woman. Now what I find concerning is the attitude of my female cousins – a lot of things they have said (bar the eldest one, who has spent some time living abroad and is a more balanced person) seem to me that they are enforcing the stereotype that women must serve their husbands first and that “Indian culture” is of paramount importance. For example, I received this (terribly typed) joke from one of them this morning:

Wife On Husband’s Birth’day:
Kya Gift Dun.?
.
HUSBAND:
Pyar Se Dekha Karo.
Izzat Karo.
Tameez Se Baat Kiya Karo.
Yehi Kaafi Hai.
.
WIFE:
Nahi. Main To Gift Hi Dungi..!!!!!

😝😜😝😜😝😜

Husband & wife dining in a hotel:

Husband : I wanna tell you something.
Wife: It’s not good manners to talk while eating.
.
.

(After Eating)
.
Wife:Now tell me …
Hubby: There was a cockroach in your biryani!

Aur copy karo angrezi culture…!

Izzat? Tameez? Many people would praise the husband in this joke for asking his wife to simply be a good wife. But words like these draws parallel with the wedding vows that were the norm until about 15 to 20 years ago where the wife promised “to love, cherish and obey” her husband, while her simply promised “to love and cherish”.

Why should a wife elevate her husband onto a pedestal as if he is her master? But more importantly, why does my cousin not question this? In fact, why are they scoffing at the idea of the wife to do something nice for his husband as “angrezi culture” and not questioning the husband’s demands? It may be that as Hindi is not my first language, I am taking the joke out of context. I am most definitely offended that they are looking down on “angrezi culture”, which I would regard as MY culture. I think the message that a nice gesture for your husband is an alien concept and that the best thing an Indian wife can give to her husband is her subservience is a dangerous one. Unfortunately it seems that my female cousin agrees with this and doesn’t think twice before perpetrating this idea. This brings me to my question – do Indian women see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem in the first place? Do they want to remove double standards and expectations? Or are they the first to point the finger at women who try to be equal to their husbands/partners/men in general?

Best wishes,

Garima

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62 thoughts on “Do Indian women see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem in the first place?

  1. First of all, I applaud the way your grandparents have raised your father & also on the path that you have chosen.

    Regarding to what your female cousins have chosen, from your letter, it doesn’t seem to me that your cousins were forced to choose the path they are on. Them giving up their professional life for their home & children was their choice. They must’ve felt that their family & children hold more importance than their professional life & if they leave that then they would be able to give more attention to what they hold dear.
    By leaving their jobs, they haven’t put their husbands on a pedestal but just chosen to do what they feel right for themselves & their family.

    I know many ladies who are amazing homemakers, who were educated but gave up their careers because they wanted to focus on raising their children. Their husbands aren’t on pedestals, rather they treat their wives as a partner, someone they would discuss taking major decisions with. The husbands support any path they take regardless of what it maybe.

    But if they feel that all women must also do the same i.e sacrificing their life & dreams for their husbands, then that would mean that they are one of those who haven’t seen the world where women can do both, achieve their dreams & manage their household with the support of their husbands.

    With regards to the jokes & stereotyping, yes those are just stupid & worthless. I too get riled up when I read jokes such as these that just reinforce the stereotyping of the women’s place & the man’s job.

    As for the answers to your questions, yes, Indian women do see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem. They see it when they are forced into a marriage that is not of their choice, when they are forced to leave their jobs & stay at home, when they are forced to stop any further education for whatever reasons, especially when their male counterparts aren’t forced to give up on anything.

    Yes, they do they want to remove double standards and expectations. (Same reason as above)

    Not all women try to point the finger to the ones that are trying to bring in equality. According to me, the ones that do are those that have been conditioned in a way that they see their place at their husband’s feet and not by their side, they are the ones who support killing the girl child & expect dowry. They are the ones who expect their DILs to be the type that one would see in the saas-bahu serials. Basically they don’t have respect for their own gender or human beings in general.

    Through Feminism, we basically want that all women get equal rights to do whatever it is they want to do without being judged or ridiculed or shown their place in the society. The change in India is coming & has in fact already started… You can see it on websites such as this one, the NGOs that help several women & in the increasing number of women getting educated.

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    • Feminism is the right for every woman to have and make a choice, but not every choice a woman makes is a feminist choice. Many woman can choose to be subservient to their husbands. It is a choice they exercise, but it doesn’t make this choice feminist. I think the choice of not earning and being dependent is also similar. It is a right of choice that feminism has given them, and they have made an unfeminist choice.

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      • Oh, Fem! Thanks for summing up my problem with choice feminism. FWIW, I don’t quite support that definition of feminism, because it seems to imply that choices that come at the cost of someone else’s oppression are okay too. Heck, I’ve heard plenty a woman justify her (oppressive) choices in the name of feminism. For instance, the choice of being a SAHM (which I don’t think is a non-feminist choice in itself*), outsourcing all the work to hired help, but not giving your spouse the same choice. To me, feminism is about gender equality and the breakdown of established (gendered) pillars of power.

        * The reason I don’t think being a SAHM is a non-feminist choice is that even though a lot of them do end up being financially dependent on their spouses, they shouldn’t have to be. They are each estimated to perform $120K worth of services each year, in the US. So they’re very much productive, contributing members of society, just systemically disenfranchised.

