Imagine

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

 

Imagine a world where you are judged

Not by your skin color or what you’re wearing

But by your human strengths

For your wit, compassion, and caring

 

Imagine living on a street

Where your opinions can be bared

Without fear of being silenced

By casual denial or malicious stares

 

Imagine having friends

Who listen, validate, make you strong

With whom there are no feelings

That are shameful, taboo, or wrong

 

Imagine living in a community

Where other’s stories shed light

and learning happens unintentionally

Transforming you, in plain sight

 

Imagine a world where sharing

Is welcomed with knowing, accepting hearts

Where expression lends clarity

Piecing together your jagged, hurting parts

 

Does this sound too Utopian?

But such a world isn’t far away

It’s the world of blogging

Where you and I meet everyday

 

Let them not sideline or suppress

Your inner battles, your outer skirmishes

Speak, question, think, and express

Your unruly thoughts, your untamed wishes

 

Let not your voice and mine

Be drowned out in doubt and fear

And lay buried in an obscure shrine

Forgotten in a tomb of despair

 

Let them not lock your thoughts

Take the key and set yourself free

Keep reading, writing, thinking, speaking

For you are the queen of your destiny

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Changing Someone (or oneself)

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a kid, I remember watching movies where a woman changes her irresponsible or alcoholic husband to become her dream life partner. She accomplishes this through forbearance, persistence, and faith, qualities that tended to glorify her and epitomized womanhood. Movies are just a reflection of prevailing social attitudes. Since our culture expects women to adjust and make marriages work at any cost, it follows that a woman trying to mold her husband is/was seen as a positive and proactive way to finding happiness.

In real life, however, is it possible to change someone? Is it even fair to attempt to change someone? What are some situations where we might wish to change our loved ones?

  • We might want them to be fairer (sharing house work and parenting for instance), more responsible, or more committed to the relationship. These are reasonable expectations.  Let’s call this the reasonable zone.
  • We might want them to exercise, eat better, and relax more, out of concern for their health. Although this is reasonable, we are now entering the sensitive zone of personal choices.  What if someone’s personal choices impact our happiness?  What if your spouse is overworked and constantly irritable?  On the one hand, a healthier, happier spouse does have a positive impact on our own happiness and the health of our relationship.  Yet, where do you draw the line here?  What if someone is happy with their excess weight or their no-so-great eating habits?  Do we worry about the future impact of their habits on their health (and consequently our happiness)?  Or do we let them be because it’s their choice?
  • Some of us may even be occasionally tempted to change their tastes and preferences, and may go so far as to tell them to change their feelings about something.  This is a clear cut ‘wrong zone‘.

Expecting one’s partner to be more responsible, fair, and committed is completely reasonable. Wanting them to modify their lifestyle or character (become more disciplined, more relaxed, or more diligent) is going to be somewhat problematic, even if it is well intentioned.

However, asking them to change their tastes and preferences is completely unfair. Expecting them to change their feelings about something is not only unreasonable, it’s downright impossible. People have no control over their feelings; they only have control over their actions. They may despise someone. They can choose not to yell at this person and they can certainly choose to not hit the person. But they can’t change how they feel (intense dislike/hate).

When attempting to change someone close to you, ask yourself, ‘whose problem is it?’ If your husband likes to get up late on Sundays, take a late shower, go unshaven all day, dress sloppily, then that’s what he likes to do. It is not your problem to own. Let him be. If your wife likes to watch a certain show that drives you nuts, leave the room. Let her be. In both cases, don’t attempt to change the other’s tastes or preferences.

So, let’s assume that we remain in the reasonable zone or venture into the sensitive zone – we want someone to change because it makes them healthier, happier, less frustrated, it makes our life better, and it makes our relationship better. Even this is extremely difficult to do. Many people resist change for many different reasons. It is therefore crucial to understand the factors that constitute change, before we attempt to change someone or ourselves.

Factors that Influence Changing Oneself or the Other

1. Self awareness

Change begins with self-awareness. The first step is for the person himself to feel the need for change. When I feel tired because I’m overworked and realize it, I’m aware that I need to take breaks. When I feel emotionally distanced from my loved ones and realize it, I’m aware that I’ve been spending less time with them and paying the price for it. Awareness is therefore an important prerequisite for change. If you want your partner to change, help him/her become more and more aware of the problem. When discussing this very sensitive topic, try to be helpful rather than judgmental. Focus on how a certain behavior or habit is impacting him or those around him. Stay away from offering solutions, because interfering with the process of self awareness and self-motivation to change can be counter productive. You can’t really GET someone to change, but you can help them LET themselves change.

