“Some women harbor sexism and uphold patriarchy even when they have nothing to gain from it.”

A Guest Post by Vamp.

Dear IHM,

I saw your recent post on domestic violence. I think this story will highlight several different aspects of domestic abuse from the victim’s point of view.

As I have said countless times before, my MIL, though an adorable woman, is a victim of chronic domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. The emotional part is also meted out to her by others in the family, who actually end up abusing her without knowing that they are actually being abusive.

I read about the cycle of abuse and it was very insightful. However, I feel that becoming a victim also involves a very vicious cycle.

My MIL wasn’t very weak-minded or submissive originally. From what her sisters and extended family says to what she has actually told me during our numerous conversations, she was a brat of a child and a chirpy woman who loved playing pranks. For her time and the community she lived in, she was quite the daredevil. In a time and age when women’s education was frowned upon, she did both B.Com and a Bachelors’ Degree in Music. To top off that chilled-out attitude, she had a ‘love marriage’.

Often, we see that people who get their own way all the time are also extremely stubborn. My MIL too, is extremely stubborn in her ideas on certain things, as in, she refuses to acknowledge facts even when she is actually wrong. She has a habit of going into the defensive. It’s a surprise seeing this in a victim of domestic abuse, but there it is. And believe me, it is a lethal combination.

My MIL would serve everyone selflessly in the family, including me, though I staunchly refuse to take any help from anyone for stuff I can do on my own. So, my husband, who readily does chores when with me, just gets served on his backside when his mom is around. I even chided him about it, because his mom being Diabetic and generally physically weak and taxed, needs help, in fact, even more than I do, so he must be highly willing to share chores with her. He acknowledged this fact. But this is what he said:

“I and <brother> do feel bad and try helping her. But while you openly assign me chores, she and grandma (daadi saas) drive us out or make fun of us saying that we men don’t know anything and that we would make a worse mess of things than they already are. They tell me it’s not men’s work…”

And this is very true. Some women harbor sexism and uphold patriarchy even when they have nothing to gain from it.

My MIL says these things in such a matter-of-factly way that there is no hint of sadness/hesitation in her despite that she is a victim of the very values she upholds. She is a curious mix of ignorant stubbornness and educated submissiveness that I just don’t know what to do with her.

So my MIL, with all her obstinacy, staunchly believes and defends the following:


  • Traditional gender roles; women cook and serve men while men buy them flowers and spend for them
    I guess she used to watch too many 60s-70s Tamil movies. Goodness heavens!
  • Giving birth as soon as possible after marriage
    She badgers me a lot for grandchildren, although very affectionately. And because she is nice and already abused so much, I don’t have the heart to be unkind to her. So, feeling sorry for her, I stay silent and pretend to listen even while I don’t actually do what she asked.
  • Women are not as skilled in financial or other ‘outside’ work as men are
    There are countless times she has said that the men would know better even when my decision was clearly the most rational/practical one, or I had better knowledge than the men of the household. The men’s decisions get accepted by default, no matter how stupid they are. (It’s only my husband who takes me seriously and consults with me on all matters)In fact, she is a living example of her belief. She has no original say in anything that matters. At most, she stays silent. Come to talk about practicing what you preach.I sometimes wonder if she really lacks knowledge or pretends to lack knowledge. Sometimes, she does make her ignorance evident. Other times, I feel she does it simply to please her husband’s and in-laws’ ego.
  • Wife is always below husband no matter who/what she is
    When I and my husband fight, and she hears about it, she does give out some advice to me, a major part of which cannot be called unbiased. It’s not really about him being her son because she genuinely considers me her daughter. The problem is her view of gender roles.There is always this subtle emphasis of even working women (read corporate, because she was a teacher in a local school once, and somehow, that is a more “passive” profession for wives. Corporate women are some kind of bitches) needing husbands (I do work, but it has got nothing to do with my fights with my husband).
  • Treat husband reverentially and make delicious dishes for him
    I and my husband have dated for 4 years before our marriage, and being from the current generation in a large metro city, we are more like friends. After marriage, this equation was upset by our families, who wanted us to adhere to their traditional gender roles.For instance, I am expected to formally address him at all times. We both hate it, but being basically respectful of their wishes we enact this drama whenever any elder is near. MIL insists on it.
  • Always obey elders, no matter what they say. It is always your good
    Ironically, she, in her heydays can’t be said to have quite obeyed her own parents and older siblings as evident from her life before marriage.Somehow she is the picture of ideal Indian submissive wife after marriage. All her sisters are strong ‘fighter’ women. But here, my MIL is known or even hailed for being so submissive, silent and easily-threatened.
  • Being an excellent cook is vital for a wife
    She is an excellent cook. I am an okay-okay cook; I have my good days and bad days. Somehow she believes I have to pick up better skills from her.Yeah I am perfectly okay learning from her, but cooking is not really my primary interest. For her, it is like everything in a marriage.
  • People have all rights to reprimand you at any level if you forget to add mustard, curry leaves, coriander, salt or other extras in the dish, or if you spoil the dish or basically if you don’t “do your womanly duty”
    Which happens quite a lot with me; I am a novice cook and sometimes turn out really bad dishes. My husband doesn’t make a fuss, but FIL makes sure he insults/beats or scolds MIL that “She let this happen…” She meekly accepts it.Okay, for the sake of convenience, let’s assume traditional gender roles are a fair norm. If equally responsible for dereliction of their respective duties, don’t women get a more raw deal than men?I mean I don’t flog/scold/abuse/scream at my husband if he doesn’t get the A/C fixed or forgets to pay the credit card due.