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        • Exactly! I am not going to go around asking people why they are SAHMs and why they have made such a choice or anything. But I shall classify it as an unfeminist choice, because that is what it is in most cases. Same goes for changing name. So many people start shouting that it’s a choice blah blah. Sure, it’s a CHOICE, but your choice isn’t necessarily a feminist one. I don’t understand why that’s so hard to grasp. Until men start changing their names, it cannot be a feminist choice. Until at least fifty percent of families have SAHDs, it simply cannot be a feminist choice.

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        • This is a response to Fem’s comment.

          Hey, Fem.

          I would like to ask you: Is it really necessary, or helpful, to put so high a premium on so-called feminist and non-feminist choices? I feel that the distinction is highly subjective, and somewhat arbitrary in nature in the first place, but even if it weren’t, I have a problem with having very personal decisions judged like that.

          ‘Right of choice’ and acceptance of a choice are not the same things. I have a right to do many things under law which would result in rather harsh social sanctions being imposed on me, thereby creating a barrier which goes beyond the rights granted to me. Feminism has indeed given me a greater set of choices, but in addition to a change in legal systems, this has been brought about largely as a result of changed attitudes towards the choices that I, as a woman, make.

          Even if it isn’t the speaker’s intent, ‘unfeminist’ necessarily connotes disapproval at some level. If I am made to feel guilty about taking my husband’s last name, or finding joy and satisfaction in my own personal marriage dynamic (which is really absolutely no one else’s concern as long as both of us are consenting adults), isn’t that at least a little oppressive in itself?

          I realize that my issues are trivial compared to what many women experience daily. I also realize that the choices I make affect people other than me.

          On the other hand, I am only a human being. I did not ask to be a brand ambassador for all women, nor do I think their situation is similar enough to mine to warrant such a course of action. I want an egalitarian society, but I realize that there are things that work for me and things that don’t. I’m not sure if you realize it or not (or perhaps I am being over-sensitive), but being told that the way you live your life is ‘unfeminist’ is demeaning and hurtful. Yes, I’m shouting ‘it’s a choice blah blah’, not because I don’t understand what you’re saying, but because I find what you’re saying rather unpleasant.

          I’m a strong supporter of gender equality, and I’ve done my bit to that end in the form of personal and financial assistance to the cause. It pinches me to be essentially subjected to a form of reverse absolutism, where it is implied (intentionally or not) that I am less of a feminist because I don’t work outside the home.

          First time commentator, and long time lurker here, but your post has finally made me want to say something. :p

          I’ll get off my soap box now.

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        • Nidhi Ceren,

          I think I was pretty clear in what I have said in my previous comment. You have a choice about what to do, and you have made a choice. It is well within your rights to make any choice that you feel makes you happy. But the fact remains that if you choose to follow a patriarchal custom like changing of names, for example, it is an unfeminist choice. This particular custom originates because of the idea that a woman ceases to be part of her family and becomes part of the man’s family and hence she undergoes an identity change. If you buy into this symbolism, even though it may not be true in practice for you, it is unfeminist, because if enough people follow this practice, it encourages people to go after all those women who are forced into this situation and make their lives miserable. I am sorry if you find this hurtful, but you have to face facts.

          I would only oppress you if my disapproval has a direct impact on your life, which it doesn’t. I do disapprove of unfeminist choices, but at the same time, I accept you have the right to make them. Frankly, if you are feeling guilty, it is because there is something to feel guilty about, or you have been taught to feel guilty over every Tom, Dick and Harry’s opinion. That’s hardly my fault. I am sorry but if I think something is unfeminist, I shall say so. If you feel it is demeaning, please take the time to reflect on why you feel this way. Have you given in to patriarchy? You don’t have to fight all the time or be a brand ambassador. We all make unfeminsit ‘choices’ once in a while to make our lives easier. It’s rather unpleasant, but guess what, it’s a fact.

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        • Fem,

          My point was that I disagree with you, not that you were unclear. You were perfectly eloquent, but I’m uncomfortable with the absolutism you seem to be advocating.

          I question the validity of the idea that it’s bad because it ‘encourages’ would-be oppressors. This is not a fact, but your personal opinion. In actual fact, it may be that such oppressors, willing to coerce women to fit their world view, need no encouragement from women at all. Perhaps such oppression is genetically inherited. Perhaps it is a mental condition, arising from eating too much Baklava. The point is that we don’t know, and we shouldn’t act like we do. More importantly, I don’t see how it’s feminist to alter your behavior, so that such people don’t get the wrong impression. This is exactly the kind of straitjacketing that feminism seeks to avoid.

          Moreover, private choices by themselves don’t all necessarily form one’s personal anti-discrimination praxis, and it’s a mistake to assign political meaning to them all. Many women are forced into aborting girl-children, yet as a feminist, I doubt you would object to the idea of a woman choosing to abort her baby for her own reasons. How I run my marriage is my business and has little to do with my views on gender relations at large. As long as it’s healthy and consensual, I reserve the right to view judgemental descriptions of it as sanctimonious and unwarranted, just as you reserve the right to use such descriptions.

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      • You’re absolutely right that feminism works to give women choices where they had no choice before, but that doesn’t mean every choice women make is automatically feminist. Very succint and on-the-head critique of choice feminism.

        But your example below – that many women choose to be homemakers and that is an unfeminist choice – I take issue with that.