2. Desire and Commitment

Awareness leads to desire (to change) and desire leads to commitment. In the desire stage, we start thinking about what we want. If only I could find time to go for a walk. If only I could enroll in that programming class so I can feel more adept at my work. If only I could practice my violin. Visualizing what we would like to do can be extremely motivating. As a partner, help the other visualize what he/she would like to achieve. Of course, dreaming can only take us so far. A practical plan is necessary to execute. Strategize on what can be done to make the change happen – what are some obstacles, what are some possibilities, is there a Plan B when Plan A fails, would intermediate goals and rewards help. Review the plan daily, acknowledge successes and don’t let your partner be intimidated by setbacks along the way.

3. Be the person/change you want to see

Gandhi was right. Modeling change can be powerful. If you want your children to read more and watch less television, ask yourself how much you are reading. Children who see their parents reading a lot also tend to become avid readers. If you want your partner/spouse to exercise more, offer to go for a walk with him. If he prefers to go to the gym, offer to go to the gym with him (at least initially, to get him motivated).

4. Environmental modification ( for children)

Removing temptations from the environment works wonders, especially with children. In our kitchen, we don’t stock junk food because we want everyone to eat healthy. There are tons of fruit in the fridge if someone wants to grab a snack between meals. We made a conscious choice not to have cable. We do have our DVD player to watch movies because it is so much easier to control movie watching than cable television with its constant transmission. (We get the news on our car radios on our way to work.)

Just as negative elements and distractions can be removed from the environment, positive elements can be added to it. When my kids were very little, they had 2 choices for their free time – they could stay in and read or do art or they could go outside and play. Our home has always been stocked with lots of children’s books and there are plenty of art supplies and a whole play area where they can really get messy with finger paint and other art materials. I took them on lots of outings – walks, parks, museums, aquariums, and read lots of books to them. As they got older, they willingly enrolled in team sports like basketball, soccer and cross country, which keep them pretty occupied. They’re not addicted to screens because they got so used to healthier ways to entertain themselves.

Please note that environmental modification can be used as a positive parenting tool, not a controlling tool.  It is not just about ‘removing’ things from the environment but also about giving children lots and lots of choices (positive ones).

The above are some straightforward ways to bring about positive change. But what do we do when change is hard to actualize? What if the person is resistant to change?

Some factors that create resistance to change

1. The underlying self-image and correcting it

Sometimes people are a certain way because that’s how they see themselves. We all carry these self-images of ourselves at an unconscious level. Sheela may see herself as inept at her work and feel like she’s getting by without really being productive. If she is offered a promotion (because her boss genuinely appreciates her diligence), she may see this as further confirmation of her fakeness. Ravi may see himself as an uninteresting person. If his friends ask him to go on a trip with them, he may see this as their attempt to rescue him from his boring life, as an act of sympathy. Children who are controlled a lot and have to fight for every little thing may soon get labeled as obstinate, difficult, or rebellious. Soon, they come to believe these labels, and may continue to rebel throughout their adult lives, even when it’s unnecessary. We hold on to our self-images (even when they are negative) because they are familiar and grounding.

As adults, it is therefore important to change our self-image if we want to change ourselves. Or help the people we love or work with change their self-image. If you want your co-worker to be more precise with numbers, praise her in the instances when she does demonstrate precision. If you want your son to be more considerate, notice and comment when he helps you clean up after dinner. If you want your friend to be more committed to your friendship, draw attention to the wonderful time you had together when she did make it. Complaining about what’s not happening confirms people’s negative self-images. Offering genuine praise challenges people to question their negative self-images. When you start noticing and drawing attention to their good side, they will begin to accept the idea that developing their good side is actually possible and doable.

2. Difficulty with taking input and being a ‘doer’

Some people are somewhat resistant to taking input. They feel cornered when you just “tell” them that something makes sense. Even a gentle suggestion may seem very forceful to them. Such people tend to be ‘doers’, that is they like figuring out things for themselves. It is much better to ask such people what they would like to do. Chances are they will choose the sensible path, once they are free of having a “solution” thrust upon them.

