Clarification about this site

Hello,

This is Priya.  Some people have mistaken me for IHM (when I wrote a post here) and I’ve also received emails asking if this is my blog.  I’d like to clarify that this site belongs to Indian Homemaker (IHM).  She has invited me to be a guest blogger on her site.  (I have my own blog – wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com and I guest blog here sometimes.)

I came here as a reader 3 years ago.  I learnt so much, both from IHM’s writing and the wonderful comments.  The readers on this blog are intelligent and insightful, generous and supportive.  This is the place I came to, when I was troubled by questions about gender equality.  This is the place I came to – to share, help others, and learn.  There were things I instinctively knew were wrong.  But I could not explain or clarify those things.  I was surrounded by people (in my life) who actively tried to drown out my inner voice.  IHM’s blog helped me understand why.  They felt threatened.  Since they enjoyed very little control over their own lives, they attempted to control others’ lives.  Thus IHM’s blog helped me clarify for myself logically why something I suspected was wrong was indeed so.  This blog reaffirmed my faith in my inner voice and told me to trust my own intelligence rather than “ancient wisdom”.

Just as it helped me, this blog has helped countless women from all walks of life, who live across the globe.  We may differ in our economic or social backgrounds, in our careers and interests, but the problems of gender equality weave a common pattern through our varied lives.  It is here that women connected and supported one another.  I felt tremendously strong, looking at this community of women.  I was so proud of them.  As Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing, without claiming it, she stands up for ALL women.”

Like many bloggers do at some point, IHM took a break and her writing became infrequent.  Like all of us (bloggers and readers), other aspects of her life took precedence.  So, when she invited me to write some guest posts, I agreed because I did not want this community of support to disappear.  I wrote several long and detailed posts for a while and kept the discussions going (if you scroll to the bottom of this post, you will see a link to my guest posts that says “view all posts by Priya”).

Then I stopped writing.  I became consumed with other things (my son’s autism and homeschooling primarily ) and have filled in here sporadically.  (I had taken a break from my own blog too during the past year.)

But now I’m back to writing and I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels!  I realize now that other things consuming my life are the VERY REASON I should continue writing.  I could write about what’s dominating my life right now to help me understand it better.  I could also write about other things to give my mind a break from being consumed; writing about other things may help maintain some separation from the central aspects of my life and allow me to continue to grow in different ways.

This year, I hope to continue to contribute here.  I also want to invite all of you to send me your guest posts and share your experiences, dilemmas, and questions.  It is my dream to see many women’s voices being heard here.  I will contact some of my blogger friends and acquaintances, asking for guest post contributions.

And I continue to look forward to the time when IHM can post here more frequently.

I hope you will all help in making this site active again.  Remember, writing is powerful.  It is cathartic to ourselves and impactful to others.

If you would like to send me your guest post or want to ask a question or share your experience, please email me at wordssetmefreee@outlook.com

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Making a simple choice – Mangalsutra

Sometimes making a simple choice can be so exhausting. 

I’m talking about the Mangalsutra.  That chain that would be sinful not to wear.  Only bad women, evil women, women who don’t love their husbands, refuse to wear it.  And so, on the attitudes go.

It is a symbol of love between husband and wife.  It is symbolic of their bond. It is our tradition (and yes woman, you are responsible for keeping our traditions alive).  And so on goes the advice.

In my 20s, my head was filled with the above by my many aunts and cousins.  My mother herself never lectured me on this but she did wear hers as a matter of habit.

I was reluctant to wear one for several reasons:

One, I am uncomfortable with jewelry in general.  The most I like sporting is a single pearl in each ear.  If the occasion were more formal, I might don a thin chain or a bracelet. 

Two, the mangalsutra seems forced.  It was never seen as a choice.  Anything forced automatically arouses my suspicion.  Women who did not wear it were treated with intolerance. 

Three, if you look at the traditional significance of it – it was yet another symbol (besides kumkum, bangles, etc.) denied to widows and used to discriminate against them.  It was mainly to celebrate the “state of being married”, to separate that state from the “unfortunate” states of being single, divorced, or widowed.  Having a husband is what got you into the coveted Mangalsutra club and to keep the perks, you had to fast, pray for and serve one’s husband and in-laws and proudly display your membership with the sutra, kumkum, and bangles (the latter two also not allowed for widows).

So, I chose not to wear something that glorifies the concept of being married, something that says – you do not exist as an individual, without a man, you have no worth. And by making this choice, I quickly became “evil incarnate” for some, “that arrogant woman” for others, and “she who has made a coward of her husband” for yet others.  My husband is one of the most obstinate, individualistic people I know, so this last remark usually cracks him up.

When I was younger, I often felt hurt at people’s ugly reactions.  I felt compelled to explain that I loved and supported my husband – that a chain meant nothing to me – that you can wear it and backbite and manipulate your husband.  Over time, I realized that all these explanations and scenarios were unnecessary.  Justifying a choice means that you are giving someone the right to question your choice.  Then it’s no longer a choice.

Since I’m in my mid-40s, I keep assuming that these are things of the past and the girls and young women nowadays have it different.  I do hope I’m right.  But every now and then, I’m in for a surprise. 

My niece (cousin’s daughter) recently joked: “I should take my very modern friend who dresses in shorts to my in-laws’ house, so that in comparison, they would be thankful they got someone like me as a daughter-in-law who will at least wear a salwar kameez – but may choose not to wear the thick heavy wedding Mangalsutra but prefers a lighter, more fashionable version”.

I smiled politely but her remark made me wonder.  Why try so hard?  Why not just politely tell them what you prefer to wear?  Why let them disparage your friend for wearing what she finds comfortable?  If they required a nose ring, would you get your nose pierced?  Where does the control end? 

One aunt told me “my house, my rules”.  “I don’t care what my d-i-l does in her own house, but in my house, she needs to wear it.”  Really?  House rules extend to personal things like jewelry?  This is news to me. 

So, can my parents say the following to my husband:

“In my house, all men wear the sacred thread, so you must too.” 

Or “All men sport beards, so you must grow one.  You can shave it off when you get home.”

Or, “We don’t like facial hair.  Shave off your goatee.  Grow it back after your vacation.”

Or “We consider pants indecent.  Please wear dhoti at our place and when you go home, you may switch back to pants.” 

If they did, I’m sure he’d say, “I love you guys but would you stop kidding around so much!”

If he thought they were being serious, he would tell them to take a hike, probably. 

Most arguments that justify unfair traditions do not survive the reverse-the gender test (or reverse-any-role test). 

And yet this never really happens, does it?  Why would no one ever dare suggest such a thing to him but think nothing of calling me names for my most personal choices? It’s simple.  It’s mostly habit.  Misogyny is a habit that’s hard to break.  Most people unthinkingly assume they can give advice to, criticize, admonish, berate, slight, humiliate, or punish women for things that they wouldn’t dream of interfering, were those choices made by men.  They have seen others do it all their lives – it is so ingrained. 

And it will REMAIN ingrained – unless we correct it.  It will take a lot of women to keep saying ‘no’ to attempts to control – to break this habit.

What about you?  Do you feel pressured to wear the mangalsutra?  If so, what forms does the pressure take?  What do you do about it?  What would you like to do about it?