        First, because what you are classifying as choice isn’t really a choice MOST of the time. Feminism hasn’t won yet. There are innumerable pressures on women even in first world countries to quit working for money and start doing unpaid domestic labor instead, such as: workplace discrimination in hiring, wages, and promotions (does quitting out of anger when yet another male colleague gets the raise and promotion you deserved mean you “chose” to be a homemaker?); a workplace culture extremely hostile to mothers but not fathers (see the Wikipedia page on the Motherhood Penalty); etc. In India there are even greater pressures from within families in addition to outside, with husbands and inlaws and even women’s own parents pressuring them and grooming them from birth to quit working after marriage. Can it really be called a choice when one choice is so much harder to “choose”, and the other choice so easy?

        Second, even if it IS a complete choice – like, there’s this mythical woman in a mythical world somewhere who has her dream job in a workplace with no discrimination against women and free childcare at work; and this woman lives in a country where maternity and paternity leave are paid so her husband/partner has been shouldering equal responsibility for the baby from the minute the baby was born; and she doesn’t have desi inlaws forcing her to quit working; and also there are unicorns everywhere while we’re at it – so even if it IS a 100% choice on the woman’s part alone, the only reason it can be called “unfeminist” is because of the biases in society against domestic work, not anything inherent to the choice itself.

        Being a home-maker: performing domestic labor, raising children, caring for the sick and elderly, and running a family and home smoothly – there is nothing inherently unfeminist about any of this. This is good work. Essential work. Demanding work. You’re calling the choice to be a homemaker unfeminist because this leaves women financially dependent on others. But this isn’t the women’s fault – it’s the fault of an anti-feminist society that refuses to recognize women’s work as real work, refuses to compensate women in any way for doing it, and thus makes it dishonorable to do it.

        So I wouldn’t call homemaking an unfeminist choice that these women have made – I would call it an unfeminist state of affairs imposed on women who make this choice. The women aren’t doing anything wrong. Society is.

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        • Nandini,

          I agree with your first point, My comment was solely about women who are in a position to work and choose not to.

          Second, I never said there is no discrimination at work. But compared to the past, there is less discrimination today. Guess why? Because more women are working and it’s normal for women to work. If women don’t continue to go out and work, the situation will never equalise itself. But my main reason for calling it unfeminist is because it makes them dependent. That’s not a position a woman should willingly put herself in for the very reasons you have outlined. (I hope I have understood you correctly, your sarcasm sometimes goes whoosh over my head.)

          There is nothing wrong with household work or caretaking work. It is very good work. I call it unfeminist because an equal proportion of men aren’t involved in it.

          I would definitely agree with you that society is wrong here. But it’s not going to change by itself. Women have to take an active part in changing it. Just by buying in to societal norms is not going to get us anywhere.

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        • I know it wasn’t directed at me but that’s a great comment, Nandini! I wholeheartedly agree. The “greater common good” argument only hurts women….or puts an onus of superhuman self-awareness on them, which is also unfair.

          I agree that SAHMs/homemakers do valuable work, in fact it’s documented to be of the order of $120K/year in the US. That’s a completely valid choice, and it’s not these women’s fault that they’re being ripped off. What I do take issue with is women (I agree there are very few of them as a % of population, but they become more and more visible the more privileged your circle becomes) justifying EVERYTHING they do by appropriating feminism. *Warning: expect hetero-normativity*. Like walking all over your husband’s choice to be able to spend more time with family, because you absolutely must have a certain lifestyle (because you’re “worth it”) or because you must be able to keep up with the Joneses. In other words, being an entitled asshole isn’t behavior that’s exclusive to men, and women getting away with it in the name of choice feminism makes me just a little reluctant to associate with that label myself. Believe me, I’m no MRA and I’m not at all trying to derail the conversation. I identify first as a feminist and then as woman, but I’ve started wondering about the social cost of that label. I’m all about women having access to more choices, but I’m dead against PEOPLE exercising choices that come at the cost of other people’s choices. To me that is very much an un-feminist choice, because to me feminism is first and foremost about equality.

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      • Perhaps you are right, Fem. Feminism has used the lack of status/power of “women’s work” to get women into places men had already declared high status. However, feminism has actually done very little to value “women’s work”.
        Someone needs to do “women’s work”. On one hand, we do not believe it is worthwhile. On the other hand, we expect to convince men that it is an appropriate choice for them, to convinve women that a man willing to do “women’s work” is worthy of respect? Do you see how disjointed that is?

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        • O,

          I agree. The main reason that I object to ‘women’s work’ is basically that it is women’s work. I object to ‘men’s work’ as well. The problem is that what you call ‘men’s work’ is compensated and well paid, enabling men to live independently and with a degree of self respect. ‘Women’s work’, on the other hand, is unproductive in the monetary sense, and while it is important and useful, it doesn’t help the women to be independent.

          Also, there is another point I am itching to make. A lot of couples work and share the housework. Do we really need some sort of glorified nanny in every household to do ‘women’s work’? Why can’t both partners share the ‘women’s work’ while also sharing in the ‘men’s work’?

          Personally, I think that is also a problem. A man willing to stay home and look after the kids out of choice is derided by other men and even by women.

          My aim is towards a society where everyone works, at least to the extent where they have a little degree of financial independence, and the performance of essential household tasks is not allocated by gender.

