“And on the other hand, we have this section of women who seem content and even happy with the current set-up. This seems akin to a freedom struggle going on here.”

Sharing an email by A Confused Male.

It can be confusing unless we have had the opportunity to find out how those who are involved actually feel.

Those who benefit from the system (via obedient elder-care providers, ladke wale status, dowries etc) probably cannot be expected to view it honestly. The few unhappy voices that are heard are accused of washing ‘dirty linen’, being westernised, or of not being sanskaari enough.  

Many more voices are hushed whispers, or silenced. 

Also, the few women who do speak up are able to do that because they have that option – and most still choose anonymity. 

While women face complete control, men in such patriarchal families are not really free either. 

Amongst other things, men may not be free to love or marry someone they like and may not be permitted to choose what they do for living. It’s tougher to fight control, emotional blackmail and abuse, when it comes from those who seem to genuinely care and possibly claim to ‘live to see them happy’. Also, in return of such controls, they are offered benefits which lead to dependence, controlled freedom and a sense of entitlement.

And then there is this censorship of not just what some people are permitted to say, but also what some obedient adults are permitted to hear or read. 

Too many social evils are rooted in the present system, like male child preference, sex selection, dowry, bride burning, ill-treatment of widows, dependence of elderly women (and men) on their male children, semi forced marriages, objectification of women (aggravated by segregation), adults who are not emotionally and economically self reliant etc. 

Dear IHM,

Hope you are doing fine.

Am a regular reader here. Wonderful platform you have created.

Sharing here an observation as well as a few questions for debate by you and your readers. If you find this worthy of your space, kindly share on the blog anonymously.

Thanks.

————-

I have been looking at a population segment in my state (Gujarat) – semi-urban/small town, middle/upper middle class, local college educated, average jobs/business class people with 5-10 lakhs per annum incomes. And following are some observations (Just my observations. No concrete research or statistics to back these):

– Men and women marry young – generally before they turn 26-27, ages where people are still to form strong views on what they want from life and hence often defer to parents’ judgements.
– Men and women are quite prepared for “arranged” marriages. Such marriages are between two families and hence the two set of parents are the key decision makers. If they agree on a match, their children generally agree. There is no feeling of being “forced” into a marriage. Horoscopes match; Cultural, social and financial backgrounds are similar; External aspects – height, weight, complexion, car, house are in order and so compatibility is automatically assumed.
– Marriages seem healthy, the husband-wife seem to get along fine – well set in their respective responsibilities and busy with their children. The physical abuse seems to mostly not exist. Divorces are unheard of.

Further, the way boys and girls are brought up in this segment of population and the kind of things they see around them, the following is readily accepted and neither party sees any big issue with these:
– Wife relocates to husband’s town/city and lives with his family
– Wife changes her surname to that of the husband
– Wife refers to the husband as “aap”
– Wife adopts the customs, preferred deities, cooking style and schedule followed in the husband’s home. MIL takes the “responsibility” of “training” the DIL in these (a younger DIL is preferred as she is “easier to mould”)
– Wife can continue to work only if the husband’s family permits. In any case, she is expected to quit working on attaining motherhood. Till she works, money belongs to the husband and his family. Spending a lot of her own money on her birth family is frowned upon and would need permission from husband
– Husband will be a “mumma’s boy” and will not openly side with wife in case of a conflict. Husband will consult his parents on major decisions / expenses
– Wife is expected to “give” sex to husband when he wants
– Marriage is for life. Unless there is physical abuse or outright pre-marriage lying about medical/financial condition or likes, divorce is unthinkable

Followers of this blog would find most of the above oppressive to women. But these men and women, since a very young age, have seen only such marriages around them that there is nothing unusual for them in this set-up. A woman accepts all of the above knowing well that some other woman is going to marry her brother and accept the same conditions as a DIL in her own home. Likewise, a man who expects the above from his wife has a sister who accepts the same in her husband’s home. How do you expect any different from what’s prevalent in your own home? And so no one seems very bothered and considers this as a normal way marriages are. Essentially, they are perfectly comfortable with the conventional gender roles and the traditional idea of a marriage – a man is responsible for earning, a woman is responsible for children and home and that after marriage a woman’s birth family must assume a secondary place in her life.

So on one hand, we have a section of women who, through their own lives, are waging a spirited battle for truly egalitarian marriages and man-woman equality and are rightly refusing to do things that parents/husband/in-laws/society expects out of them just because “that’s what a woman should be doing” or “that’s our culture”. And on the other hand, we have this section of women who seem content and even happy with the current set-up. This seems akin to a freedom struggle going on here. I guess, to a segment of population in pre-independence India, British rule wasn’t as big an anathema. But to those who believed in principles of freedom and equality and self-determination as well as those who had a greater exposure and had seen better, British had to be ousted at any cost. Likewise, today, for the section of Indian women who have clear thoughts on equal marriages, it is a period of struggle till men and the society at large come around and start sharing their justified worldview.

But I also wonder – is ignorance a bliss? Not knowing better – isn’t that a reason why so many women (and hence men) seem quite happy and satisfied in their marriages? I admit that for some of these women, they do know better but don’t have any other choice due to various reasons (kids, financial dependence, social stigma etc.). But a lot of women I see around me in this segment seem genuinely satisfied with their lives. They were fed a certain image of a marriage right from their early days and they seem to have no heartache when that image turns out to be largely true, even if to another section of women such marriages may seem like patriarchal horror stories.

