Are these advises and suggestions possible for an Average Indian Woman to even consider? Will she be able to think that way… educate me

Here’s a comment I would like to respond to:

Comment: Hello everyone ,

In this forum, I see a lot of very sensitive, sensible, intellectual and rational comments and arguments in favour of women, and by women. Rightly so.

IHM:

1. Not in favor of women or men or Patriarchy or tradition, just the honest, and maybe sometimes the only practical and realistic option/s.

2. What might make the advice appear radical sometimes is that it is generally not what most people would hear from the family and community elders and the neighbours.

3. The traditional advice does not (and is not meant to) consider the well being of individuals concerned, but to protect patriarchal norms and the status quo. It was (and continues to be) less of an ‘advice’, and more of an ensuring the individual didn’t question established norms (often convenience of those who are advising is a priority).

4. Whenever questioned, this traditional advice continues to be proven either seriously harmful, ineffective, blatantly biased and frequently quite impractical.

It has directly lead to male child preference –  and hence a skewed gender ratio and crimes against women.

Some examples of impractical traditional advice for the average Indian woman:

i. “Please adjust and win over their hearts” – this advice is never meant for anybody except those who are the lowest in the Indian social hierarchy – mainly the average Indian daughters in law/paraya dhan/ghar ki izzat/chaati par bojh.

ii. ‘The restrictions/unhappiness/abuse will become easier to bear/disappear once there is a child’,

iii. Daughters must win the approval of the entire community specially if they are related to their present/possibly  future husbands,

iv. ‘Elders know better’ and ‘husbands know better’.

And of course,

iv. Get Married Stay Married (or die trying)

v.  ‘Obey.’ (only if you are lower in the social or family hierarchy)

vi. ‘Don’t question.’/’Don’t answer back’.’

Comment: Many argue that in a relationship,”men are mostly non-committal, and women are desperate for a commitment”. Hmm, In my opinion, when one looks at Urban India in most of its parts, this is quite true. Only when you are talking about India`s Elite group (rich, richer and richest), this can be arguable.

IHM: Any woman (self reliant, rich, educated, or poor and dependent) who believes that her happiness is less important than random people’s opinion of her might find herself believing that her life’s biggest goal is to Get Married and Stay Married.

Often this is what makes women (elite, illiterate, non earning, wealthy) desperate for commitment.

Please consider, if the patriarchal pressure to Get Married Stay Married is lifted would an average Indian woman worry more about her happiness than about getting and staying married?

Who benefits from the social pressure on an average Indian woman to Get Married and Stay Married? Mainly, dowry seekers and  abusive and controlling misogynists.

Comment: I am just curious about the people commenting or commentating about the issues here in this forum. I suppose they (the women especially) are all from either one of pretty well-to-do backgrounds, progressive, liberal, positive, well educated, confident etc. by nature, or they became this way after a bad relational experience of their’s or their known one`s, whichever way, I don`t know.

Are these advises and suggestions that they give (I endorse them, practicality questioned) possible for an Average Indian Woman (read as middle class typical) to even consider? Will she be able to think that way… educate me! To know one, you have to be one. Because, most of the solutions to many problems were like, to date, get to know the guy in person before commitment, should put your self esteem before his work, be ready to say NO if you don`t like his family members, be brave to just walk out of any relationship you don`t like, dress the way you like, have a child when or if you want to, etc…

Absolutely sensible. Sensible for the women I previously mentioned! I am not a male chauvinist, not a pessimist, not an optimist every time either. I try to be a Realist. I`m open if need be. I would love not just a woman, but anyone to be that way. Be absolutely independent, and then look for the whoever they cannot live without… gaud. This idea of “get committed to a guy as quickly and easily as possible” is a problem or a forced phenomenon which most Indian women have, irrespective of financial backgrounds. Reason being, financial, social, xyz security, whatever. But who needs more of this, and in turn being exploited, is the one to talk about? Aren`t they from the majority of lower middle, middle, and to an extent, the upper middle income group?  people who are not as confident, gifted, fortunate, financially and emotionally as strong as most of you (us) are ??  (presuming financial might brings with it, confidence, fortune, exposure etc.. debatable though!) I have a few questions to ask to the “solution/suggestion givers” in this blog, with due respect ,

1. How will You instill your confidence, questioning and reasoning ability into a middle class, Indian born and bred woman, who doesn’t have the backing, background, exposure etc. that you have? (the middle class Indian girl gets to face most of the problems that we are discussing here)

IHM: I think a good beginning would be talking about the possibility of self reliance and the freedom and happiness it can bring. Awareness has to be the first step. The discussions on this blog are a small step in that direction.

Comment: 2. In India, who wants a marriage badly ? Who is best equipped to live without a marriage ? a guy or a girl ? I think the answers to these questions should give us a proper answer to all that has led us to most of what we are discussing and arguing about now. Most of the lower, middle, and upper middle class women in India are still dependent on men for a future, whatever that might be. Middle and upper middle class women in India are mostly not brought up emphasizing the absolute need to work, unlike the boys. They just get a degree for social status or acknowledgement. I know a lot of women (some my classmates) who have their BE , M.Tech , MBAs ,M PHILs etc , but don`t have a job. They didn`t even try for one. They got it just for the sake of it. May be its one of the ways of bringing down the dowry, or getting a groom who makes good money and/or lives abroad.That is how the girl`s parents`, her relatives` thinking process is, and, or may be, the girl herself is made to think that way. Devil knows.

I`ll make this short and sensible if possible.