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    • Hi PD, it’s the LW here! Enjoyed reading your reply! While I have just as much respect for women who choose to be homemakers as those who choose to work because, like you said, it all depends on what works for each person, I think my main problem with my cousins’ choices is that it doesn’t seem like a choice they made. For instance, there was no question of the youngest one working because “she can just get married”. Imagine the reaction if a man decided not to work because “he can just get married”! I think that this links well with your latter point – society is conditioned to not blink an eyelid when a woman i.e. my cousin makes a decision like this but I’m sure all hell would break loose if a man did it. And I am saddened and frustrated that if women won’t question such thoughts, then they will just accept inequalities and injustices as things that don’t need to be changed. Having said that, I’m really pleased to hear that change is coming in India, slowly but surely.

      Best wishes,
      Garima

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      • Thanks for your reply Garima! And I see your point more clearly now…
        You’re right when you say if a man made a choice like that, it would be a huge disaster…
        Reading letters such as the one you’ve posted and different people’s views on such matters is when one understands how to fight the inequality…

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  2. In the same vein, I find socially reinforced humor about the wife being the general pest in the husband’s life also terribly regressive. I would lynch my husband if he perpetrated a joke like that, but can I stop him (and he is a feminist through and through) from laughing? Even the strongest, most vocal feminists I know in India bend to socially reinforced patriarchal thinking and practices. It’s frustrating, but most women are not very aware of the implications of what they do or say. Also, it is generations of conditioning and hard to throw it off in one go! But yes, we can try! Enjoyed reading your letter and am glad more young women like you are asking the right questions!

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    • There are stereotype jokes of all sorts – about men, about husbands being lazy and watching TV, about races, about ethnicities. In my opinion, if you’ve laughed at a Russell Peter’s joke, you’re likely not being equally respectful to everyone.

      My partner jokes about me being the couch potato, a typically insensitive guy etc. and we laugh it off. In reality, I cook as much as she does, sometimes more, clean as much as she does. I wake up first, get breakfast ready, she wakes up an hour later. I take care of all purchases for our house, drive her to work every day, pick her up from classes etc.

      IMHO, depending on the audience, none of this humor is offensive.

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      • Agree with Niketan.
        A joke is after all a joke. By definition it is not meant to be taken seriously.
        I had Sardarji friends in college who cracked the best jokes on the Sardaars.
        Today, it is not considered politically correct to share Sardaarji jokes.
        They somehow still circulate and are now called Santa -Banta jokes.
        There are jokes about blondes, about the marines, various nationalities and ethnicities, and also about lawyers and doctors and various professions and no one should mind them.
        It find it sad when some women find jokes about wives, women, girls or girl friends offensive.
        Unless the joke is really in bad taste I am ready enjoy any joke about husbands/men in retaliation.
        The Readers Digest used to print many jokes under the heading “Battle of the Sexes” and used them as fillers.
        I enjoyed them and was never offended when the joke was on us , the men..

        Regards
        GV

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    • how is it that cracking is a joke is offensive but talking about ‘lynching the husband’ is not.

      Its a joke….take a chill pill.

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  3. I’m not an Indian woman, but I’m going to try and answer your questions:

    This brings me to my question – do Indian women see socially reinforced gender inequality as a problem in the first place? Do they want to remove double standards and expectations? Or are they the first to point the finger at women who try to be equal to their husbands/partners/men in general?

    There’s more than half a billion Indian women (if we’re going by nationality) on the planet. Even more if you’re going to count people of Indian origin. It’s kinda impossible to lump all of them together. From my experiences, I can say, that as a fellow South Asian raised abroad, I’ve found that the people of Indian origin abroad are FAR more conservative than the Indians in India of the same socio-economic/educational background. Period. I know that’s not true of everyone. But from my personal experience the Indians who have been abroad for generations are psychotically conservative.

    Even in my own community, while people not be conservative that way, they discourage dating and push academics in high school like some weird anti-dating, super academic zealots. And they’re always trying to compete with each other based on whose kid got into what university, whose kid is studying medicine, whose kid married the right person from the right community, etc, etc, you get the idea. From the small section of Indian society that I’ve seen–I can say that the kids here are raised in a far healthier manner. For ex, my husband dated since high school, he partied, he basically had no curfew, and he wasn’t forced to study (or indirectly forced by being compared to other kids) etc.

    I knew a girl who was born and raised in the US, her parents were born and raised in the UK, and her grandparents were born and raised somewhere in Africa–you know what? She’d probably find that joke funny and agree with it. Her parents encouraged her to study pharmacy instead of medicine because medicine may scare off potential husbands.

    As for women who ridicule other women who try to be equal–that’s true of every conservative culture. This reminds me of my cousins who were hit by their parents as a form of punishment when they were kids–while they won’t hit their own kids (I hope), they vehemently defend their parents decision to discipline them in that way. It’s a coping mechanism of some kind, I suppose.

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    • “I’ve found that the people of Indian origin abroad are FAR more conservative than the Indians in India of the same socio-economic/educational background.” – this sums it up. These parents have this fake sense of duty to preserve their traditions. If you are non-traditional enough to leave your country, you might as well learn from your experiences abroad.

      Coming from a Brahmin household, more of my cousins are outside India than there are within. Ironically, “crossing the sea” is a cardinal sin for a Brahmin. People have gone ahead and ignored that for generations now but are wary of letting their child date a non Brahmin, let alone someone of a different race🙂 Hypocrisy much? Oh yes.

      Similar analogies can be drawn with the gender equality issues too. I find that most of my working female friends hire domestic help that enables them to go ahead and pursue their own passions and not be tied down by this silly notion that keeping house is their eternal duty in this world. On the other hand, my female friends who live and work in the US seem to take up a bulk of household duties despite working longer if not equal hours as their husbands. Why? Because that’s what their moms did and they believe they’re maintaining some semblance of tradition in their household. They chide others who get expensive help to relieve themselves of tiring household chores because they think outsourcing of what they think is their “duty” to be un-Indian(note the irony again).