All of this has led to three questions in my mind and it may be good to hear views of readers of this blog on them:
1) Is the happiness I have observed only superficial? Do the women in such population segments also feel shortchanged in the Indian marriage setup?
2) A marriage with a partner of choice, after a lengthy and healthy period of dating could be wonderful and bring immense happiness. Or it could cause a lot of grief later due to high expectations on both sides. On the other hand, in a traditional family arranged marriage (with similarity of social, cultural and financial backgrounds and predictable expectations) the “happiness quotient” is consistently decent. Any marriage is a gamble eventually and so if we draw a normal gaussian curve of marital happiness, the “choice marriages” are mostly likely to end up on either of the two extreme ends while the traditional ” family arranged” marriages are mostly likely to end up somewhere in the thick middle. Is that a fair assessment? Of course each marriage is dependent on the two individuals involved but I am only considering the impact of two big variables: compatibility (high in choice marriages, generally of a certain minimum level in the family arranged ones due to similar backgrounds and upbringings) and expectations (high in choice marriages, moderate in family arranged ones).
3) I would like to get married but I haven’t “clicked” with someone so far (more than a year since I started looking). With all my expectations from marriage – a friend, a companion, love, compatibility etc. have I set myself up for discontent and disappointment? Would I have been better off if I too had shared the traditional view of marriage – same as that of the majority in the population segment I live in?

– A confused male

Related Posts:

My husband gives me the usual ‘you have not just married me, you have married my family..’ sermon

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

An email from a Happily Married Indian Daughter in law…

And, Please watch Queen.

Only when raising ideal daughters in law is not their goal, would Indian parents be able enjoy having and bringing up girl children.

Another email. When an Indian daughter-in-law has no brothers.

Instead of eyeing their husbands’ ancestral property, why don’t Indian daughters in law make their own homes?

33 thoughts on ““And on the other hand, we have this section of women who seem content and even happy with the current set-up. This seems akin to a freedom struggle going on here.”

  1. First of all, I am a Gujarati belonging to the same segment of people you described with a few key differences:
    1. In my family, women continue working after marriage, I work even after child birth and so do two of my husband’s cousins’ wives. I do spend on my parents and so does my SIL (brother’s wife) on her parents. It was never “understood” that we would stop doing that.
    2. I call up my parents regularly and visit them regularly. Husband accompanies me everytime we go and he is quite excited for the trip too. He is pals with my sister more than I am.
    3. My FIL helps my MIL in the kitchen and sometimes, also accompanies us for vegetable shopping. Husband doesn’t because three of us are more than enough but I suppose, he would too if I need him.
    4. Neither my MIL refers to FIL as “aap” nor do I call my husband “aap”. One of my cousin’s husband told her that if she agrees with his mother (her MIL) and calls him “aap”, he will also start calling her “aap”!
    5. Husband *always* takes the side of whoever is right. It is never about wife / father / mother / inlaws. He knows that he is siding with ‘right’. More particularly, conflicts do not mean is-paar-ya-us-paar in our family. We are close knit family, who think differently in different situations.

    What I want to convey is that what you have in your mind is “stereotype”. Families do exist in Gujarat, or anywhere in India, where equality exists. And in such families, relationships are healthy and people are happy.

    Coming to your questions:
    1. I think the happiness is superficial but they believe it to be real. They might be sub-consciously aware that their happiness is superficial. For these women, marriage means what they are living and hence, they don’t question too much. For those that do realise and act upon it, at least the next generation is equality-inclined.
    2. I don’t think marriage is a gamble. However I agree, a lot of people do gamble in choosing their life partner (be it love / arranged). Love / arranged marriage does not make any difference in happiness and I don’t agree with your curve at all. If you are not sure what you want out of life and what your thoughts are (like you mentioned earlier about marrying at an age where your thoughts are still forming), you may face difficulties whether you marry to the person of your choice / parents choice. On the other hand, if you are sure of yourself and you find someone on your own / select someone from the options your parents give you based on that and in agreement with the other person on same lines, chances are you’ll end up happier.
    3. A big NO. You are not setting yourself up for disappointments. You are infact making a wise decision in wanting to have a friend, companion and life partner.

    Wish you all the luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, He is not saying that ALL Gujarati families are the same. What the writer is describing here is majority of people around him who follow the above pattern. There are all kinds of people in every community, the strength of the subgroups inside any community varies. He says that a LOT of families around him fall in the above category- yours definitely is not among them. Fact here is not that, the thing is that it IS true, that we do have a section of people (which is quite large I believe), who have no qualms in accepting whatever is offered to them as part of the patriarchal set up. For them this is the only way of life they have seen, and they are pretty much happy with it. Leave that, I have seen women working in good positions in multinationals, earning as much as their husbands, and still surrendering to the whims and fancies of inlaws when it comes to matters at home. They worry too much about what will people say, have opinions on females who visit their parents too often, or call their parents to stay with them frequently. Basically, while they belong to the well educated strata, the mindset is still the same. Women are secondary beings and the rules for them are different from men, and this is OK.

      My only issue with them is, that while they are screwing their own lives, they would be perpetuating the same idea to their children, resulting in another generation of mid guided men and women. They are hampering the process of equalizing this society from a gender perspective, and that scares me.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I agree. What I am trying to point out is that there are all kinds of families. So, there is no reason to doubt his inclination towards wanting a friend / companion who would believe in equality as he does.

          I was not backing Gujarati families at all. I just wanted to drive across the point that things are changing for the better.

          Like

      • My issue with them is that they expect EVERY woman to live the same blinkered existence that they do.