    It’s not really about the traditional role really. It’s simply about who is in power. MIL refuses to accept this concept though it is in her favor. She, in fact, brings out “evidence” to argue against it.

  • You can work, dress or go out but with in-laws’ permission
    So, she grants me “permission” and convinces her FIL to grant me “permission” for the above and because of this I am supposed to count myself “lucky”. Heck, I don’t even NEED their “permission” for this. She doesn’t accept this concept too.She thinks she is a nice MIL, not because she is actually a nice person, but because she gives me “permission” to live my life.
  • Domestic violence is her personal life
    She doesn’t like it when I talk about it. But whenever she gets beaten, she comes to us (my husband or her other son) for help.When we do try to take concrete measures against FIL, she sides with FIL and says, “Respect your father… this is our personal life, why are you interfering?”After some days, she also complains about FIL to us. We listen. But when we make comments, we get a huge backlash from her.

    FIL knows for a fact that I and my husband care two hoots about his blackmail so he uses the only weapon he has. He abuses MIL. The abuse stops (for that time period) only when we concede to his demands. This is also partly achieved by MIL crying and begging us to help.

    Well, WTF really! The woman gets herself abuses to abuse us indirectly. Then she says it’s her personal life and gives us a strict warning. I wonder sometimes if she is a secondary abuser.

    Sorry for the long mail, but to conclude, victims aren’t always in it because they do not have support or they really have any way of survival. It is also sometimes because their own innate faults make them susceptible to not acknowledging that they are also partly responsible for their own pathetic situation.

    I don’t mean to blame the victim here. I am just emphasizing the fact that if you get a raw deal once, you are a victim, but it happens again and again and again, it is clearly your fault. And, this is not a case of child abuse. This woman is clearly equipped enough to escape if she wants to.

    You would think a stubborn person wouldn’t be abused. But in this case, my MIL’s stubbornness is her only problem. Despite having a good start in life, and growing up in a more relaxed environment than her present one, MIL clearly screwed up her own life.

She has puzzled us so much, we don’t “interfere” anymore whether she gets beaten or not. She is just not the kind who will even listen to what you have to say. Her beliefs are etched on stone, even if self-harming.

Related Posts:

If you had to to say something to inspire a victim of domestic violence to walk out, what would you say?

“My Mother in law is very patient towards all the doings of the Males in the family.”

What makes some of us resent abuse victims instead of supporting them.

Letting an outsider see or comment upon our imperfections is washing dirty linen in public?

“A message is required to be sent, loud and clear that wife bashing has no place in a civilised society and violent husbands deserve no mercy,”

If she doesn’t seem to see your logic, will you support her the way she can be supported?

“An ordinary fight with wife…”

Is a Known Devil really better?

“I always wanted my mom to get out of her marriage. I still believe she shud have.”


28 thoughts on ““Some women harbor sexism and uphold patriarchy even when they have nothing to gain from it.”