My older son is one of these people. He would typically waste a lot of time after he came home from school, then had to stay up really late to finish all his work. High school syllabus along with extra curricular activities demanded much more speed and efficiency from him, which he did not possess. As a result, he was sleep deprived and tired all day. To me, the most obvious thing to do was to start work early so he could get a good night’s sleep. But can I suggest something simple like this? Not with him (I now know that from many years of experience with him:-). Instead, I tried to nudge him toward finding his own solution. Our conversation went like this –

When he complained about being tired at school, I said, “Yeah I can imagine. You were up so late last night.”

He said, “These stupid projects and assignments! What are these teachers thinking?? How the heck can I get so much done in one evening??”

Me: “It’s certainly a ton of work!”

Him: “Yeah. It does require a lot of time.”

Me: “Uhuh.”

Him: “Maybe if I could start in the afternoon ….”

Me: “Hmm…”

Him: “I could eat my lunch quickly, then get started. Let me try that today and see how it goes.”

And it did go very well. He went to bed at a decent time that day and felt better the next day at school. He started doing that everyday and began managing the work load better. There would be days here and there where he would slip into the old habit of wasting time. But, once again, I simply acted as his sounding board. He would then self-correct himself and get back to a more efficient routine. I needed to accept that it’s simply his nature to be independent in the extreme, try out everything, and decide for himself what works and what doesn’t.

3. Simple for one is hard for another – being aware of differences in learning/abilities

Remember that what is simple for us can be hard for another. And vice versa. Being organized is easy for me but incredibly hard for my son. Making small talk and pretending to be interested in and managing large social groups is easy for my sister, but hard for me. Show understanding when the other struggles with change. Work with them. Help them find ways to problem solve. Don’t let them get discouraged when they fail. Keep reminding them that change is a process.

When my younger son wanted to play on the soccer team, it was incredibly hard for him to focus on his teammates directions and the ball simultaneously. His autism made it hard to separate or tune out the other team’s instructions to each other. Since he has autism, everyone around him is understanding and supportive of this. We solved this problem by assigning him a ‘buddy’ on the team who gives him instructions. The buddy works (practices soccer) with my son one on one before the game. This makes my son more attuned to his friend’s voice. During the game, he is better able to attune his attention to this single source of auditory input.

But how understanding and supportive are we of each other’s struggles when we don’t carry labels? We may be neurologically typical and yet, most people tend to struggle with certain skills. Being aware of this simple fact helps us persist with our goals without giving up and finding the right supports to facilitate the process.

4. Model willingness to change

If you want your partner or friend to change in one area, pick another area that is difficult for you to change. I wanted my friend to read more fiction and poetry (because that’s what I love discussing) and not just non-fiction (which she tends to enjoy). So, I began signing up for hiking up the hills more (I tended to prefer flat trails) because she loves making it all the way to the peaks (of some smaller, local hills). Once she started seeing me do things that did not come easily and naturally, she became more willing to step out of her comfort zone as well. Willingness to change ourselves motivates those around us to change. It also builds empathy in us for other’s struggles.

5. Assign responsibilities according to strengths/talents/interests

In my MBA class, we were part of team of 4 that worked together for the entire 2 year period. In my team, we had the analyzer, the (detail oriented) fact checker, the (big picture) strategic planner, and the writer/presenter/charmer/people person. Each of us excelled at our roles and tried to learn from the strengths of the others. Work environments frequently categorize people in teams along similar lines/strengths. At home, I hate doing dishes but I’m the better cook. When we share household tasks, I do more of the cooking while my husband does more of the dishes and laundry.   Many parents also divide child rearing duties to match their strengths – one parent may be involved with studies while the other manages sports and other interests/classes. Here, there is no necessity to change one’s style, and different styles can be complementary.

6. Ignore weaknesses by remembering strengths

There are some things that are either impossible to change in ourselves or are so difficult to change that it’s not worth the effort. It’s best to ignore certain weaknesses if they do not interfere with our lives or our loved one’s lives in a major way. My co-worker’s husband tends to be very fact oriented in his conversations. She wished more than anything to be able to have more fulfilling conversations with him at a deeper level. For him, her getting promoted would be just that, a simple fact that deserved to be celebrated. For her, it would lead to a discussion of the effort that went into it, a proper evaluation of the outcome, the dynamics of a motivating work environment, future career options, and change management. After several failed attempts at trying to change this aspect of him, and a lot of frustration for both of them, she stopped trying to change how he converses. She is now content that they do have a very loving relationship. He is always there for her and supports her in every way, in her career, in her personal life, in her interests. She has joined a book club to get those deep conversations that she enjoys (and while she is busy with her deep discussions, he gets happily busy restoring his 1960s Thunderbird in the garageJ).