At a very young age, boys are told that they have to work once they are grown ups, irrespective of what they learn or what their grades are, in school, college and wherever…  It is not the case with all the girls. They go, or are told to go to college just to keep them occupied till they are 20 or 21 years old. They are then married to someone else. It is a shame. In India, both boys and girls have to be brought up in a way that they are independent financially, physically, emotionally, and what not. Marriage should only be an option and not a compulsion , for everyone .

IHM: Agree. How can we help in making it happen?

By creating awareness about it.

Awareness and attitude, it seems, doesn’t depend upon education, social status or financial self reliance.

Women and men, of all ages, who work as domestic helpers and construction workers, defy social norms as much as educated middle class or upper class women and men do.

Most people who don’t fit into patriarchy defined societal roles rarely find support for two reasons: 1.)  because those affected don’t seem to directly benefit from their decisions or 2.) often those who are not being supportive are genuinely convinced that Patriarchal norms, however unfair, are the only way to live by.

How can this change? One way I can think of is, to be that often much needed moral support by simply providing validation. As in, acknowledging a wrong is a wrong, and no amount of traditional excuses and no matter how unavoidable it is, nothing makes it right. At other times just knowing one is not alone is reassuring.

Also, it’s possible that those who have understood that the only way to be happy for them is to fight back, but they are not able to gather the strength to fight back. They need to know that sharing their awareness of abuse is not permitted only if they also start fighting back. Sometimes one needs to know that they are understood and that they have themselves understood the situation correctly; and they need not feel guilty for not understanding their feelings for the abusers (and for those who excuse the abusers). And they need not feel guilty for not being able to/wanting to do anything about the abuse.

And knowing that when they can fight back, they would have the support they need.

Change can not come without first admitting and then accepting that the change is needed. Which is also why this first step seems to face a lot of resistance.

Related Posts:

And then there is this 21 year old.

The Life And Times Of Another Indian Homemaker.

How important is it for a girl to get married and stay married?

These lines sum up the biggest reason for male child preference and skewed gender ratio in India.

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

When a newly married Indian woman gives up her career, what else does she give up?

“Can anyone guarantee that absolute empowerment of women thru feminism will improve the social balance and not give rise to new social problems?”

55 thoughts on “Are these advises and suggestions possible for an Average Indian Woman to even consider? Will she be able to think that way… educate me

  1. I don’t exactly understand the commentor’s intent. What is the point? You can’t change things quickly, hence sit tight? Also, I find the assumptions wrong – just because someone uses the Internet and types in English does not mean they are well off, live in a metro and have a professional degree. It is entirely possible that a young woman in a very small town, from a traditional family, reads these posts and feels inspired to take her own career and her life into her hands and not see marriage as the end all of life. Secondly, even women from very affluent, educated families feel the same pressures, as many letters to IHM show.

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  2. Middle and upper middle class women in India are mostly not brought up emphasizing the absolute need to work, unlike the boys.

    I want to give my experience here. I am a working mom at a mid-managment level. While in school there was always emphasis that i get good marks so i can get into a good college and get good job – never to get a good husband. Marriage was discussed after i became stable at my work and I married a person I chose.

    I agree not all families are like mine, but these days increasingly girls (from middle-class fmailies) are bring bought with an understanding that they have to self-reliant.

    what is not happening is that the boys are not being bought up to understand that they are equal partners in homes and marriages. Yes, they are told that they need to be “providers” for the family and thier wives will be “carers”. The boys needs to be educated that they need to be “Carers” as well since a lot of women are being “providers” now.

    This blog , the commentors on them are definitely doing their bit in creating awareness and that is the first step.

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  3. First off, I think this is an excellent and valid question. In the past few posts, I’ve been finding some of the responses to be pretty harsh, even when I happen to agree with the suggested course of action. One woman was advised to date and scolded for settling for an arranged marriage. I don’t remember who this advice came from but just try dating in India. My niece wants to, but it’s a nightmare. There are close to none acceptable, safe dating environments where men and women socialize in a healthy fashion, in most towns. Maybe they exist in a few metros. Both guys and girls are very confused about the whole concept, because let’s admit it, this is new to us. A girl maybe quickly labelled in a variety of unflattering ways – no not just by elders, you can ignore them – but by young men, the very men you are supposed to be dating. A guy interested in dating probably faces challenges as well, and is probably just as confused.
    So, I agree with this post, not all of the suggestions are acceptable to people of all income levels and different education backgrounds.

    I also agree with IHM’s response – we must continue to give these suggestions – because 1) many of the suggestions are correct and 2) it all starts with awareness. Once we have awareness, once we know how things are supposed to be, once we know the difference between right and wrong (it is okay to want your own happiness – right, “sacrifice your happiness for elders/neighbors/relatives/strangers approval” – wrong), then we can TRY and find ways to achieve what’s right.

    So, the suggestions to be independent, to grow up, to believe in yourself, to learn skills, to exercise your choices – are all correct, but must be given with sensitivity, with understanding. There may be women who have always been told even as little girls that they should “be seen and not heard” or worse they shouldn’t even “be seen”, to hide behind their ghunghats in front of elders. They may have been brainwashed to serve and bring happiness to others. Not everyone is privileged enough to have read Virginia Woolfe or have an amazing role model or an outstanding education or an innate burning desire to be free or indomitable strength in the face of emotional abuse.