  1. I really appreciate your thought process.my mother in law is very very similar to yours In a lot of ways. I have seen her being slapped but with her patriarchal thought process I always thought I am her victim, rather than she is a victim herself. After rreading this post I pity her more, thn being angry with her.


  2. Yes quite baffling indeed but sorry to say you and your husband are feeding into it. You condone the violence inflicted upon her by your father in law by continuing to live in that house. You say that she has the means to leave if she wants to but meanwhile you and hubby stay there and put up with all this insanity while you both work and can clearly live on your own, which says to FIL that his actions really aren’t that bad. FIL’s physical abuse on her is wrong and you should take a serious stand. What if she ends up dead one day because he strikes her too hard? Especially considering her advanced age and health issues. Also your MIL is asking you about children and when the time does come, are you willing to bring children into this violent abusive household? On a side note, here in my city, a healthy teenager died recently due to her dad striking her. So you know what? Your MIL or anyone else enduring physical abuse also might end up dead. Your FIL is an abusive criminal. In most parts of the world his physical abuse would land him in prison. Do something about this abuse before it’s too late.


    • /You condone the violence inflicted upon her by your father in law by continuing to live in that house./

      We don’t live in that house anymore Dee. We moved out a couple of months back, unable to take this. We do, of course, visit often.

      /FIL’s physical abuse on her is wrong and you should take a serious stand./

      We cannot. Even if we call the police, MIL will have to testify. And she will not. The case will only worsen.

      /Your FIL is an abusive criminal. In most parts of the world his physical abuse would land him in prison. Do something about this abuse before it’s too late./

      Our action matters little. For a valid case to be registered, the victim has to be the first complainant. All the heroics look good, of course, but it doesn’t work that way in the legal system.

      Thanks for the comment though. Glad to see you find it wrong.


      • Good to know you left the house but the fact remains that he still might end up killing her. Have you brought up this up to him? And what if he does kill her? Will he not end up in jail then?


        • /Have you brought up this up to him?/
          Yes we have. We all have. He hasn’t budged. Though he doesn’t beat her hard enough to wound/maim or kill, it is still bad. Anyway you’re right; no guarantee that he won’t kill her.

          /And what if he does kill her? Will he not end up in jail then?/
          We are absolutely FOR sending him to the jail. But his own wife, while she is alive, will see to that he doesn’t. See, like I said, we can argue. But we are nevertheless spectators. From a legal POV (and believe me, I studied some Criminal Law), we cannot actually make a case stand against him if the victim herself turns hostile.

          We would lose the case and FIL would beat her even more for “shaming the family” and yeah, this time she would probably die.

          Also, it is just the three of us (hubby, his bro and I) who would actually go forward with the case. The rest of the family, though sympathetic towards MIL, would also turn hostile against our cause, as they too do ot want to wash dirty linen in public. We won’t even have a case.

          We can, at most, give her options, reassure that we are there for her and then, save our own asses from this hellhole.


        • Vamp, Sorry there was no reply button below your last comment. I’m curious though, does your FIL realize that he might end up injuring her to the point of death? And also does he realize that if she does end up dying that he might spend years in prison and/or end up living alone? I find this case highly disturbing. I wish I had good advice to give. I’m curious, does she ever defend herself and hit back?


  3. I am shocked but not entirely surprised. Sometimes, as hard as it is, I have learnt that people will not liberate themselves even if you help them unless THEY want to. I will explain everything, offer her support but the abused has to take the step, not me. This holds true for patriarchy or religion.


  4. You should google ‘learned helplessness’.

    Your MIL is a victim of such long-standing and relentless abuse that ‘normal’ reactions (such as being able to recognise abuse, taking steps to prevent it, and trying to utilise the means she has at her disposal to escape the abuser) just don’t really apply anymore.

    She needs professional help- a psychiatrist, and perhaps medication.

    Your expectations of what she ought to do, while completely rational, would really only apply to her if she had not yet reached the point where the abuse had been normalised.
    At this stage she is really not going to ask or indicate that she wants an intervention, so stop anticipating that such a time may come.

    Given what is known about abuse and it’s psychological effects, I personally believe that women in chronically abusive situations actively need to be ‘rescued’ because they cannot help themselves, in much the same way as a suicidal or even an inebriated person. You and your husband have done this on multiple occasions, so kudos to the both of you.