      My husband who’s not an admitted feminist is all for equality in the household. He considers my career equally if not more important than his own and has no qualms in admitting that I am the bigger earner in our household. We just happen to not attach importance to each other’s earn capacity. This very same man, when we recently found out that we had a baby girl vocalized his thoughts about how he needed to start planning our baby girl’s wedding🙂 It took a couple of conversations from me to tell him that this type of arrangement is obnoxious in my opinion and that I would much rather spend my money on giving my daughter the best possible educational and life opportunities than save for a wedding that she should have only when she is ready to pay for it. He’s coming around but it was interesting for me to see how years of conditioning are so difficult to shake off even for someone as pragmatic as my husband.

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      • That’s exactly what I’ve noticed as well. The Indian-American friend of mine who was encouraged to study pharmacy instead of medicine–her father didn’t even enter the kitchen in spite of being born and raised in the UK. If her mom was busy, she and her sister were expected to help out with dinner while the dad watched TV. I can’t even imagine my dad expecting me to serve him dinner as a 16 year old.

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      • @krith,
        your husband sounds just like mine.While he beleives that women and men need to work for financial independence,both are equal partners,both should cook and do laundry,blah,blah,blah,he also says we need to save towards dowry for our daughter who cant even say the word dowry yet because she is just born.
        I was flabbergasted to say the least.My attempts to make him see that its not him, but his conditioning that is speaking, resulted in a defeated ‘but what if she chooses a guy who accepts dowry’.
        At such times, I wish there were programmes that ran in Discovery and NGC about feminism.Because he is averse to reading and imagine if this blog’s ideas being presented on screen?He would rid himself of his conditioning in a couple of hours i am sure.Of course it took me a couple of months for unlearning my patriarchial ‘indian values’.

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      • Can’t reply to you aarti, but I’ll reply here. He detests dowry but still subscribes to this notion that the parents of the bride must go through the “joy” of giving their daughter a great wedding. His example is that of his parents who have two sons and always regret not having a daughter to “give away”. This is where I kindly point out to him that parents don’t own their daughters to give them away.

        To give him credit, he is coming around and beginning to see it from my perspective. He is starting to understand how these things are very offensive to me, an extremely independent woman. He has pulled the “what if she chooses a guy whose family refuses to pitch in”. If she finds someone with regressive patriarchal values, I’ll take it upon myself and call myself a failure as a mother because I sincerely believe that a person’s value system makes them what they are. Your values and you are not two islands that can or should be considered separately.

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    • That’s your experience but I don’t agree.

      I’m not from India either but I have 2 cousins who immigrated in their 20’s and the crap that their wives put up with his definitely something a second generation women would not.

      Yes, our parents who are immigrants are way more conservative and crazy than their Indian counterparts but their kids (second generation) definitely rebel and push back. But see it from their point of view. My parents moved to Canada in the 70’s and faced tons of racism and discrimination. They were treated as outsiders so of course they clung to their Indian identity and created their own communities where they were welcomed and felt like they belonged. Yes, they push academics on their children but that’s because they want better for their children. Immigrant life is hard and they don’t want their kids to experience the same hardships. My parents worked extremely hard in factories making ends meet. They scrimped and saved for me and my brother to go to university. They want their children to be successful so they push academics really hard. They are also sending their children to school in an educational system that is far different than their own that they don’t understand. They don’t understand that extra-curriculars like sports and social events like school dances are important too because they didn’t have those in India and India doesn’t place the same importance on them that we do here.

      Also my parents see themselves as Indians living in Canada whereas I see myself as a Canadian of Indian origins Its hard for them to see their kids with a culture and values so different from their own, one that they don’t fully understand.

      Indian immigrant parents get a lot of flack and I myself had a horrible relationship with my parents growing up but honestly they love us and are just trying to their best in a world they don’t completely understand and a world that they will never fully be a part of.

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      • @anon–that’s exactly why \i put in ‘of the same socio-economic/educational background’ in there because that’s what makes the difference. I suppose I was strictly talking about people of Indian origin who fall strictly into the upper-middle class or higher in the Western world and upper class in India (with both parents who have at least a post secondary degree).

        I’ve seen the negative effects of academics being pushed down someone’s throat and mind and I don’t think the ‘they just love us and want best for us’ argument works. Sure, some kids thrive. Plenty are also highly depressed (mental health is another issue that doesn’t get addressed)–but I’m talking about my own community here. We’re not as culturally conservative but this kind of academic zeal is very harmful IMO and parents shouldn’t get a free pass because ‘they want what’s best for us.’

        I have a great relationship with my parents. And while they weren’t too nuts with the anti-dating/super academic thing, there definitely was an unspoken rule about what I was expected to be. My husband (born and raised in India) didn’t have any of these rules and his life was so much more relaxed. This time when I went to the US to visit my family, I made it a point to tell people who’re younger to not stress about jobs and higher degrees and just enjoy life.