    If these women, who happen to be not so privileged, haven’t had the exposure or the advantages, are asking these questions, that’s a tremendous step. How can we hope to change if we have so much attitude, if we can’t help those who need help? And being helpful doesn’t just mean giving them a set of steps to follow (they can go to any informational site for this) but but really listening, understanding, supporting, validating, and giving them hope, and telling them to believe in themselves. Because, after all, they HAVE taken that first step. They ARE questioning the norms and the traditions. They ARE wanting to be happy. This is the most important way in which the feminist (or equalist) movement in India can make true gains – if those who are aware and privileged help those who are not with empathy. All the correct information in the world is useless without empathy. There is no replacement for human kindness.

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    • This could possibly have been me because I have been harsh with the last few LWs on this blog. But pretty much every advice I’ve written to all LWs here or elsewhere has involved seeking therapy with a professional–IMO, that’s the only way anyone (especially these LWs who have had years of being brainwashed) can introspect themselves to come up with a course of action.

      Sometimes, I do think being harsh will be helpful for the LWs as well; for ex, the last one in which the LW was being pretty misogynistic herself towards her SIL. There are plenty of commenters (vast majority, I’d say) who are nice/emphatic/understanding, etc. I do think the LWs would gain a different perspective from the harsher ones–and that’s not such a bad thing.

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        • Kay, therapy is not available in most small towns. When it is, it is unaffordable to many Indians. And when it’s affordable, the therapists themselves are patriarchal. So, high quality, affordable, and accessible therapy is still out of reach for many Indians.

          Fem, I love your thoughts and views, and love the way you nail down the problem. However, there is a difference between tough love and harshness. My kids – 15 and 11 – have gone through so many stages and make so many mistakes. While I allow them to face the natural consequences of their actions (tough love), I also don’t tell them they messed up big time (harshness). Because they know it that they messed up. It doesn’t help them when I say it to them. What helps them is to hear, “We all make mistakes. Now how can we learn from this?” Notice the “we”. It is less intimidating. It also tells him that no one of is perfect. Mom messes up too. But she’s okay. So I’ll be okay too. There is a tremendous relief in knowing that.

          My 15 year old recently put his phone (for the 3rd time) in the laundry. Well, he’s going to have to go without a phone for a while – again (a natural consequence I won’t protect him from). But I’m not going to tell him he is being stupid or careless. He probably feels that already. Instead, I simply ask him how I can be of help. His response: “You’ve done enough to help me mom. I need to be less careless. I’m going to put a big note on the washing machine – REMOVE STUFF FROM POCKETS BEFORE USING.” And he did put the note. And it did work for him.

          That would not have been my solution. My solution would be to put the phone on charger and not leave it in the pocket. But it wouldn’t have worked for him. We can help people find clarity in their own problems only when we don’t judge them. When we tell people they’re being stupid/wrong/naive/misguided/shortsighted/weak, that just confirms their opinion of themselves, and they have even less of a reason to change.

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        • wordssetmefree,

          But I am treating these women not as children, but as adults. Your approach is perfectly justified with kids, and that would exactly be how I would talk to children who are not fully developed or even to young adults. Your kids are lucky! But someone at 30 or more needs to take complete responsibility for their actions, whatever society they live in. They need to understand the consequences of their actions and they need to make the changes. We cannot make these changes for them. At the same time, they also need to be told where they went wrong because they are in so much shit that they really cannot understand what is so wrong about having submitted to other people in the first place. It’s unfathomable to some of us, but some of these women are surrounded by this and cannot see beyond that, so it’s helpful to make the points about arranged marriages and past mistakes here. Asking them what they did wrong and requesting them to reflect would not work here because of their mental status and the fact that they simply have no idea that they have done something wrong.

          Thanks for the compliments.🙂

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        • I absolutely agree with Fem. Also–I do believe that the last few LWs here have been from metropolitan areas and can afford therapy sessions (the therapist I went to in Delhi/NCR cost about 1K/hour, which is very affordable). I do agree that there must be lots of patriarchal therapists who could cause more harm than good, but how would one know if one didn’t even try?

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    • I’ve noticed the harsh comments too about “why didn’t you date instead of getting an arranged marriage…

      I honestly don’t think there is anything wrong with the concept of arranged marriage, but the fact that it exists in a patriarchal environment, that is the problem.

      I’m a second generation Canadian. I’ve seen many cousins and friends go the route of arranged marriage. However its a bit different here. Parents or family members will introduce you to the person and you meet and get to know them, go on “dates” etc. and people will decide after 3-6 (or longer) months to get married. Sometimes people will decide not to get married and there is no shame if you decide after a few months that you do not want to marry that person. I see a lot of nasty remarks about arranged marriage on this website but as you get older and are not in school anymore it gets harder and harder to meet people. Some companies have rules against co-workers dating and it can also sometimes be seen as unprofessional. So I would definitely allow my parents to introduce to me someone.

      Dating in a patriarchal environment can also result in the same situation as an arranged marriage in India. If women don’t know their worth they will still end up in bad marriages. If they allow abusive and controlling behavior from their boyfriends because Bollywood portrays that as romantic it will be the same end result as if they had married an abusive man through an arranged marriage.

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    • I am one of those who feel frustrated when women (and men) enter into an arranged marriage without knowing the other person. It’s so dangerous! They can be a serial killer for all you know. If your niece is being bullshitted by the very men she is dating, then she would know they are not suitable for a relationship. However, if she does not date them and instead grows up and marries one of them without knowing who he is, she would have married an idiot. My point is that your niece is better off learning where to draw the boundaries before committing herself. This may mean she is single for a long time, but she will retain her happiness and her self-respect.

      I am not saying the dating scene in India is great, but it’s the only way to get to know people before you marry. Isn’t the entire idea to ignore what people say and carry on with your life? That said, I agree we need safe dating environments and people who know whom you are dating. Secret dating leads to tragedy, especially for innocent, young girls.