Non-negotiable Situations – when trying to change someone is futile (Black and white areas)

It is important to note situations where we cannot change the other and the healthy/sane option is to leave the relationship:

  • in all cases of abuse, emotional or physical, it is best to leave – counseling can help in a few cases, but as soon as one realizes that counseling is not helping, it is best to leave
  • when you find out your husband is gay and you happen to be straight (No, you cannot change someone’s orientation, it is like left or right handedness. Your husband may have gotten married out of parental pressure; he may be fearful or in denial or selfish or good hearted or all of the above – it does not matter, just leave)
  • when your spouse is alcoholic (he needs counseling/help, and again in some cases, this actually helps, and when it doesn’t, you need to leave)
  • when your spouse is selfish, mean, is aware of this and is unwilling to change because it suits him – patience, understanding, and supportiveness have no place here. He is the way he is because it’s convenient. By staying, you are rewarding him for his selfishness. Nothing you do is ever going to make a difference because there is no desire or commitment to change.
  • finally trying to change someone’s tastes, preferences, feelings, opinions, and personal choices that have no impact on others’ lives is wrong, unfair, and when done with persistence, can constitute as abuse.

Most relationships may not be those non-negotiable black and white situations. They may fall in the grey area – where your spouse, friends, parents, children, or co-workers are not really selfish and have good intentions but may be making choices that either impact them or both of you in a harmful/negative way. In these situations, understanding what factors constitute change, being empathetic to the challenges in engendering real change, and knowing what expectations of change are fair versus unfair can go a long way in shaping our relationships to fulfill our needs.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with trying to change some part of yourself or someone you love or care for.

Related Posts:

I hope the following links drive home the point that change cannot be used to gain approval/validation, to alter one’s personality/preferences nor can it be used to make a failed/abusive relationship work.  Change is pertinent in primarily 2 broad situations – (1) when we ourselves are unhappy with the existing state and wish to change – and (2) when our behavior directly impinges on another’s rights.

Can a woman marry and change an uninterested man into a loving and responsible husband?

Taking responsibility for improving (?) men’s sex lives empowers women?

Does loving someone mean we should improve them?

How do we go about accepting ourselves just the way we are?

“I think most problems in life are when we look for approval and validation outside of ourselves.”

“10 years ago, the girl would have been counselled on how to change her dress sense for the boy, how to do as he says.”

Who would you never ask for advice?

What are you criticised the most for?

Women and Friendship – Building a Support System

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post brings home a striking point. Lack of a support system allows abuse to thrive. And even in non-abusive situations, lack of supports direly impacts women’s happiness quotient.

Recently I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned that Kalyani, her long time friend had visited after many years. I was excited and happy for my mother and asked her if they had a good time together. I was reminded of the times when my mother would visit her when we were very young.

When we were kids, a mother having a friend was a rarity. The fact that they were college buddies was even more amazing. Whenever my mother would visit her friend, we were so awed by this simple fact – that my mother is going out, and it is not to work and it is not to buy groceries, nor is it a visit to relatives’ houses for pujas and other obligations. She was going out to see her friend! How cool is that!

Even though she worked outside the home (which was rare for her generation), my mother’s role at home was pretty traditional. There were meals to be cooked, maids to be managed, unannounced guests, unreasonable in-laws and relatives to be attended to. There were many frustrating and stressful interactions with in-laws and the extended family. So, whom did she talk to, to find some relief? Who did she go to for support and answers?

Most of the time, support, once again, came in the form of relatives. HER side of the family – her sister, her cousins, her aunts provided some support. Because the visits to her only friend were a rare and special treat.

And when she did get together with her side of the family, I noticed a strange vibe. My grandmother, who had little patience for relatives, usually left the room. The women shared their problems and concerns. There were hugs and wiping of tears. But no solutions were ever offered. There was relief in knowing one was not alone. There was certainly a sense of belonging. But it came more from a sense of “we are all women, therefore we are meant to suffer”. My mother usually went home feeling as confused and hurt as she did before the visit.

Another thing I noticed is the one aunt who tended to be more assertive and less obedient was considered a “shrew” and “lucky to have a meek husband who would put up with her”. So much for support and inspiration. This is why relatives (in the Indian setting) cannot really be one’s support system. They are subject to the same conditioning that the rest of us are. They have nothing new to offer.