    Women in abusive situations where they still retain insight into what is happening to them should really be the ones left to their own agency.


    • Thanks for your wonderful insight. It was an eye opener.

      /At this stage she is really not going to ask or indicate that she wants an intervention, so stop anticipating that such a time may come./
      I know that. I have tried talking to her either hinting or even directly, not once or twice but several times. I also offered that she may come and stay with us for some time (so that she gets used to the idea that we are there for us as an alternative shelter before she chooses to leave the old one permanently).

      She does understand all of this. But like most victims, she also loves her husband, despite everything.

      In fact while FIL abuses her, he also splurges on her. I once happened to be arranging MIL’s almirah. Woah! It’s like Queen Victoria’s legendary wardrobe – I wonder if she has worn one dress more than twice or thrice. And, we are not a very affluent family – we are normal middle class folks who get their clothes darned when they wear out. For such modestly manageable income, it’s a shocker seeing all these expensive Kanjeevarams and loads and loads and loads of clothes.

      This is probably one of the reasons she stays back. The cycle of abuse. The phase of pacification.


    • Hi, I’m dealing with a similar situation with my own parents. After trying to convince her for countless years, I’m now realizing that my mum will never be ready to leave and/or want an intervention. But how can we force a ~60 year old adult to leave, or rescue her from the situation?


  5. as a therapist i have seen this too many times….but i was wondering if you have considered video recording the abuse and using that against the husband….either by verbal threat or a follow through…..


    • Hi Anon

      Thanks for the comment.

      /but i was wondering if you have considered video recording the abuse and using that against the husband….either by verbal threat or a follow through…../

      See, the abuser knows for a fact that his victim herself will not oppose him and if someone else opposes him, she will quell the rebellion one way or another. Also, threats will be valid only if the abuser has any fear of repercussions. For 30 years, he has gone scot free.

      Even if there is clear evidence of beating, the video, we cannot lodge a complaint because the law does not consider witnesses as primary complainants. Only MIL, bolstered with the “evidence” can do it.

      Like I said, heroics don’t pretty much work this way. The woman wants to be saved, of course, but it is by hoping that her husband will change (which he will not) instead of taking concrete actions herself. Or at least even consenting/staying silent in concrete actions taken by us to save her. She should either save herself or let us save her. She does neither.

      Anyway, thanks!



  6. Oh boy, I know so many women especially those in their 50-60s ,- stubborn,who whine about their problems, at the same time can’t do anything at it, some can’t some don’t want to .
    At the same time, they want their daughters,bahus to be just like them.
    I know such women but haven’t lived with one….so day to day drama is quite beyond me.
    But such women anger me,…I pity feel bad for them and then their partial blindness angers me.Even if they would acknowledge their reality but continue to live like that ,making peace,I ‘d still be OK with them.

    I wouldn’t be able take this drama everyday,its toxic.
    Even if we don’t choose,its a choice.,…..this line is so true.


  7. WTF really indeed.

    It seems like she’s stuck in a loop of being a victim of abuse and an upholder of abuse. It is strange to see how patriarchy does such a number on women but I think a lot of it comes from being financially dependant. I think it begins by feeling like you are being ‘provided for’ and being taught that the one who provides is the ‘master’. That you need to ‘earn’ your place through service, since you don’t pay for things. Then we bring religion into it and teach women that being a silent slave is a good deed and their husband is their god. If you can’t mentally break out of this brainwashing, you’re doomed.

    I have to say it’s commendable that you can still say that she’s a nice person and somehow silently pretend to listen to some of her views to protect her feelings. I guess you’ve figured out that arguing would be futile. I would still find it impossible to listen to such sexist ‘advice’. My MIL is nowhere like this and stays out of our marital life and gender roles.. but sometimes she can’t help herself. I just express my view and cease communication until she stops going down that route.. and I don’t find this insistence to express sexist views stubbornly ‘nice’ at all. She has figured out that if she only tried to teach me recipes on the phone (unsolicited) then there won’t be much talking to me at all.. and finally now asks me about work and life instead! You’re perhaps a more tolerant person than me. 😀


  8. While there are women who accept such abuse, there are ones who completely resort to dictatorship to secure their power in the household. They do this in a variety of ways may of which affect the Bahus of the house. I would say these MILs are also a victim of abuse whereby instead of cowering, they have learnt to abuse others. Maybe a more unhealthy way than being timid, if you as me.