        What I cannot stand is the holier-than-thou self-righteousness that many of the “educated but traditional” category of women display for others who choose different lifestyles.

        I chose divorce over living a stilted life under the thumb if my ex husband+in-laws.

        I personally don’t have a problem with women who choose to follow traditional patterns of behaviour.

        What really irks me is that they pretend to be infinitely more wise, tolerant, loving and mature than me, all because they’ve stuck with a less-than-happy marriage.

        Live and let live, I say.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I am not a Gujarati, yet I am of the opinion that the family dynamics described by the OP exist in a majority of Indian families.
      I think the expectation that the DIL/wife makes the majority of adjustments; is beholden to the husband’s family, is a pan-Indian phenomenon.

      It’s wonderful that men like your husband and FIL also exist in our society.

      I have come across far too many men who insist on claiming their “privileges” as a husband and son-in-law.

      Liked by 1 person

    • @A regular girl,
      All truth is contextual and spatial. Society is not uniform but collection of oddities. Your one family is not a norm, may be there are more family like yours in your locality but where this young man stand that is his truth. His stand point is pretty valid coz’ society does not depend on oddities but on simalars that make a pattern.

      @Confused male,

      All your observations are valid and they haven’t changed much in centuries https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/desi-sex-ratio-and-marriage-nirmala-1925-to-2011/

      Now about your personal questions just focus on what is important on for you and is non negotiable https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/all-about-relationships/ask-before-marrying/
      Just understand the dynamics of emotional blackmail so that when it happens you are prepared to deal with it https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/emotional-blackmail/

      Yes, ignorance is bliss. Even pigs make merry in muck. You made observations of your community and you also read around so you are coming to conclusion your definition of happiness no longer match with theirs.This realization is social change if you follow your bliss and not keep this restless feeling while buckling down to the demands of your parents/community and the for rest of your life crib about it, that is stagnation.
      When our personal definitions change and we started striving for them that is when we make a dent in the system. It gets darkest before we become free darkness is those who claim to love us try to fit us into their mold to fulfill their egos by daam (incentives), saam (manipulation), dand (punishment) bhed (creating doubt in your mind about your resolve).

      You’ll be fine just learn skills how to deal with naysayer and be assertive to break the patterns. All resources are on GGTS for free.

      Peace,
      Desi Girl

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am from Gujarat too..26 years old..Unmarried…Single..,So, I could relate to you.
    Most of my friends are married, some even have young kids now!
    From what I hear from my married friends, is that they have a lot of ‘adjustments’ and ‘tears’ ‘in the starting’, but ‘now I have adjusted’ attitude. It boils my blood to see these wonderful, smart girls that I knew in my college, become a shell of the person they were..
    Many of my friends were asked to leave their jobs, and ‘prepare for marriage’, before the family started looking for guys!!
    One of my friends, who is an MBA and used to be a sales exec in a US based firm, is now “allowed” to teach KG kids part time…not even college or high school students as her husband is not “comfortable” that his wife “parades” herself in front of high school boys.
    It shocks me to even know that in this day and age people agree to getting married to strangers after just one meeting!
    I look at the life of few married friends, and thank god I am single, and my parents are not traditional.
    While I am looking for arraigned marriage too.
    But, it is more like dating where I meet the guys in coffee shops, talk to them, see how it goes…parents are not much included after the first meeting…I have met a couple of guys like this, we talk for a few months, did not feel that kind of connection, which was conveyed to the respective parents and that was that…No body is in a hurry..and everybody moves on..with no hard feelings.

    Liked by 4 people

    • This post struck a chord in me.
      I belong to the generation that experienced all this and have gradually watched the scene changing and am still watching more and more changes as Indian women become better empowered due to education and economic independence.
      The first point I wish to make is that there is nothing “Gujarati” or “small townish” about this scenario. It was the same all over India and in all communities, including mine.
      I could add so much to what “Confused Male” listed, but will restrict myself to the following:
      Men were invariably taller than the woman.
      Men were invariably older. Same age couples were rare. The gap in age was at least five years and often 10 years or more. The girl being older was unheard of.
      For Women it was always the first marriage. For men it could be the second or even the third.
      Virginity for the woman was taken for granted as a condition for eligibility and any doubts about it killed all chances for the woman. No one even asked about the man’s “virginity status”. Widowers were privileged to marry again. A widow was condemned to stay single for the rest of her life. Even the very mention of remarriage for her was scandalous. This changed of course due to reforms and was among the earliest reforms in Hindu customs.
      Women never earned. It was always the man. In rare cases where women earned their earnings had necessarily to be less than the man’s and was not considered her own but the given to her in law’s family.
      Women had to be less educated than the man and consider him her “Lord and Master”. Equality was unknown. She always walked behind him.
      A dowry was considered normal and not considered a social evil. The girls parents gave without fretting too much. They would take it back when their son’s got married. So it was quits. If you had only girls, or fewer boys than girls, it was all your “karma”

      “Ladki waale” had to kowtow to the boy’s family. Society gave them an inferior status. They could get even when their son’s got married.
      Marriage expenses were always borne by the girl’s family. For the boys family, it was a free party.
      Stars and planets just had to be placated. A mismatched horoscope would immediately kill what looked like a perfect match otherwise.
      A conveniently interpreted horoscope came in pretty handy when an alliance was to be turned down without giving offence or causing embarrassment.
      The “girl seeing” ceremony was limited to just a quick “Dekho” out of the corner of the eyes for the girl, while the boy could look her up from head to toe. Shyness in the girl was considered a qualification.
      The girl had to be proficient in cooking. That was the bare minimum qualification. Music, arts, crafts, were added qualifications. The boy needed no qualification beyond just being a boy.
      Beauty and a fair complexion was an issue only for the girl. The boy could be dark but the girl had to be at least “wheat complexioned”.