My grandmother, a free thinker, was the only one who gave my mother sensible advice, still, she was older, of another generation. My mother did not really have anyone her own age to see her point of view. An occasional visit to her only friend’s house doesn’t really count. In many ways, my mother was friendless.

This is probably the story of many women of that generation.

The Current Generation

So, what about us, those in our 30s, 40s, and 50s? I’ve noticed that in our generation, a lot of us tend to have had great friends and friendships in college. But once we got married or moved away, those friendships seldom lasted. Or even if they did, they did not offer daily and genuine support and involvement. To some extent, this is understandable. Many of us outgrow our college friends. We grow up, acquire different ideas, we change to some extent. We crave friends on the same intellectual level, rather than settling for people who happen to be in the same place at the same time.

But how many of us, after we got married, made a serious attempt to develop strong friendships? How many of us are truly committed to friendship – because friendship takes time and effort and interest. Here I’m not referring to “family friends”. Family friends are just that – they are usually friends because our kids are friends at school. Or because some of us work at the same company.   These are simply another version of our college friends – people in the same place at the same time. They are fine for sharing a meal or having tea together or discussing school/college options or the job/commute/elections situation.

But these are not the kind of friends I’m referring to, although they do have their place in our lives.

I’m talking about the kind of friends who share a passion with you. Who remind you of who you are as an individual. Who challenge you to explore your fears, open you to novel experiences, who help you grow. Friends who truly KNOW who you are. So they can remind you of what you are capable of, when you doubt yourself.

(I’m referring to married women here because that is the norm in India and they are the ones who tend to neglect their friendships. Single women are perhaps more likely to take their friendships seriously. They are better at building a support network of friends because the negative attitudes of their families and society have made such a system imperative, even urgent. Perhaps, they even feel frustrated with married women for not being committed to their friendship.)

Factors that Deter Support Systems for Women

So, why do several married Indian women go without real, strong, long lasting friendships? A few factors come to mind (there could be more) –

Parenting – in conservative cultures, friendships for young girls are limited in terms of where they go and how long they stay out and what activities they engage in. They may not be allowed to travel, hike, swim, partake in sports, go for a bike ride – simple things that friends do. These friendship-inducing activities are allowed for sons but not daughters. Early on, they are trained to put family first, and their own needs must be worked around the family’s rules, schedules, and convenience, if at all. Thus, daughters never learn the meaning of strong friendships. They never learn the methods. They haven’t experienced the highs of going camping with friends and gazing at the stars in the night sky. They haven’t experienced being lost in an unfamiliar town and helping each other navigate. They haven’t gone for a long drive with no destination in mind. They do not know what they’re missing, thus they do not seek it in later life either.

The unwritten rules of friendship after marriage – Friendships for married women are discouraged, seen as frivolous and selfish. Indian married men, on the other hand, continue to keep in touch with their buddies, even invite them over and have their wives cook for them. Many Indian women need permission to visit their friends, or need to ensure that they’ve cooked, cleaned, bathed their children, and anticipated every possible need in the next 48 hours before stepping out for an hour. Thus having a family strengthens men’s friendships while the very same weakens women’s friendships.

Complacence and the Illusion of Support – We are surrounded by family in India. We have our parents and extended family constantly in our faces. When we get married, we have even more relatives. Surrounded by all these people gives us the illusion that we are not alone. However, the truth is you can be lonely with a hundred people around you if none of them empathize with you, make you stronger, or help you find yourself.

Too late, we find out that when we really need help and support, we don’t have it. Women spend a good part of their lives helping strengthen their husband’s families. While their own supports are continually discouraged, ridiculed, and eroded.

Our Stories – Mythology, legends, and literature are replete with admirable friendships between men. While Lakshmana walked by Rama’s side until the very end, Sita stood alone. The Mahabharata brims with male bonding. There is the interesting friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Even the friendship between Lord Krishna and Arjuna the warrior is telling. God bestows his friendship on certain worthy men, but not women.

In English literature, we are all familiar with Horatio and Hamlet, Tom and Huck, Frodo and Samwise, Gandalph and Bilbo. While we admire the friendships between these beloved characters, they do make us wish the world instead revolved around female bonding. This is why books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women are so precious.

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, says, “Princesses may confide in a sympathetic mouse or teacup, but they do not have girlfriends. God forbid Snow White should give Sleeping Beauty a little support. Princesses avoid female bonding. Their goals are to be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of the rest of their lives.”