      Another point regarding dating in India is that sometimes it is even more regressive than arranged marriages! This is mostly true of teenagers and young women. One of the main reasons is the lack of participation of parents in their children’s lives. These girls feel the need to have secret affairs, which again ends up in their abuse. Sometimes, they don’t even realise they are being abused. I know girls who are hit by their boyfriends and they claim it’s only because the bfs love them. So I think this issue is a lot more insidious and goes deeper than we realise.

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      • That is exactly what I was trying to say.

        I don’t think its necessary a problem of dating vs. arranged marriage but patriarchy. The fact that there are girls who think that their boyfriends abuse them because they love them just shows that dating will not necessarily result in better marriages. Patriarchy and the belief and value systems need to be changed.

        I don’t understand what you meant by there is no safe dating environment. Dates are just getting to know someone whether it be at a coffee shop, restaurant, mall, movie theatre, park etc. All those things exist in India. Its more of the beliefs around dating that are the problem. That women and men should not interact with each other and the shaming of women are the problem.

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        • Arranged marriage comes with its own set of discriminations.

          1. Pressure – If your parents or anyone else just introduces you and leaves you to it without any pressure whatsoever, there would be no problem. Instead, having undertaken to introduce they also undertake to interfere. This is not a problem of patriarchy but of lack of individual freedom.

          2. Caste / Religion / Race – Somehow, I don’t think your cousin’s parents introduced them to people of different caste, religion or race. If they did, kudos to them, but the very idea of an arranged marriage rests on marrying people from the same everything. This accentuates differences and and perpetuates discrimination in one form or the other.

          3. Choice – Some people may simply not be interested in marriage at all, or they may be homosexual. Would these parents introduce partners for homosexual people? Again, I doubt it.

          4. Time constraint – In a normal relationship, a couple would take as much time as they want before they commit, or they may split up. They may choose to live together before marriage. Would they have this choice if they went the arranged marriage route? Six months is not time enough for everyone. Some people may even want to be together for five years before they make a decision.

          These are just for the ‘liberal’ families. For more conservative families, there are lot more objections. It may not be patriarchal (it usually is), but it’s certainly wrong.

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        • Oh come on.
          Let’s face it.
          This is modern India where NO interaction between males & females is socially acceptable outside of marriage (& even that is kept to a minimum.)

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      • Agree with Fem. I think not a lot of people discourage arranged marriage per-se,
        Most people appear to be bothered when the girl and the guy don’t talk before the wedding, which is really the norm for most arranged marriages, even today.

        The only change I see from my parents’ generation is that the guy and girl are allowed to talk after the engagement, but are still discouraged from calling it quits if they don’t feel it’ working out.

        You’d be surprised at how I get treated by girls’ parents when I ask to talk to them before agreeing to get engaged. They feel it’s very valid to say things like ‘these days, boys want to talk and talk for weeks and are still undecided. We feel this isn’t our culture’. This came from somebody living in Mumbai!

        Btw, I don’t think patriarchy is the first problem. If you are so indecisive that you let your parents find you a girl and agree to their wishes for the most part, I don’t see how you will ever want to stand up to them or disappoint them in future.

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    • ‘words set me free’, you are absolutely right. I too had been harsh on a particular LW who had written for her friend whose husband wants a divorce and her parents want to ‘make his life hell’. I am more angry at the parents for refusing to see their role in the mess and taking responsibility for their role. However I do agree that I could have been less harsh. Thanks for bringing this up and I will keep it in mind in future.

      We need to have more empathy and be little less judgmental. Lot of us evolve after we have made major decisions in life and see everything falling apart. Just as we are trying to make sense of what hit us we are struggling to find people who can see it from outside objectively. The conditioning is so strong that it leads to guilt. In that situation we look for someone who understands. There are enough people already who are being judgmental.

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    • I agree with every word of this. I definitely think that responses to the last couple of posts have been too harsh, almost as if the posters were congratulating themselves over how liberated they are, rather than trying to help someone who is just waking up to the fact that they’re in an inequitable situation. I think I’ve been to harsh in the past myself, and I’ll try to modify that going forward.

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  4. In my opinion, the advice usually found here isn’t restricted to “elites”. I’m not even sure of what that means. Certainly nothing to do with money. I’m pretty sure most of the people here are not rich. And we’ve seen many rich households which behave abominably. Financial independence, breaking away from the pressure to have children, being open to walking out of a relationship…these are qualities that every woman and man should be considering.

    The question might perhaps be more relevant if we lived in a country where such things were not legally possible. We sometimes forget just how good we have it compared to our neighbors and the middle east. We have to take advantage of our freedoms and our Constitution.

    In short, the only person standing in the way of a woman’s emancipation is the woman herself.

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      • I agree with both of you. There are too many cases where women can reasonably walk out but choose to delude themselves about the ‘looooveeee’ they receive instead. A friend who does all the cooking, cleaning, child care, child education and pretty much everything else, including going to work, recently told me that her husband believes in equality and treats her well. Looks like he is just lazy. Yeah, RIGHT!