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  4. While a lot of people I know claim they want equality, condemn rape, dowry etc, at the same time, they also subscribe to the idea that women are intrinsically not equal to men. For example, they are the ones who share all those wife-husband jokes on facebook, read rubbish ‘scientific articles’ of the men are from mars and women from venus variety. I find people who come in this category equally dangerous as the hardcore misogynist category, because such a mentality tends to seep into people silently and inconspicuously. Most girls and women I know fall into this category. If you protest at such things they say its a joke, a trivial matter, and deny that it is little things like this that eventually add to rape culture.

    Most people don’t even notice the harm in these trivialities even though they themselves might not be misogynistic. My sister and me were brought up by very progressive parents who kept us almost totally shielded from even ‘harmless’ gender stereotypes. Leaving home and going to college was a rude awakening as we were assaulted by all sorts stereotypes all of a sudden. As a result I notice and get annoyed by even the tiniest hint of gender stereotyping, while most people don’t even notice them.

    So while it is true that a lot of women are fighting against big visible issues like dowry and rape, a lot of them still subscribe to other commonplace gender stereotypes which they think is harmless.

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  5. To add on to this, how many of us have watched movies which show women as managers, CEOs, police or professors, to be idiotic, sly or making sexual overtures, to please the heroes. Seriously there are women in real life who come up in life because of hard work, true ability and without need for exposing their physical attributes. These portrayals may be generalized by ignorant people and will never help in overcoming the glass ceiling effect.

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    • That reminds me of the film Laadla. Sridevi was a perfect pest as the boss, and hey presto, she became a nice and docile house wife, making lunch for her husband in the morning, which was her redemption. *PUKE*

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  6. The questions you have asked are good ones. I understand what you are asking. If you ask, do Indian women want to remove socially reinforced gender inequality or do they want to remove double standards and expectations, these are really broad topics. Probably many women resent to the fact that they have to live subjugated, they have to live in in-laws house and are not able to pursue their dreams. But have they will to change this way of life? Already we know, those women who want to change their lot by chance and have will and intention to make a difference have done that. Definitely it is quite possible. But the key is inside the woman. If a woman puts a boundary of love for herself, believes in herself and does the needful to take care of herself, she definitely is able to do what she chooses and could shine in the World. This type of woman is able to attract loving husband also and a man who encourages her to shine in life. At the same time, a woman who resents her position of subjugation or if she makes her husband financially and emotionally responsible or makes him her emotional protector and provider of comforts, she could do nothing to change her lot. She could even have buried her feelings and would tell other women also that she is living happily and try to force them into this type of life.

    When I was young, my English teacher dictated an essay in the class, which he wanted to study for exam. I will tell the gist of the essay. A wild elephant tells his story. He was enticed by a domesticated elephant and so got into a man made trap. The humans trained this elephant in a harsh way by feeding nothing for many days and then feeding in the trap and finally once he became tame, got him out. But by then, he has lost all his wildness and started working as per his human master’s dictates. But he also claims, he is happy. It was an essay, the teacher dictated. But then when the human being says being dependent is happy, that person buries his/her feelings. This elephant could probably entice other elephants also into submission. And there are people also of the same type in this world – both men and women. Only a person who listens to herself consistently and listens to God and listens to only those who understand her,and stop listening to the general opinion of people and society can make a different lot for herself.

    Good Luck to you, Garima!

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    • “Only a person who listens to herself consistently and listens to God and listens to only those who understand her,and stop listening to the general opinion of people and society can make a different lot for herself.” This needs to be framed and hung in every household!

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  7. North India will win the Olympics for foul language, hands down… this is the single biggest contributor to its “unique culture”.

    “Its not just delhi but perhaps Noth indian male- using bhen***** and mader **** as punctuation marks in every sentence”

    (This needs a post in itself, IHM… maybe more than one)

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    • while i agree with your point, madhu kishwar hardly upholds it! her TL is replete with “g****” references towards those who do not agree with her.

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  8. I know where you are coming from! Humour really is where our beliefs show up most starkly.

    The cockroach joke, to my mind, is just silly. Lets focus on the other one. My hindi isn’t great but aren’t tamiz and izzat just politeness and respect? Isn’t this something both spouses should expect in a marriage? I found that statement perfectly acceptable even when the genders were reversed…

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    • Except the joke is never on the other gender🙂 See the problem now? The goal seems to be to “respect and be polite to the husband” as opposed to “love and cherish one another”. That is what I personally take offense to.

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    • That’s exactly the point. The wife wanting to do something independent for the husband is not seen as nice. He wants her to give him respect and politeness, as if she is not offering him any otherwise. This is very a subtle way to tell women to stay within their boundaries – it is not for them to give gifts and DO anything for their husbands, who are the providers.

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      • Fem, I don’t even think it’s subtle. It’s a very in your face message in my opinion🙂 It’s also a great ego boost for the men to feel like they’re the only true givers in the relationship. Maybe we’re reading too much into this, but current jokes are a reflection of the larger social culture. So us delving deep into these “jokes” is us actually talking abt these social issues.

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  9. I don’t agree with the post. The post is written with too wide an audience in mind.

    If the audience is okay with it, I really don’t get why humor against women is taken as such a serious thing. I joke that my partner has no right to speak up, she has to walk behind me when we go outside, she has to do the chores etc. Every now and then at work, I text her asking if she”s had the audacity to have lunch before I have.

    She cracks just as many jokes about me, that I burn food (not that she doesn’t), that I litter the house, that I drop socks all over the place. Why does it matter if the two people themselves don’t care?