    • Hi Arpita,

      Good comment.

      /I would say these MILs are also a victim of abuse whereby instead of cowering, they have learnt to abuse others. Maybe a more unhealthy way than being timid, if you as me./

      I don’t know really. On a more practical note, you can at least hate the abusive woman in peace or you clearly have grounds for waging an open war, with the spouse on your side as now you have clear ‘evidence’.

      With my MIL, that is impossible. Like I said, she does irk me a lot with her patriarchal thoughts and super-religiosity. Had she been a villainous MIL, I would have found it easier to be the ‘good’ force vs the ‘evil’ force (LOL). But here, things are tinged grey. Dollops of grey here and there like a dalmatian.

      Even while actually (trying; because in the end I always get my way) encroaching upon my and my husband’s freedom or peace of mind, she is so timid, submissive and pathetic, you feel more sorry for her than yourself and end up falling in her line. You initially feel good that you made her happy. Then, some time later, you start wondering why despite doing a ‘good deed’ you are rather unhappy.

      Anyway, don’t worry about me, readers, this was just a perspective. I no longer take shit from anyone.



  9. Read up on battered wife syndrome- a lot of women stay in violent relationships for complex reasons- thanks to patriarchy.

    But to some extent I agree with your frustration- while we understand the psychology of the victim, we also want them to take some initiative for self-preservation, or at least take help.


    • Thanks for the comment.

      /we also want them to take some initiative for self-preservation, or at least take help./

      Or at worst, let us save ourselves and leave her to her situation, if she really doesn’t like the idea of us ‘really helping her’ instead of sharing some portion of her abuse.


  10. “I don’t mean to blame the victim here. I am just emphasizing the fact that if you get a raw deal once, you are a victim, but it happens again and again and again, it is clearly your fault.”

    Hahahahaha what.

    I don’t mean to be rude here, but your pants are on fire, my dear victim blamer.


    • /I don’t mean to be rude here, but your pants are on fire, my dear victim blamer./

      Nandini, don’t you realize that by letting herself be the victim and not taking any action, she has also created problems for us? Yes, she suffered. But she has no rights to let it seep into others’ lives. If she let us save her, yes, I wouldn’t blame her.

      But she is neither letting us save her, nor saving herself, nor letting us save ourselves from the line of fire.

      If this is what you call ‘victim blaming’, sure, I am glad to take it. My happiness is more important to me than trying to preserve someone else’s who is not even trying.



      • If you had just blamed her for the problems she causes you, that would have been fine.

        However, you blamed her purely for being a victim. You said: “you are a victim, but it happens again and again and again, it is clearly your fault.”

        If that’s not what you meant to say, you should choose your words more carefully. As it stands, you are literally saying “I don’t mean to victim-blame here, but if you’re victimized X number of times, then it is clearly your fault.”

        Your frustration with what she’s doing to you is understandable, but your victim-blaming is not understandable or excusable.


      • @Vamp, I had a hunch someone would call you a victim-blamer sooner rather than later.
        I think your mother-in-law is a victim, but of her husband.
        The fact that she uses emotional blackmail resulting from her abuse to get you and your husband to submit to her rather patriarchal diktats is definitely unhealthy. (She may be doing this unintentionally but it’s happening nevertheless)

        Because her abuse directly impinges on you and your relationships, I feel you are well within your rights to say to her- help yourself or let us help you.

        I also feel that it would be completely natural to feel less and less sympathy towards her as time passes by- especially if you are constantly feeling the pressure to conform to her traditional expectations in order to ‘make up’ for abusive marriage.

        Don’t listen to people who are trying to put the entire onus of resolution on you- on this forum and elsewhere- the newest member of the family, to save a woman who really will probably only respond to professional help. You’ve tried your best.
        I really think next steps should be left to her son (with your support)


  11. all I will say is I am surprised to read this ..

    jo taar se nikli hai woh dhun sabne suni hai
    Jo saaz pe guzri hai woh kis dil ko pata hai

    I am going to go a few years ahead and Your child gets married and comes home with a wife.. lives with you .. How you will be behaving then ..
    will you be able to change and do what you want your MIL to do.. or will there be some things taken over..


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