Let’s not be that lonely princess. We can make each other strong. Let’s not give up on each other.

Finding Real Friendship

Friendship and bonding among women offers so many positives that no woman should have to go without it. A good friend –

  • respects you for your strengths and talents
  • supports you during challenges
  • doesn’t ennoble silent suffering and sacrifice
  • inspires you to be strong, to grow, to become who you want to be
  • listens to you when she can’t do anything other than offer her heart
  • gives you a hug
  • loves you for who you are
  • is happy to see you engage in other positive relationships
  • wants you to succeed
  • is proud of your accomplishments
  • reminds you of who you are, when you are in doubt
  • opens you up to new ideas and different perspectives
  • doesn’t judge you for your career and relationship choices
  • is overall happy for you because she is happy with who she is
  • is committed to you, spends time with you, and is there for you
  • doesn’t take your friendship for granted, understands that friendship is a like a plant, it needs watering, otherwise it can’t sustain itself
  • communicates through differences with honesty
  • recognizes her own need for friends and friendship time
  • keeps her interests and passions alive and doesn’t lose her identity after marriage
  • makes it clear to her family that she will need and engage in her friendships
  • can be a lifeline in cases of emotional or physical abuse

I did not realize this until a few years ago, when I hit my late 30s. My kids’ friends’ mothers were my friends. My husband’s co-workers’ families were my friends. I realized something was missing in these friendships. I forgot who I was. Conversations with our friends were always about our families, about our children’s or husbands’ needs, interests, and phases. And what did I do when I did meet interesting, intelligent, warm, humorous,  and independent women now and then? I did not treasure them.

I realized I had missed some valuable opportunities.  And if I wanted something, I needed to work toward it. I began to look for and find women who shared my passions – walking/hiking/running/nature, reading/writing. Women who took their hobbies seriously, who believed in preserving their identities and not be defined by their relationships alone. Although these common interests acted as a catalyst to start and sustain the friendship, we did not limit our friendships to these interests. One of my friends crafts jewelry and it’s fascinating to watch her work. Another friend, an engineer by training, loves to bake. After years of debating, she finally turned her passion into her living. I like spending time in her kitchen while she makes breads, pastries, and pies. I realized I needed to laugh like a girl, get silly, do different things, surprise myself.

I realized I needed friendship time without my husband and kids. I learnt to ask for it, advocate for it, and maintain it as an essential part of my life. I gave it a name – ‘health goals’ (as in emotional health) to make it tangible. I put my friend time on the calendar and committed to it rigorously. My family slowly, reluctantly, began to accept and work around it. If my older son needed help with a project or my younger one wanted to go to the park, it would need to be scheduled AFTER my Sunday morning walk with my friends. Same thing with my husband. In the past, I had worked around everyone’s schedules. Now, my activities were up there on the family calendar, for everyone to see, and my needs were prioritized, like everyone else’s.

I hope every one of us has or works on finding strong friendships and can make the effort to be a rock solid friend to other women. It is not as difficult as we think. It doesn’t require some esoteric skills. It is simply about knowing what real friendship looks like. It’s knowing what to look for. And understanding that friendship is a basic human need, necessary for us to thrive. This blog is a small example of the power of women supporting one another. Imagine what is possible with people we can meet and talk to and confide in and bond with in our daily lives.

And friendship with other women and having a good support system is the best defense against patriarchy. For feminism to thrive, friendships between women must thrive.

Please do share some of your great friendships. Or please share your challenges in finding and sustaining meaningful friendships.

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

The last post and some recent emails brought up the subject of abuse within families.  I’m glad that the email writer moved out.  She is able to analyze her situation quite rationally, which indicates that she got out in time.  Although the majority of these emails tend to come from women, men can also be victims of abuse.  One recent email from an American woman detailed how her Indian boyfriend was being emotionally blackmailed by his parents.  Many commenters advised her to stop dating him because he needed to gain control of his own life before entering into a relationship.  In my own extended family, my cousin, who I grew up with chose to not get married.  After delaying his parents’ attempts to get him married for a few years, he finally came out in the open and declared he doesn’t ever want to get married.  He is an only child and  has been subjected to emotional blackmail (such as daily threats of illness and suicide, hysteria, self-starvation) from his parents.  Five years since he announced his decision, they are still around, but I do see that he is worn down, tired, and stressed most of the time.  He was a happy, fun loving child, always following me around (I’m eight years older to him) asking me to play hide and seek with him.  It bothers me when I see him become a hollow version of himself.