      Men after marriage would consider it beneath their dignity to stay at their in-laws homes. During vacations the husbands would at most agree to drop the wife and children at their Naana-Naani’s place and pick up them later. Staying there was unthinkable for the man. In some communities, even partaking a glass of water at the in-laws house was considered taboo.

      We have come a long way since then and progress is still going on.
      These changes have been rapid. The customs prevailing for hundreds of years are being given up and these changes have all taken place in the last 40 or 50 years.
      I am happy about it but I note that these changes are in the Big cities of India. In the small towns and villages, they have plenty of catching up to do but the wheels are turning, albeit more slowly.

      I don’t think you are “a confused male”. You are seeing the writing on the wall and I am sure you will accept these changes as inevitable and learn to tone down your expectations regarding privileges after getting married. Take your time and don’t hurry. 30 years was considered the Lakshman Rekha for us boys, about 40 years ago when I got married. A boys market value came crashing down once he reached 30. You have no such worry.

      And now coming to your questions, here are my answers:

      1) What you have observed is not necessarily “happiness”. You have just observed what was the norm for centuries. We were insulated from the West. Women did not have the education and opportunities they have now. All this was just “normal”. The newly wedded brides got their opportunity during their middle ages when they became mothers in law. The baton was just passed on from one generation to another.
      2) I agree marriages are a bit of a gamble. Both arranged and choice marriages. The chances of happiness depend on the personalities involved, the home work that is done prior to the marriage and sometimes due to circumstances that occur later. In choice marriages the couples do all the home work and preparation and checking before committing themselves. In arranged marriages the families do it. There is no guarantee of happiness in either. You can only improve your chances of happiness. The horoscopes, stars and planets have had a mixed record in predicting happiness after marriage. Before marriage we used to be obsessed with them. No one bothers about them later.
      3)Just a year since you started looking? That’s nothing. Don’t worry. Be patient. It takes time, often a few years before you find the right person. Take your time and remember, it is better to be happily unmarried rather than unhappily married.
      All the best.
      Regards
      GV

      Liked by 4 people

      • GV Ji,

        Your thought process is clear and progressive. Hats off to you.

        And maybe from your eyes we have came miles away and from our eyes we have to go miles away.

        Like

  3. How do you know they are all happy and ‘content’? Many women who write in to IHM’s blogs about their unhappy situations probably seem very happy to outsiders.

    How can women show that they are not content? Of course they don’t cry to you as a relative stranger. Often when people marry young, women go along with the patriarchal setup of marriage without thought and only later realise the harsh ‘adjustments’.

    Their unhappiness might well manifest as complaints against only the MIL (even though of course the husband goes along with everything too) – patriarchal conditioning has taught them to have little expectations from husband and not blame him.

    Also, this thing you mention about the woman’s brother bringing in a wife and doing the same.. what about those who only have daughters? Or whose sons live away from them?

    I agree with the first comment, you are speaking of stereotypes and not of real life. These stereotypes ending in ‘happily ever after’ do not match real humans with real emotions. Besides, all indian women could have said to be ‘content’ by an observer before they started coming out, gaining exposure and asking for their rights. Your town might see the same with the next generation or the one after.

    Ignorance in this case is only bliss for those who perpetuate it and benefit from it by keeping women dependant and ignorant.

    Like

  4. I think patriarchy harms men as well but many people don’t even realize so and are happy with current setup. I would be eager to know comments from readers of this blog. Some challenges men face:
    1. Expected to be breadwinner and cannot choose career of his choice
    2.Cannot choose to be home maker
    3. Not suitable for marriage unless he finds a job.
    4. Cannot watch emotional dramas or display certain emotions
    5. Cannot wear ” colorful clothes”
    6. Expected to shoulder unfair responsibility as elder son
    7. Not accepted if physically weak
    8. Looked down if they choose certain professions.
    9. Expected to do all work outside home.
    10. Unfair labels when he chooses to treat wife as equal partner 
    11. Unfair expectations to keep pleasing parents
    12. Not be a doting type of father
    13. Earn/study more than his partner
    14. No say in aesthetics of house decoration
    15. Expected to learn driving and drop/pick others even when a female family member is equipped to do that 
    16. Struggle in reporting sexual harrasment
    17. Limited career opportunities as male sex workers when female sexuality is repressed.
    18. Looked down while expressing dislike for sports/violence/cars
    19. High expectations due to male stereotyping on how to win over a girls heart and so called Mardangi.
    20. Decision to not have kids gets difficult due to unfair burden of carrying family name
    21. Financial success as chief barometer of mans success
    22. Paternal leave for longer duration looked down
    23. Cannot marry women Older to him
    24. Patriarchy effects men and women in different ways. Deep rooted belief in some women that patriarchy doesn’t effect men at all
    25 Father of daughter expected to shell out his hard earned money to son in laws or as dowry.
    26. For someone really interested in good relationships , being too close to relatives on spouse side looked down.
    27. treatment to son in law/daughter and a happy daughters married life vis-a-vis son / daughter in law.If only parents are happy with sons happy married life like daughters.