    If some third party picked up either of our messages, I guarantee they would think we came from the 18th century😛

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    • Gosh!!!! My husband and I do this all the time too!!
      If he returns late after work, he asks me how dare I eat before he came? On sundays when we are both lazing around and I ask him ‘What do we do for food?’ , he says ‘ Kitchen mein jao , aur garma garam samose leke aao’. Sometimes he reminds me ‘mahiloan ko bas pyar chaiye , izzat nahin’ and ‘ tumhare par nikal aayein hein, kal se tumhara ghar se nikalna bandh’.
      Of course he gets it too , he gets ‘ chee chee , biwi ki kamayee pe jeete ho ‘ ‘ main ghar se nahi nikloongi aur kaam nahi karrongi toh hum khayenge kya?’, Its a recurring joke theme thats runs between us and we have shocked other people by such things slipping out in public.

      But i guess the point is that we are actually making fun of these silly traditions , these notions that women have to do all the work at home and the men do all the providing. The jokes above are funny for us because , in our head the equality is so obvious, and taken for granted.
      But the jokes above try and reinforce these gender roles , and making fun of the poeple who are trying to challenge them, subtly reinforcing that women not step out of line.

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    • This works with you because it’s not true in your case. Your wife is not subservient, and you share in the chores. Just imagine this joke being cracked in front of a woman who is forced to be subservient and who does all the chores. How funny would that be? That’s the point people are making against such jokes. It is fine if it’s an inner joke between two or three people who know where they are coming from but it’s not REALLY a joke, it’s just shared intimacy between two people. It’s a stereotype when you distribute it to a wider audience.

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  10. Some women do and some dont. My mom thinks It’s very bad of me to not cook and serve my husband. according to her, thats what gives true happiness.
    Ive pretty much given up on the lectures . I tried and explained and showed nd whatever but now have simply given up. I really dont care. If she wants to be a cook and server till she dies, more power to her. Of course she gets mad that i choose to focus on my career adn not be there waiting with hot food when my kids come home and is even more irate that i make my 14yr old son clean dishes, and make his own snack when he comes back and take care of his sister.
    Initially i would argue now i simply dont care. I’m happy so thats what counts.

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    • @MR
      Funny how everyone, except the woman in question, is allowed to define true happiness for herself.
      My aunt is appalled that my husband folds the laundry.
      Applause for this —‘i am happy so thats what counts’.
      Congratulations that you can say this without guilt.Happy for you.Thank you for sharing.

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    • Making young boys and girls responsible for themselves is great parenting. Kudos to you for enabling your son rather than making him dependent !
      Perhaps cleaning dishes is seen as some sort of derogatory work by some people but I think everyone should clean and take care of themselves and not be dependent on others.

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  11. Garima, it’s true that there are many Indian women who don’t fully understand that they have equal rights and that they need to learn to be capable, productive individuals. This is more blatant in countries like India where we are still fighting for very basic rights.

    However, I’ve lived in the US for the past 20 years (came here as a grad student, and have worked in many companies here) – I’m constantly surprised at the subtly regressive attitudes of both men and women here. I recently went to one of those ‘Lean In’ type lectures hoping to get some professional development insights – there were 250 professional women there – and the speaker, a highly successful woman begins her talk with the importance of wearing the right shoes “because, after all, let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re women, and we can look stunning when we dress right.” I sat there with my jaw hanging and looked around but many women in the audience took this remark in stride.

    My son is in high school and I see lots of young girls his age here not really valuing themselves and doing silly stuff to please the boys. A few of them are confident, real go-getters, but many of them seem to succumb to stereotypes. Every magazine I look at, every show I watch, I’m told I need to look smoother, thinner, taller, sexier. Now as an educated 44 year old, I can ignore these media messages. But can the impressionable girls in my son’s high school ignore these messages? Have you seen this talk? (it captures our collective objectification in the more aware and progressive West) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTlmho_RovY

    Sometimes I wonder what happened to the Susan B Anthony generation of women – the ones who fought for the right to vote, and other equality rights? America has produced some of the best feminist writers, yet do their writings seep down to the average woman? Th average woman here still seems to be obsessed with clothes, shoes, skin, nails, and weight loss.

    So, to answer your question, it’s not just Indian women but women everywhere need to wake up and realize their worth.

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    • American women seem to be obsessed with thinness, marriage and babies. That’s a bit of a stereotype, but no worse than saying Indian men in general are patriarchal. Considering the kind of individualist freedom they have in USA, it’s a shame women still get told they can’t do things beyond dieting, marrying and producing.

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  12. Its true …..in this male dominated indian society men are hypocrite generally.No matter how educated women will be he considers her as under him …not equal. It will take time to change male mentality even in cultured families…If female choses to be his housewife than also have to listen otherway also..

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  13. I write here to share my experience working in an Indian office, after my stint in the US & UK: women expected other women (in this case me, the manager) to allow for concessions based on what they think are a married woman’s priorities. I had a female employee who fasted for her husband on various holidays, karva chaut etc. Fine. If it’s not a company holiday, she applies for and gets one-day leave. What happens for two years is that each time she takes off, she falls ill, being ill-equipped physically to take the strain of fasting. Which meant, a one-day leave will extend to 4 – 5 days, leaving me to work out logistics of meeting deadlines. We were a team of 4 people so one person missing was a big deal. The third year, I offered my employee a choice – plan to take the whole week off, or find a compromise with fasting so you don’t fall ill. Neither were acceptable. Why? The response was that since I don’t fast, I wouldn’t understand. This employee could never explain why she was fasting, except to say that it was tradition and for her husband’s health; it did not matter that it hurt her health and professionally. When you tried to talk to her about it, she didn’t see it as a discussion but an attack on Indian values. So, my conclusion, at least in my workplace was that Indian women do not see socially reinforced gender equality as a problem. I do not work in an office anymore, so I don’t know if this attitude is changing. Also, I was at a really small company and I would be curious to know what happens at the big IT firms.