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  5. Encouraging women to be financially independent will be a huge step in allowing them to pursue goals other than ‘getting married and staying married’, to have an identity of their own, to instill self-confidence and to enable them in choosing freedom over patriarchal constraints. I am not by any means undermining the efforts and contribution of homemakers to our society. But in practice, we’re seeing that the fact that a woman is not earning is being used against her (no matter how much amount of unpaid work she does), and this deprives many homemakers of self-confidence, makes it easy for abusers to control them and deny them freedom of choice. So, I believe that practically, homemakers should also be paid as mentioned in one of the earlier posts in this blog. Basically – women should not do any ‘unpaid work’ as it is not helping their cause in any case. Women should seek out financial independence (paid work over unpaid work) – financial independence is not just about getting paid – it is also about who gets to decide on the expenses made through that income. If the income in a family is treated as joint income, then women must have equal say as all other members in deciding how that money should be spent. If is treated as individual income, women should be the sole and final decision-makers about how they should use their money. And of course, it is completely up to the women to decide if they want the income to be treated as joint income or not – they cannot be forced to treating their money as joint money when they don’t want to do so.

    As to radical nature of the advice being given, if a woman is not questioning the patriarchal norms or complaining to anyone about any issues that she is facing, then it is probably not in our right to tell her to challenge them – because she is probably not unhappy. But if a woman is seeking advice on this kind of forum, I definitely think that the very fact that she is doing this is because she is unhappy or wants to ‘improve’ her current situation which is inconveniencing her through patriarchal norms (even if she doesn’t realize that patriarchy is the cause). Then it is definitely sensible to make her understand that she can choose to challenge those norms, that she is not obligated to follow them and to also make her aware of the fact that there are other happy women who have chosen to break those norms. This is the most practical and honest advice – as a matter of fact, the only one which would actually resolve her problems.

    I do agree with wordssetmefree on responding with sensitivity and avoiding being harsh though.

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    • “As to radical nature of the advice being given, if a woman is not questioning the patriarchal norms or complaining to anyone about any issues that she is facing, then it is probably not in our right to tell her to challenge them – because she is probably not unhappy.”

      That is not true. In a patriarchal society which insists on controlling women, there is no real happiness, only unhappiness with self respect or unhappiness with abuse. For example, I live my life my way and everything is hunky dory, but when I think about the unnecessary damage to my relationship with my parents, it makes me unhappy. Women who choose not to question or complain have chosen to accept instead. It does not mean they are happy with it, it only means they lack the means or will to go against the tide. It is an exceptionally lucky woman who gets to be happy with her choices, whatever they are, in this society.

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      • I agree in theory about all the evils of patriarchy. My own judgement about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is also in line with yours. My usage of the word ‘happy’ could be misleading but ultimately they’ve ‘chosen’ something over something else – so they ‘prefer’ it. I think it is not in my place to specifically go and tell those women to choose something else. I can bring about awareness about other choices they have and that there are women making those choices but I definitely don’t think I can make her alter her preference. One of my friends got married early instead of being fierce about career. She gave me this explanation: (i) The guy seemed sensible to her. (ii) This match came with lesser dowry. She believes that turning this match down would mean more dowry to her parents. (iii) She just had a bad experience in love so she was not positive about the idea of love marriage. I know that in theory, she has the choice of turning this down, of working hard over her career and wait for the possibility of falling in love with another sensible guy over the years and running the risk of inconveniencing her parents and not being able to find a guy for marriage at all. She was also fully aware of that choice too – but she prefers to not risk it. She would rather be married than not be married at all. It is not in my place to go and alter her choice about a decision which should concern nobody except herself and her fiancee, when she is not seeking advice on it. I wouldn’t presume that I know better about her life – I would rather respect her judgment.

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        • In other words, I will not define what is ‘real happiness’ for someone else. Not specifically for a person. I can describe ‘my’ general idea of ‘real happiness’ which might be in line with yours (about freedom, equality and control over my life) – but these are my ideas at the end of the day, and they may/may not suit someone else.

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        • I have to agree. Ultimately when someone makes a choice, it’s because they prefer it to the alternatives. As long as that choice is not made under physical coercion, we have to admit that the person looked at all the alternatives and chose the best one for them.

          It’s another matter that a person might still be unhappy. But they obviously think they are happier with that choice than with the alternatives taking everything into consideration. Otherwise why will they make it freely?

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        • Having said that, I see nothing wrong with trying to persuade people to choose differently and try and make them thing about where their interests truly lie. Ultimately the choice is upto them, but laying out further alternatives and reasons for various options cannot be a bad thing.

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        • “It is not in my place to go and alter her choice about a decision which should concern nobody except herself and her fiancee, when she is not seeking advice on it.”

          This! Sometimes it’s mind boggling to me when I see other people make rather odd decisions, and then I realize that a) they’re not my decisions, nor are they being forced on me and b) that person is truly content and happy with making them because they have made that decision. Not all patriarchal decisions are enforced upon women. Some women make these decisions on their own, and they are quite happy to make them on their own. Who am I to swoop in and tell them that they’re doing their life wrong?

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        • freebird,

          Of course, I was not suggesting that you should tell women what to do. I just pointed out that in a patriarchal set up, it’s rather difficult for women to be truly happy, as there would be one kind of insecurity or the other. That’s just how it is.

          Your friend thought that less dowry is sensible? I would have pointed out that it was wrong to take dowry at all! I do not tell people what to do, but sometimes when it is as blatant as abuse or dowry, I point out that look, this is wrong for such and such a reason. It is possible that they have not thought of it in quite the same light before because of the environment they live in.

          In other words, I wouldn’t dream of telling a woman that she must work or not, whom to marry, how she must dress, etc. but if I see something really wrong, I say it loud and clear. After that, they can choose. I do not feel the need to respect such choices but I would not interfere either.

          Like

      • “In a patriarchal society which insists on controlling women, there is no real happiness, only unhappiness with self respect or unhappiness with abuse.”