    Like

  5. mabe they are content and maybe they are not, i suspect after a few years of adjustment, some will adapt and let resting dogs lie some will feel the adjustment as a big load nad start questioning.I have an aunt who didnt want a working DIl. but a very well educated one. the found one, who agreed ot all their terms and conditions. is basically a maid sinc ethe husband doesnt show much inclination to be a companion, he works, eats sleeps and of course produced the requisite heir. for all these yrs – about 4 when ever i visited and wondered ( in my mind) how she could live like this,now for the past few months i see a small change, she acts different. she mentioned in a conversationwhen we were all around, that she’d been trained enoughto know where the dishes were. she eats when she wants and doesnt care too much about waiting or being submissive.but she’s still seems content. i dont know what goes on in her mind, i rarely meet them but shes around 30 now and i see a slow awakening as she sees all of us. i see the same thing in her parents and to me ( just me) they look like they are more supporting of her. m aunt seems more respectful of her i dont know what goes on in there, but i thnk she’s setting her life slowly the way she wants.
    so one never knows, they may show a facade of content but who knows internally they may be gearing up for a change.

    Like

  6. 1)Happiness is superficial in 95% cases, trust me on that. In earlier times and still prevalent, one was not supposed to wash dirty linen in public, hence “unhappiness” never came in public in such set-up. But now more and more voices are being heard from educated class, however others still living in this set-up without complaining.

    2)There is no question of love vs arrange marriage, in arrange marriages, you can meet and talk to the girl numerous times before marriage *if your family allows*…..arrange marriage is wrong when you get to see the person once or twice and dont get to talk much or dont get to know each other much. Divorces are recorded in love marriage and arrange marriage equally. You should have the liberty of seeing the girl as many times as you want in arrange marriage structure.

    3) Marriage can be bliss if you have the right partner but in order to do that, you should be a right partner to her as well. You cant expect her to be all sanskaari and good to you when you yourself is not ready to do what she expects from you. If you ready to live your life free from all sanskaar shackles , without any interference of both parents and give equal opportunity to your life partner for every thing she expects, you’ll have a blissfull marriage.

    What all expectations you would have from your life partner, just remember she would have her set of expectations from you too. If you want a blissfull marriage, then be ready to give what you expect to take. Be positive and believe in egalitarism, everything wil be fine

    Love
    FS

    Like

  7. Lets take an objective look at what is happening here

    – The expectations of the traditional system state that you cannot make any noise about how unhappy you are. If you make noise, you can face several consequences including more torture, social stigma, etc
    – You hear no noise being made
    – Therefore, you conclude that there are no issues. Otherwise there would have been noise made right?

    What you are seeing is compliance, not happiness. I also find it completely condescending that you suggest people remain ignorant of their rights just so that you can continue your privileged existence. Would you ever consider keeping people enslaved, like in the 19th century USA, and then say that they are better off not knowing basic human rights, because if they don’t know they can have a better life as a free person, they will not “expect” a better life right?

    If your patriarchal system is indeed as awesome as you suggest it is, then you should not have to hide the alternatives. People would choose your awesome system irrespective of the choices they have, isn’t it? The very fact that you think keeping women ignorant will keep them “happy” shows that even you know this is a crappy, unfair system. And yet, you support it because it suits you. Talk about hypocrisy!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post. I’m surprised by some of the comments here where people seem to strongly believe that there’s most likely just a facade of happiness in the situation the writer mentions. I don’t think it’s entirely inconceivable that there may be those who are genuinely content with the kind of traditional marriages/joint family arrangement that comes with it. Is it really that inconceivable that someone could be happy in this kind of marriage? I mean, let me be the first to say that I would perhaps not have adapted well to living in a joint family etc, but to say no one else could possibly be happy in such an arrangement is stretching it. Unless there is abuse, mistreatment, disrespect etc people may be happy with a traditional marriage. In many cases, I’ve seen the spouses learn to love one another along with other family members who live with them. In fact, if you do have loving/supportive inlaws, it can be advantageous to some to live in a joint family – help and more people to love for your children, a solid support system in times of trouble, sickness, death etc.
    Traditional or not, I believe in most marraiges, the power balance is slightly tilted in favor of one spouse or the other. I’ve seen tons of love marraiges where one spouse is more dominating than the other. People adjust, no marriage is perfect, and no marriage is perfectly equal. Also, a ‘facade of happiness’ – is that limited to traditional marriages only?
    I don’t think everyone on the IHM blog are protesting against any and every kind of traditional set up. They’re fighting/voicing their opinions towards basic equality, humanity and respect which can also exist in traditional setups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘Traditional or not, I believe in most marraiges, the power balance is slightly tilted in favor of one spouse or the other. I’ve seen tons of love marraiges where one spouse is more dominating than the other’
      This will be true for normal relationships which atleast have basic respect for each other. But here women after marriages are perceived to be small children who have to seek permission from inlaws/husband for every small thing.Seeing your own parents, being in regular touch, spending on your birth family is granted as a privilege.Permission needs to be taken for visiting your own parents! In what universe is this normal? Would any person be happy in such a scenario?
      Let me give context. I am an educated women with a professional degree, earning a great package and have a clear rule that I will not do anything that my husband will does not have to do. I was still subjected to silly crap right after marriage like my MIL telling me when and from which house to leave for the airport. If i accepted this behavior, it would be gone onto her telling me when to visit my natal family, when to see friends etc. and I am pretty sure this is the norm in most middle class families. There may be exceptions,but too few.
      In such a scenario I think saying that most women may be unhappy in traditional marriages may be not be that far from the truth as in alarmingly high number of cases, a definite,persistent,consious attempt is made to curb/suppress even basic fundamental freedoms of women.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Proof to this is the coffee table and lunch conversations of married women in offices. Most of the women in my office follow all traditions mentioned by the author and then there are the bitching,complaining,whining sessions abt the husband, in laws EVERY single day. But if I suggested that they do something abt it, I would get blank stares on the verge of hostility.