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    • perhaps she knows it’s costing her but she still values her fasting more than her job. perhaps she uses her fasting as an excuse to take week long vacations. who knows? and certainly anyone would have better things to care about than a serial faster’s motivations and the impact of her fasting on various facets of her life

      personally, my job is not my motivation in life. it’s just a part. and I don’t mind if my personal commitments hamper my professional growth. that’s how my priorities are. granted my personal life does not involve fasting. nor does my professional life involve unplanned vacation but the general principle is the same.

      not all professional suicide happens because of oppression.

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    • Gosh!If a married woman’s priority is her husband’s health, then whose priority is her health? Nobody’s?
      She kept at it for two years and wanted to do it third time too and her family, especially her husband, never said ‘Pls dont do this anymore’?
      Why?

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      • “then whose priority is her health?”

        Don’t be silly, a woman’s virtue lies in sacrificing for others. Prioritising her own health? Haye haye!

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    • And then you were called the bi**** female boss? Did people wonder if you were PMSing? Because clearly, we women cannot make rational decisions in everyone’s best interests. **Sorry I wandered off here**

      You make a great point about these Indian traditions. Indian women seem to need nobody else to tell them to follow these traditions that they have no explanation for. And then the Indian male coworkers have the gall to ask me why I did not keep a certain fast. I just ask them about all the fasts they are keeping for their wife’s well being. Ironically, the “stronger” sex needs for the weaker sex to starve for it to have a prolonged life. Funny, eh?

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  14. Err.. ‘some’ indian women don’t.. actually, ‘some’ women don’t (Indian or not). It’s called internalised sexism/ culture/ being religious (in some cases). How else would patriarchy have even survived? More importantly though, ‘some’ or even ‘many’ women (Indian or not) do see it as a problem, or we would not even be having this discussion.

    A huge part of any activism is to raise awareness that an issue actually exists. Our schools, religions and authority figures are designed to keep us from questioning the status quo. With some more time to think, some awareness and some education, more people will question enforced inequalities.

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  15. Garima, I wish I had had grandparents like yours. Instead, I grew up in a household where it was considered normal for “women and girls must not cross the line”, must not question the elders in the house, and must be kept “under control” because if the daughter’s “honor” is ruined then the whole family’s “honor” is also ruined.

    My mother and some of my aunts are prime examples of women perpetuating and advocating patriarchy as well as the subservience of women. My mother, to this day (and despite her ill health), will stand by and serve my father his food as if he is a 3 year old toddler. Heaven help her if a man can actually serve his own food. A man is the head of the household, sure, but he can’t serve his own food. I have given up trying to ask the women in my family to find the logic in the way they treat their husbands and the way they allow their husbands to treat them.

    One of my aunts has even told me (when I did not know she was standing there and therefore did not greet her)- boys are boys- they can get away with anything, but if the girls don’t greet their elders and display good manners then that is not good.

    Oh, and wait for this zinger from another aunt- she was talking of a case where two girls and a boy (all in their late teens) had run away from home. My wise aunt had this to say- it is ok that the girls ran away- after all they can be brainwashed easily, but what about that boy- what is his excuse? This same aunt also told me at the time I was getting married “get all the things you can out of your husband right after marriage (i.e., jewelry, makeup, vacations) because once they have been married to you for some years they will not give you anything”.

    I have reached a stage today where I have realized, after having my own daughter, that my parents (and especially my mother) physically and emotionally abused my brother and I in the name of good Indian parenting.

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    • My family was never so blatant. But there was always that undercurrent of “you’re a girl, so you must…”. Once I hit my teens, the rebel in me woke up and called BS. There was a time when my father asked me “What will you do in your in laws’ place. Your mother does everything for you now”. This was 4 days before my wedding and I had arrived from the US 12 hours ago. And this was over asking my mom for a new set of sheets🙂 I refused to talk to him until he took his words back unconditionally and apologized. Being a parent does not endow some god given authority upon you to hurt your child.

      Fun fact, I’ve “lived” with my in laws for precisely 6 weeks in the 3.5 years that I’ve been married and my in laws are even sloppier than I am🙂

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      • Krith,

        Thanks for responding to my post. My family has been a combination of blatant and subtle patriarchy and discrimination. Having almost married at 23, the wedding was called off two weeks before the actual date. I was told “you shouldn’t have talked to the boy’s side like that”. What?! So you’d rather I get married to that idiotic mama’s boy and suffer than make a stand for myself?

        My own father told me that 25 is a good age for women to get married by because after that they lose their “charms”. I am contemplating estrangement from my parents today because I can see now how badly they behaved and how us children were treated as nothing more than showpieces and accessories to their lives. No doubt this will also lead to my being labelled as a horrible daughter who has “become American” (I’m married to an American to boot!), but at this point my peace of mind matters the most.

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  16. Pingback: Would Indra Nooyi like to be the kind of mother to her daughters that her mother has been to her? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  17. Pingback: दुल्हन मुस्कुराई और अपने देवर का परिचय अपनी सहेलियो से करवाया… | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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