        How do you know that? I mean, yes, in a patriarchal society, there is no real happiness. But what about women who choose to do things that patriarchy strives to make the norm, such as being a house wife or looking after their children? They have chosen this for themselves, presumably because choosing this life is something they know will make them happy. How can I, or you, or anyone else presume to tell them how they feel about this?

        “It does not mean they are happy with it, it only means they lack the means or will to go against the tide.”

        Again, you don’t know that. Nobody knows that. For all we know, living in such a manner could make them happy. To speak in such an authoritative way about how all women feel under the umbrella of patriarchy seems kind of presumptuous to me. To say that they must all be unhappy, well, I’m quite sure that there are many women who would state otherwise. And they would probably take a lot of issue with the statement that they “lack the will to go against the tide”. It could very well be that they are happy to live their life as they see fit.

        Like freebird said, you can’t presume to define happiness for every woman. It’s kind of no better than patriarchy attempting to define happiness for every woman. It’s a very one dimensional definition all around.

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        • A,

          I never said that these are wrong choices. I am merely pointing out that in a patriarchal society, such choices may lead to devaluing of women, and you can’t deny it happens.

          We all make decisions based on what will make us happier or what would be easier to go along with. None of us set out to be martyrs. But just because we make decisions we think would make us happy does not mean that we don’t have to give up something just as important. It’s simply being naive or deluded to say this does not happen. The struggles for both traditional and rebellious women are uphill.

          I also pointed out that some lucky women exist who may be happy. This is not about what choices you make, but the fact that whatever you choose, your worth in society is not much.

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        • “such choices may lead to devaluing of women, and you can’t deny it happens.”

          True, you can’t deny that patriarchy devalues women. But such women who are devalued are not necessarily always unhappy about their situation. And it’s not always true that women who make such choices are devalued to start with.

          If a woman chooses to become a housewife and not have a career, just because she has chosen a “traditionally” patriarchal vocation in life does not automatically mean that she will not (and should not) receive as much respect as the woman who chooses to become a CEO. Perhaps patriarchy will sneer at her occupation and call it “women’s work”. But feminism definitely is not a movement that should be doing that. If a woman chooses such a life, then efforts should be made to ensure that she is not devalued, no matter what her choices are. Ultimately, by saying that women should simply not make certain choices, because that will lead to them not being respected, rather than ensuring that the women who make these choices are given the same respect as any other human being is unhelpful and closes more doors than it opens.

          “But just because we make decisions we think would make us happy does not mean that we don’t have to give up something just as important.”

          Couldn’t you say that about women who refuse to be bound by patriarchy as well? This is a very broad, general statement to make about life. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t matter what system you’re going with in your life, there will be instances where you may need to sacrifice something or another that you want for something else that you want just as much.

          And why this assumption that if a woman chooses to become a housewife that she has “given up” something else that she wants just as much? Perhaps she hasn’t. Perhaps she wants to be a housewife. Maybe she has always wanted to be there for her family in such a capacity. Patriarchy stresses sacrifice, yes, but this is only to silence the women who want things that are different. For the women who don’t, not having a career and such is not a sacrifice at all, but simply a choice they’ve made. A choice that they happen to be happy with. And as long as they do not try to enforce this choice on me, who am I (or anyone else), to decide for them that they must be unhappy and devalued, simply because I would have been if I’d made those same choices?

          Like

  6. “I am just curious about the people commenting or commentating about the issues here in this forum. I suppose they (the women especially) are all from either one of pretty well-to-do backgrounds, progressive, liberal, positive, well educated, confident etc. by nature, or they became this way after a bad relational experience of their’s or their known one`s, whichever way, I don`t know.”
    I would like to share my experience about this. Ever since I was a kid, I always questioned what I felt was wrong, but I was always teased or called childish/immature for my remarks.
    Right up to my bachelors where we had to eat dinner and be locked inside our hostels before 6: 30 because its “Unsafe” for girls to be out, we even had to wear dupattas while going to have dinner, as there were men there, or even guys of our class dishing out “well meaning” advices to girls about not wearing short skirts on streets (While themselves wearing shorts), but whenever I opened by mouth by saying something like “The streets are not safe coz of less number of girls and mainly because of what guys do, why not increase number of girls or lock guys in?” BOTH guys and girls called me “Stupid”, “Unrealistic” or just plain “that just does not happen”.
    So much so, that BEFORE chancing on this blog, I mostly began to keep my opinions to myself and voicing them ONLY to those who were REALLY close to me, who also agreed to me. And we were only a handful.
    It was only after coming on this blog, that I realized that there were MORE, many MORE people with a thinking like mine, and it is NOT strange or irrational one, and I became more confident and started voicing my opinion in a better, refined way without the fear of being ridiculed.

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  7. These are excellent questions to ask–and I’ve thought of them myself every time I write a comment on this blog. Can this LW truly, realistically do any of these things that I’m advising her (or sometimes, him) to do. And for the LWs that have written on this blog so far, I think the answer is yes.

    One doesn’t need to be rich or to have been raised in a liberal house hold in order to be self sufficient. Even if someone is only making 30k (like one of the recent LWs), one can be independent depending on the lifestyle. And I think that’s what most commenters push over here–the need to be independent and self sufficient.

    I don’t see why we shouldn’t encourage independence and self sufficiency because it is possible for every one, including someone like my cook who is a Bengali refugee with a 9th grade education. She works in four different flats and probably makes somewhere between 12 -15k a month–for her lifestyle, she’s easily able to be self sufficient and independent on that much money.