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  9. If you have drunk only Water never knowing the existence of fruit juices, coco cola etc., then water is the only thing that is the Ultimate Best thing for quenching your thirst…Its the same with indoctrination and culture, if you havent learned it any other way or know that there are other options, you will consider that the Ultimate Best thing. Your mind will refuse any proof thereof unless you see it or consider it. Hence for women in a Veil/Burkha, that is the ultimate best thing about their identity; For the Men who have had the coming of age rites that included Drinking and Smoking, that is the only way they can remind themselves of being adults and it is absolutely right, cause thats the way its ALWAYS been. Happiness/Freedom etc. is also the same. You dont know what you dont have, and once you get/have it, you wont want to give it up or settle for anything less.

    Will not add anything more, cause Desi Girl has said what I wanted to say.

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  10. Pingback: 27 ways in which Patriarchy harms men. | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  11. Many of your observations about the traditional Indian set up are spot on and apply to all Indian communities, from every state and town and village.
    QUESTION 1 – “Is their happiness superficial?”
    To answer this question, let’s take a situation. A married woman wants to visit her parents but is “denied permission”. How will she react? If she is in control of her life, she might tell them she doesn’t need their permission, she is an adult and she can handle such simple decisions on her own, thank you very much. Or she may spare them the sarcasm and just leave.

    If she is financially dependent or them or is conditioned to obey them, what will she do? She will listen to them and not visit her parents. Now is she happy? Of course not. She is not happy. BUT CONSIDER WHAT HAPPENS OVER TIME. How many times will she become unhappy over her loss of this simple freedom? She will learn to ADJUST, that favorite word of ours. For her own sanity, she will begin to pick her battles. She will give up some rights and fight for some rights. Because anyone has only so much energy. She will learn to be content with whatever scraps are thrown at her. If anyone is occasionally kind to her she will be GRATEFUL, another word we love to throw at women. How many people can keep on fighting? Without resources, without supports? Very very few. It is human nature.

    We can get used to anything. We can find happiness in a slum. We can find happiness in sickness. We can find happiness in a prison. The question is not if we can find happiness in these situations but the more important question is how can we create more humane conditions in the slum, how can we cure the disease, how can we get the innocent out of the prison.

    Therefore, to answer your question if these highly conditioned women are “happy” because ignorance is bliss – I would say, the more important thing is to get them out of the ignorance. It is fundamentally wrong to let “ignorance is bliss” prevail because we don’t want to rock the boat. It goes against every civilized instinct. For far too long, we have use these example of “content women” in “blissful marriages” as poster women to defend patriarchal setups. I think the only people who are genuinely “content” and “blissful” are the ones who benefit from the system – the women who have been conditioned have been told to not expect anything more, to not ask questions, to not disturb the convenient equilibrium – but keeping people in the dark doesn’t justify what is wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Answer to Question 2 – A marriage in which both parties go in with high expectations is more likely to thrive – because people with high expectations also set the bar high for themselves and deliver high standards. If both parties are ready to play traditional gender roles, yes, there is less conflict, but it doesn’t guarantee happiness. No matter how much a woman is conditioned to be a slave, no human being likes being one. She will enter the marriage willing to be obedient and tow the line, but her own desires, her own dreams, her adult brain will keep getting in the way. This will invariably lead to unhappiness. A marriage can be happy only if both partners respect each other as equals and adults.

    Answer to question 3 –
    I don’t think the chances of finding a woman who wants an equal marriage (in which she is your best friend/companion) are low. Women play a subordinate role in marriage not because they want to but only because when they don’t see any other options. Make sure to communicate your views on marriage clearly and I don’t think you will have any problem finding a like minded woman. I wish you all the best in your search!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. LW here.

    @A regular Indian girl
    I apologise if you felt otherwise but no I wasn’t stereotyping ALL Gujarati families. I only shared what I observed in a large (even majority?) number of families around me and asked the readers here what I have been wondering all this while – is this happiness/contentment for real or superficial?. Bhul chook maaf ☺

    @DG
    Agreed. It is darkest before the dawn. I don’t feel bogged down as yet. And mind can never reverse what it has seen and understood to be better. So there is no question of I now accepting the traditional view of marriages. But I only wonder – would I have been better off had I not ever developed this view and expectations for my marriage?

    @Dhwanis
    Good luck ☺

    @GV jee
    Amazing post from a senior who has seen a lot more than what I have ( I am less than half your age, Sir!🙂 ) Fully agree with you. There are no guarantees in life. Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst is what I have been following.

    @ FS
    Yes! If I can’t offer, I can’t expect. It ain’t a one way street. It flows both ways and hence I am fully on board on this concept – “first give, and then take”.

    @clueless
    I did not suggest that people should stay ignorant or that “my” patriarchal system is awesome. I cannot fathom how you interpreted what you wrote in your last two paragraphs. Would request you to reread my post.

    @ wordssetmefree
    Wonderful response.

    To answer 1: Ignorance must be shedded. I have studied in national colleges, with students from all across India and have also travelled a lot on work – nationally and internationally and I have seen very different mindsets – amongst my batchmates from undergrad and postgrad and in the metros/urban areas I tend to visit. Hopefully, within a couple of decades, my small town will also have changed considerably in terms of mindset.