Emotional abuse is a potent method of damaging someone’s psyche, especially a person’s sense of self worth and dignity.  It is potent because it often goes unrecognized.  Its incognito status allows people to inflict substantial damage on victims – as much as that through visible forms of abuse such as aggression and violence.

Socially sanctioned forms of abuse are the hardest to recognize.  In many cultures, parents have unlimited authority over their children.  Any situation where authority goes unchecked is a fertile environment for abuse.  Another culturally sanctioned form of abuse occurs with other authority figures such as teachers, boarding school staff, clerics and law enforcement officers.  This is not to say that all parents, teachers, clerics and police are abusive; but if their authority is not subject to checks and balances, there is potential for abuse, and support when it does occur.

It is important to note that in the case of parents, spouses, and intimate partners, they may not always be aware that they are turning abusive.  Although it is difficult to empathize with the abuser, he/she could also be caught up in a destructive cycle that cannot be voluntarily broken, without professional help, and distancing from the victim.

In the Indian context, parental abuse often goes unrecognized because there is an entire network of constructs, rules and operations that have been built around it.  Recognizing parental abuse threatens so many existing power structures that cultural walls have been built around it to safeguard the unquestioned authority of parents.  Accusing one’s parents of the smallest wrongs is tantamount to treason.  There is so much fear and guilt surrounding this discussion that many sons and daughters don’t dare to broach their parent’s fallibility.  Any attempt at doing so is often accompanied with tremendous guilt and self-reproach on the victim’s part.

However, problems, especially when they are deep-rooted, cannot be pretended away.  It is important for us to recognize abuse.  People are often shocked at the word ‘abuse’ when it is used in the context of their loved ones.  Ironically, it is loved ones who are the most likely to inflict abuse – their increased proximity to the victim and their sense of entitlement, and in some cases, co-dependence make intimate relationships more prone to abuse than relationships that are one step removed.

Who can inflict emotional abuse?

– Spouses/partners

– Parents on their minor children

– Parents on their adult children

– Adult children on their aging parents

– Relatives on children in the family

– Siblings

– Bullies at schools, colleges, and in cyber space

– Police on people in their custody

– Teachers and school authorities on children

– Managers on their reports

What forms does emotional abuse take?

– humiliating, excessive judging/criticizing, shaming, slandering, ridiculing, being dismissive, labeling, condescending

– controlling, taking away choices (requiring permission for going out, controlling spending, controlling routine choices like dressing, showering, eating), infantalization

– accusing (being overly suspicious, reading into every move), blaming (holding victim responsible for abuser’s problems and happiness)

– unreasonable or impossible demands

– emotional distancing, silent treatment, alienating, emotional abandonment or neglect (withholding affection, love, support, withholding communication and expecting mind reading)

– excessive codependence (treating the other person as an extension of themselves, not respecting boundaries, knowing what is best for you, being constantly needy)

– threats and intimidation (loud voice and aggressive body language meant to induce fear, direct or indirect threats to the other person, her reputation, her children, her parents, her safety)

– emotional blackmail (threats of suicide, ill-health or becoming an alcoholic), hysteria (disproportionately intense reaction to mistakes), and self-injurious behavior or threats on self-harm (cutting oneself, burning oneself)

– baiting (deliberately provoking anger through false accusations, preying upon weaknesses)

– creating no-win scenarios (asking someone to choose between two bad options – “you either starve or you apologize for something you didn’t do”, “you either cut off with your brother or cut off with me”)

Some less common forms of expression

– Symbolic suffering (setting fire to a toy or favorite object) – inflicting suffering on an inanimate object or a small animal meant as a threat or intimidation

– Engulfment – showering excessive and suffocating amounts of attention, constantly checking whereabouts, inducing guilt (when victim enjoys something) and fear, exhibiting pathological jealousy

– Stalking – either physical or via phone/email

– Gas lighting/brainwashing – omitting or twisting information to favor the abuser and make the victim doubt their own memory or understanding of events