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  8. Just yesterday I happened to listen to Gloria Steinem on NDTV and what she said is in line with what this forum does. According to her , whenever women meet and share their same concerns, talk about injustices or disadvantages they have being ‘women’ a sense and desire of equality strengthens . These are the first steps in the direction of right thinking .

    God forbid, if all these women had started talking like – Oh , bear with injustice ,no good will come out of demanding equality ; Its not practical to move out of oppressive joint family ,bear and grin ; Let the babies happen , everything will fall in place; if housework is too much ,leave the job ………………….then , we would have still been where our great grand mothers were i.e. in ghoonghats , denied to go out of house or earn and waiting for the day when men in our lives would suddenly realize the injustice in the whole scheme of things and would grant us our ‘ equal rights’ .
    I guess, its great that people (men/women both) who are distressed reach out here, share their problems and are sure to get sane advice. And , none of the advise givers are bullying them to take an action .Its the person concerned, when convinced and having gathered enough courage and conviction, takes it upon themselves to change the aggravating situations for better.
    So a big hurray for people wanting to change their situation ,making a change ,signaling a change for others and for people who are willing to reach out and share their experiences and advice or validate .

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  9. The general gist of the comment (correct me someone if I’m wrong), is asking how do we instill beliefs of equality and egalitarianism in those who are not as privileged as we are to be given the upbringing that we have.

    Well let me ask you something. Where do you think these beliefs come from?

    Do you think my parents, or my grandparents were born with well-educated, forward thinking families?

    Equality and egalitarianism and doing away with patriarchy is simple logic. Deciding not to treat one set of people better than another set of people on nothing but an arbitrary scale is illogical. Treating every one fairly is simply logic. This isn’t rocket science.

    If I am fortunate enough to have the background that I have today, the one where I’ve been told (with a lot of caveats of course) that I am equal and capable as anybody else on the planet, it was because that attitude started at the hands of the people you describe as “less fortunate”. The middle class women, the people who you seem to think don’t have the backing, background and exposure. You don’t need to have the backing, background and exposure in order to know that something is wrong and illogical. When you’re being treated unfairly for no better reason than for what you are born as, that in and of itself is enough reason to believe and think in an egalitarian fashion.

    Not to mention, why do you think that a middle class born and bred Indian woman doesn’t have the confidence, questioning, and reasoning ability that the rest of us seem to have as a result of the virtue of our backgrounds? I’m sure that the people who feel the most acute repercussions of patriarchy are the ones who have the best idea of how to fight it. Not to mention, the women who feel the effects of patriarchy in the worst possible way are often the ones who are the strongest people on the planet, both mentally and physically. These women are not helpless. These women fight every day in the ways that they can. Why is fighting the patriarchy only defined as speaking out about it loudly, and not defined within the simple things, like when women choose to feed their daughters as well as their sons, or when they save for their daughters’ education as much as they save for their sons, or when they choose to have daughters at all? Why must feminism and fighting the patriarchy only be defined by grand gestures and not by simple things and little things? The maids my grandmother employ would probably be baffled if I started spouting my feminist rhetoric at them. But ask them about their children’s education, and they will tell you with beaming faces and proud smiles about how their daughters topped their class.

    Not to mention, you also have to consider the financial and familial repercussions that these women will face if they choose to go against the tide. If tomorrow I wanted to pack up and move out, I could probably do so. If I am privileged in anyway, it is insofar as me having the ability to practice my beliefs. I have the luxury of believing as I want to, and living my life as I please. The women you speak of don’t always have that option. It is not as simple as finding a place and leaving. Sometimes, the choice you’re facing is between being homeless and starving vs. having a roof on your head and eating three square meals a day. Perhaps, rather than wondering how we can instill feminism in these women, we ought to be asking ourselves what is it about their lives that makes practicing feminism not an option?

    Like

    • I like your answer the most. The dose of reality was refreshing. I totally agree with you about how some women working as domestic help will never digest “feminism” as I think about it but are so proud of making the lives of the next generation better – case in point is the domestic help my parents employ. She has 3 daughters and an irresponsible drunkard for a husband. She will absolutely never walk out on her husband because it isn’t even an option for her. But she’ll work 15 hours a day to send her daughters to college because she doesn’t want them to be married off at 16 and end up with a less than ideal life like she ended up with. That to me is pretty darn feminist! Whether she knows that this is what feminism is mostly about or not, this is what she is doing to improve her own life.

      I recently learned that her first daughter has graduated from college and is working as a personal secretary at a large company. Her second daughter is close to finishing up nursing school and her third one just entered college. How can I “empower” this family? Talking to them about things the way I see them will get me exactly nowhere. I empower them by giving them the confidence that I will do anything that is financially in my power to get the three girls through college. My neighbor who is a doctor is treating the husband’s alcoholism for free and he is finally able to hold a decent job down.

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      • I agree. Every woman fights against patriarchy in her own way. We might be a part of it at some level (I still don’t think I was right in going through the patriarchal wedding rituals but I yielded – I did that to keep my parents happy) but that shouldn’t stop us from fighting the other aspects. Like – someone who agreed for an arranged marriage might still choose to not tolerate an abusive husband – the fact that she agreed for an arranged marriage doesn’t take away her right to fight against domestic violence. My cook got married at 22 (which is pretty late in her background) – Now not getting married at all is not an option she was open to. But she told me she didn’t want to compromise on her independence so she decided to earn no matter where she lives – she learnt stitching because outdoor cooking options are less in the village to which she would go to after marriage. She was also clear on not having kids for a couple of years to stabilize financially (I actually educated her on contraceptives – We need proper sex education in the country, seriously). All these are very positive and courageous decisions on her part. (She convinced her husband to shift to the city after marriage anyway :D)

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  10. Sorry – this is exactly the kind of attitude that keeps people (not just women) bound and gagged in roles arranged for them by some ‘they’ who are supposed to benefit. Never figured out who this ‘they’ is, don’t see these set roles making anyone happy.