    I do feel that given the conditioning, most women walk into marriages expecting to “adjust” and so within a few years of their marriage, what makes a huge difference to their state of mind is how they were treated by the husband and in-laws, while they were undergoing the process of “adjustment”. Love, respect, patience, support, encouragement, freedom – access to plenty of all of these from the husband and in-laws can go a long way in how a woman feels even if she had made a lot of “sacrifices” and “adjustments”.

    To answer 2: Very true. High expectations do set a high bar for oneself as well and hence one brings lot more to the table in such a relationship, I believe. It is good to be on your toes. Complacency can kill growth.

    To answer 3: I have elaborated further below.

    @ all
    Let me elaborate further on why do I have the dilemma 3)
    At least on one occasion, over a period of time, I shared the following views with the woman I was speaking with over a couple of months
    – “No. I don’t need to know your time/place/date of birth. I don’t believe in horoscopes.”
    – “I will call you what you call me: “Aap/Tu”. And can you tell your family not to call me “aap”?”
    – “We will divide the wedding expenses / functions between the two families”
    – “A simple wedding (or even a court marriage) is fine by me”
    – “Your career – you decide whether you wish to continue to work or not, now or in the future”
    – “Oh, you drink? I do too. Wonderful, we can have a peg once in a while”
    – “If you had smoked, I would have advised you against it for your health reasons but it wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker”
    – “Please don’t stop buying the western dresses you so like. Why do you think you can’t wear them after marriage?”
    – “You don’t know much cooking? Even I don’t.“
    – “No you don’t need to necessarily wake up before me and fix my breakfast. I can do it for myself. If on some days, you do wake up before me, do it for both of us. On days, I wake up before you, I will do it for both of us.”
    – “Wife doesn’t “give” sex to husband. They “make love” – Whenever they both are in the mood.”
    – “No. You won’t have to do the fasts/vrats that my mom/family have been doing. Do the ones you have been doing/you feel like doing.”

    Etc etc etc.

    Because of all of these, the family on the other hand (who did not know me/my family from before) did get a feeling that I was being “politically correct” or had some “ulterior motives” or there was “something wrong with me”. Fortunately, my community has no concept of dowry because if there was one, I would have never asked for / accepted even a penny as dowry and that would have only reinforced the feeling that “something must be wrong with him”.

    Thais is also a reason why I wonder – would I have been better off if my concept of a marriage (and hence my views and behavior) was the same as that of the majority of the population I live in. I wouldn’t have at least come across as a potential fraudster. The conventional expectations and gender roles seem to be so deep rooted that my views, which I thought were perfectly normal, were perceived as “too good to be true” and “just a lip service”.

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    • Very frankly, I think that if these girls and their families cant even fathom the thought that a boy could want an equal partnership, you’re waay better off without them. If they had atleast been willing to investigate further, that would’ve been better. Their reaction suggests that they are as patriarchal as they come in India.

      Also, your wording seems to suggest that you somehow feel alone and alienated because of your choices and views. Please dont feel that way. I think a lot of people question traditions but finally succumb due to the pressure to belong…so the only way you are different is that you chose to do something about it.

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    • Based on your conversations with these women, it seems to me that your view of marriage is one based on equality, mutual respect, companionship, love. This is diametrically opposite to the traditional ‘business contract’ type of marriages where families look for guy’s salary and girl’s skin color and make hundreds of deals on venue, guests, etc. and demand “gifts”.
      I think after your explanation above, I understand your problem better. You are looking for an egalitarian marital relationship, something that is (almost) non-existent in the arranged marriage business (which can sometimes literally be a business). There may be a few arranged marriages where the couple behave like adults and here you may run int someone more like yourself. But in most cases, parents run the whole show and it will be pretty much as you described above.
      So, maybe you are looking in the wrong place. When you work, travel, engage in hobbies and activities, try to meet lots of people – go to events that interest you – maybe a concert or tree planting or a photography club – you are more likely to meet someone who might be on the same wavelength – someone who herself has traveled, has interests and hobbies, has opinions, is generally happy with herself and is not making ‘getting married’ the central focus and highest goal of her life.

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    • All the answers given as examples above seem a little bit like like a random list to me. If you want an egalitarian marriage, you can just say I believe in egalitarian marriages and you don’t need to follow my word for anything, I will accept you as you are.

      But this may sound suspicious to anyone who has been in a long relationship, because it is unrealistic, hence the reaction of the girl’s parents…. they wonder is this romantic nonsense or a criminal mind…

      Actually my husband told me the kind of things you listed before we got married and I kept thiking “why on earth would he want me” ?

      Shouldn’t you be thinking hard about what it is you really want and don’t want from a life companion ?

      Marriage is indeed a little bit of a gamble and a lot of hard work and I think the best gift you can give to your partner is being as clear and honest to yourself as you can, so that you don’t make promises you can’t deliver.

      For example, from what you say, one gets the feeling you are educated and love to travel, so wouldn’t it be more important to discuss knowledge and travels with your date than old customs ?

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  14. LW, why do you want to get married?
    From your responses, I can see that you’re a decent,thinking guy. So your answer to my question would probably be along the lines of wanting companionship,family etc.
    There is nothing wrong in looking for the kind of qualities that you’ve mentioned – in fact this what people SHOULD be looking for in a potential mate.

    The problem with the arranged marriage setup is that most of the time it is based on values which are diametrically opposite to what you want – money & social security.
    So why would you even TRY looking there? I would suggest that you wait, Travel, do the stuff you like and meet & date women on your own. True, this may take time, but all good things take time.