    ‘I am a realist’ normally precedes letting things stay at status quo.

    Like

  11. This is a male dominated society. Men look to dominate at every given chance. I am a male. I have a younger sister . If I were her , I would`ve killed a dozen people by now . That is how onesided towards men our society is. Ever since my childhood, I have always questioned things which many would not have. Like , the indian marriage rituals , ways of worshipping god, or even the very existence of it ,school education system ,americans landing on the moon , etc.. I have been wondering about a lot of things when it comes to marriages and relationships.
    Questions: While many men have been dominating, like to dominate , DO MOST WOMEN LIKE TO BE DOMINATED ? . Sometimes , when you do the same things again and again , you get used to it , don`t you ?
    Are women programmed (people around them influencing from childhood) to be dominated , in India ? .example ..why is it
    1. A girl who is 5`3″ tall would like to get a guy who is ATLEAST 5`5″ or taller.
    2. A girl who is making 40,000 rs per month would ONLY look for someone who makes atleast 40,000 or more.
    3. A girl who holds a Masters degree would look for a guy who holds something EQUIVALENT OR BETTER.
    4. A girl who is a doctor (MBBS) will settle for NOTHING LESS THAN a guy who is a doctor (MS,MD,FRCS etc.) or better.
    Will a girl in India ,who makes 1 lakh rupees/month, even consider marrying a guy who is making , say , 30 ,000 rs/month ? …the reverse is absolutely possible and happening. Infact , the girl need not even have a job to get into a boy`s consideration list, if I can call it that. My question is ,
    IS THIS ONLY A MALE DRIVEN TREND , OR , ARE WOMEN CONTRIBUTING TO IT IN AN EVEN PROPORTION TOO ?
    DO WOMEN REALLY LIKE,WANT AND ENJOY PLAYING SECOND FIDDLE ?

    Like

    • Both men and women are foot soldiers of patriarchy. Do men like to dominate? Do women like to be dominated? Are relationships really about domination? All these questions are irrelevant when you have been socially conditioned to accept your role as either the dominator or dominatee. If as a man you do not dominate, then you are seen as a lesser male, and if as a women you dominate your husband, you are seen as a bitch.

      Just like traditionally conditioned women wont “settle” for someone making less than them, traditionally conditioned men who are earning well wont “settle” for someone dark. If people actually take time to consider what they really want from a relationship then you will not see such universal superficial criteria in the Indian marriage scene.

      Like

      • Is dating an option to know what a person wants ,and what the other person can give ,in a relationship ? If yes , is it practically possible in India ? Arranged marriages are increasingly becoming a failure . What would be an excellent process to finding a compatible partner ?

        Like

    • The ‘programming which women went through’ is exactly what feminists are fighting against – by increasing awareness about the alternative choices which women have. Women are ‘programmed’ (or sometimes forced?) to believe that they don’t deserve equality, dignity, independence, self-reliance and happiness. I think the specific aspect which you’re talking about (women choosing to marry someone who can ‘dominate’ them) comes from the way marriage has evolved in our patriarchal society. In this, marriage is not seen as an equal relationship: Men are conditioned to believe/expect obedience, sacrifice and subservience from their (to-be)wives whereas women are expected/conditioned to believe that they have no choice about this. In all arranged marriages, parents ensure that patriarchal norms are met (man to fit into his role of dominator and wife to fit into the role of dominatee). All this conditioning and perceptions around marriage have ‘programmed’ women to consider only one kind of choices when choosing their partners. This is not just about a 5’3” girl marrying only a taller guy. This is also about the same 5’3” girl taking it for granted without questioning that she should leave her parents’ home and live with her in-laws after marriage. Or that she should relocate to her husband’s place after marriage if they work at different places. Or that she should change her name after marriage. And ultimately she might even believe that her husband should have the final say in all decisions related to both of them. Patriarchal conditioning works at many levels. The same conditioning applies for men too – It’s about a man taking it for granted that his wife should relocate/change her name after marriage. And everyone, irrespective of their gender can fight against this by challenging the ‘default’ norms/status quo and by increasing awareness about individual rights, alternative choices.

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      • I see you have used the word “equality” . I`m just curious , enlighten me if I am wrong.
        Can men and women be really “equal” ? They are different biologically , and that starts a chain reaction . Physical strength will tend to affect mental strength, thought process, actions, habits, behaviour , and the whole personality. This is how nature is. If you are a theist , this is how God is. Instead of striving for “equality” , isn`t it sensible and important to find a way to “co-exist” , “complement eachother” etc. inspite of the obvious differences ?

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  12. Pingback: “I see you have used the word “equality”. I`m just curious, enlighten me if I am wrong.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  13. Letter writer,
    The best thing you can do for yourself (no matter what background) is what’s best for your soul. Yes, the average Indian women can and does take these advices…as seen in IHM’s readers. You don’t have to be from a certain family, or progressive or whatever….you are in control of building a life for yourself, and others will respect that…

    Like

  14. Pingback: “Is this really it? the only person I’ll ever find? A sweet guy who has no interests?” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  15. Pingback: An email: “Advice for an ageing old maid?” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  16. Pingback: “…it’s better if he is NOT a family guy. Extra points to the one who hates kids.” | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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