    As for your question about whether you would have been happier if you didn’t have such views – well,one could argue that a meat-eater would be super happy if he did not know how he got his food, and therefore he should stay ignorant.

    Ignorance is bliss yes, but there is always collateral damage. You maybe unhappier than some of your more traditional counterparts, but trust me, in the long run, there is great happiness in standing up for something you believe in.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Even I am not able to understand the myth of happily married woman. Even educated one are happily married under following situation.

    1. Friend 1- Earning but she buys sweater for niece by hiding it from husband, saves money in kitty by hiding it from husband, does all chores even serving water. And when another friend suggested that her BF is saying that she will not work after marriage then she replied after marriage you have to follow his decision.

    2. Friend 2- Again earning, goes to office from Delhi to Gurgaon by own but can not attend friends marriage at her own. After that never got a chance to whatsapp her because she never replies or pick call.

    3. Friend 3- Not earning, cooks all food but In-Laws still complain. Always crib about dowry,marriage ceremony, gifts etc.

    All these women are happily married. I guess because women are conditioned not to expect anything from marriage. If husband is not beating you, not cheating on you and providing food to you then you are happily married.

    Most of them have never seen that there can be some other situation in their life as you said about ignorance. they know their issue but are ignorant about solution. And solutions are out of box hence they never think about it.

    Women are conditioned to strive for tag of happily married. Most of the women know and feel that they should not bear all these controls but as I said they are conditioned to run behind the tag of being happily married. If they are not working hard toward achieving it then they are not good women. Its similar to our MNC appraisal system. We know that we will never get highest rating and should not take up with whims and fancies of our Manager but still we do it for variable payout and promotion. Same goes with being happily married as it brings recognition and respect in society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not so simple. I woman is very vulnerable to ill-treatment because of patrilocality.

      The woman moves in with the husband’s family. She does not share any history or blood ties with them.

      The only person who she has any kind of closeness with is her husband. Naturally, she expects him to be an ally in their shared marital journey.

      Sadly, most Indian men’s loyalty rests with the parents after marriage. Most men do not separate emotionally from their parents the way Indian women do.

      This places the woman in a vulnerable situation. She feels outnumbered and excluded from her new “family”. Instead of making her feel comfortable, most husbands and in-laws take advantage of the unfair situation by emotionally manipulating and dominating the woman.

      Such women are truly alone. They cannot share their troubles with their parents for fear of bringing dishonour to them.

      They are mostly defenceless in the marital home, where the other family members gang up against the new entrant and assign her the lowest place in the family hierarchy.

      Instead of judging your married friends, try understanding the impossible situation they are in.

      Will their parents support them if they rebelled against the husband/in-laws? What about the husband? Will the spineless proto-adult stand up for himself and his wife?

      If the answer to these questions is no, then your friends are bereft of any source of support.

      It’s easy to blame women for the exploitative situations they find themselves in. It’s far more difficult to blame the husband and in-laws for not realising that a wife/DIL is not a slave, no matter how incredible that sounds.

      I speak as a woman who was in such a controlling, restrictive marriage. I fought back alone initially. It made things worse. My in-laws and husband banded together against me.

      I then tried to “win” my husband over to my side, using all the tricks taught to women. I was “submissive, tolerant, forgiving, adjusting, .. (insert adjective of your choice)”.

      That didn’t work either. Finally, I distanced myself from my husband and in-laws, though I continued to live with them. It was a miserable, lonely existence replete with daily showdowns and drama.

      In defeat, I moved out, hoping that it would serve as a wakeup call for my husband and in-laws.

      Finally, I filed for divorce. That was the best decision I ever took. It took me three years to realise that nothing would “make” my in-laws and husband respect me and treat me as a human being.

      You CANNOT reform people if they see nothing wrong with their ways. You cannot “force” or “convince” somebody to treat you with respect. It’s never about you, it’s always about them. Therefore, you can do little to change their thought process.

      If you rock the boat, you should be willing to pay the price and accept that your marriage could break.

      People with controlling, abusive tendencies don’t change just because you point to them that they are out of line.

      They may back down for a bit, but will come at you the next opportunity they get.

      Your friends are in a no-win situation if they have supine, spineless husbands.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I find this so often around me, n my own family. In fact some time ago, even a well travelled and modern girl like me, I was consenting to a lot of deeply sexist stuff in the name of tradition and did not even see anything very unnatural in it, but inside I felt suffocated and unhappy although I could not pin down exactly what was making me unhappy.

    And I see this blissful ignorance everywhere. My MIL had to brave a scheming conniving MIL herself, but when I point out that she defends her MIL and her tyrranical husband and even believes in a ton of outdated bullshit like jumping makes women’s uteruses weak.

    My husband does not behave like a MCP and between us we have an egalitarian relationship. Yet, he sees such stuff as normal even while accepting that I am different, which makes me wonder sometimes if he even likes me really or is just putting up because marriage is for keeps??? He shows no sign of unhappiness. No points for guessing that he was brought up in a traditional joint family and I in a somewhat nuclear one.

    I have often considered divorce, not because my present life is unhappy or unfulfilling, or that I don’t love him but because I have a lingering fear that some day our beliefs me clash in a situation which matters a lot, and his decision has a high chance of being biased and sexist as he doesn’t seem to object to the sexism propagated in his family (not directed against me). And in that situation a sexist decision will be upheld by the majority than a rational one. But then, so far it has not happened and he has shown no such traits.

    It is hard being a square peg when all holes are round here.

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