– Recruiting – making the other person an accomplice in questionable activities

What It Feels Like

The victim often feels confused, hurt, and frightened.  (I will begin to use the female pronoun but this applies to both men and women.)  She loses confidence and begins to doubt herself.  She may doubt her own opinions and beliefs.  She may even begin to doubt facts and her own memories.  There is a sense of one’s reality slipping away.  This makes the victim feel powerless.  Most of the victim’s energy is focused on “being careful” around the abuser’s moods, trying to “read” his signals, and working hard to earn his approval.  The victim is filled with a feeling of dread; there is always the feeling that something may explode (even when things are going well).  The victim begins to blame herself when things get ugly (“if only I had been more careful, if only I got home earlier, if only I cooked his favorite meal”).  The abuser and victim go through cycles of “good” and bad phases.  During the “good” phase, the abuser regrets his actions, tries to flatter or please the victim, and makes peace.  The peace is invariably temporary and is shattered for the smallest and most unpredictable “reasons”.   Initially, the “good” phases serve the purpose of locking the victim in the destructive relationship; however in later stages, the victim begins to understand the hollowness in the kind gestures, begins to recognize the pattern to the point of being able to predict what is coming next, but is unable to break out of it.

How To Cope

There is only one way to cope with abuse.  And that is by putting physical distance between oneself (victim) and the abuser.  At first, this might mean leaving the room and refusing to engage in abusive interactions.  Eventually, moving out of the abuser’s life is necessary for survival.  Leaving requires 2 things – planning and support.  A practical plan is necessary – where will I live temporarily, how will I earn my living, etc.  The victim also needs the support of another human being – a close friend or relative who will help the victim not give in to her fears and go back to the abuser.

Even after getting away from the abuser, many victims continue to suffer the effects of abuse – they will continue to suffer from a lack of self worth, make harmful or self-destructive choices, become close to people who are another version of their previous abuser, and continue to be unhappy.  Victims need to work with a counselor and take the support of strong, reliable friends/family and work on the process of self-healing.

The abuser can recover only through psychological counseling and doing the hard work of recognizing, understanding, and modifying his own destructive behavior patterns.

Victims of abuse cannot be told or expected to “snap out of it”.  Recognizing and dealing with abuse, and supporting the victim practically and emotionally are the only ways to authentic healing.

Does vengeance equal feminism?

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Warning – spoilers on ‘Gone Girl’ – book/movie review

Has anyone read the book, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn?  A NY Times bestseller that was made into a movie starring Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, the book/movie is disturbing on many fronts.

It is meant to be dark humor when intelligent, manipulative, psychopathic Amy gets revenge on her mediocre, selfish, entitled husband Nick, through an intricately planned out and meticulously executed series of chilling crimes.

On the surface, it seems like we’re finally seeing a complex woman character, a rarity in bestsellers and Hollywood.  Amy isn’t sweet, warm and compassionate.  She IS the bad guy.  And there are reasons given for the warping of her mind as well – the emotional manipulation of her parents.

However, as you progress through the novel, Amy goes on to concoct a false murder charge against her husband (using compellingly manufactured evidence), and when that begins to fail, uses her innocent ex boyfriend in her schemes, then murders him, then accuses him of rape and abuse, returns to her husband but continues to manipulate him with threats of turning the media and law enforcement against him.

I found the plot severely undermining the very real abuse that countless women face and it almost seems to match the thinking of men’s rights activists who constantly talk about “false rape charges” and “false abuse charges” as their reason for opposition to rape and abuse laws. In reality, the law enforcement in many countries shames and silences rape victims rather than taking their reports seriously; yet, what we have here is a twilight zone of a woman victimizing several men who slighted her as well as ensnaring the entire media and law enforcement.

Gillian Flynn considers herself a feminist and claims that her book is also feminist because of its “non-conformity to the traditional perception of women as innately good characters“. Somehow, her argument doesn’t quite fly.  So, Amy is not good and sweet and boring.  However, Amy’s character feels like a comic book evil temptress, complete with the perfect sexy body and dark, destructive mind.  She’s completely stereotypical in that she brings to life the worst nightmares of misogynists.

The book is bursting at the seams with other male/female stereotypes.  Nick is clumsy, reticent, somewhat clueless, a little selfish, a “little” unfaithful, but essentially good-hearted.  Amy is classy, privileged, articulate, intelligent, and if a woman is privileged/intelligent, then of course it follows that she must also be manipulative and evil.  Nick’s mediocrity makes him “innocent” and his selfishness is “mostly unconscious” and his unfaithfulness is overshadowed (and forgiven?) by Amy’s incredible capacity for vengeance.  The “evil media” takes advantage of his male inability to pretend grief, when what he’s actually feeling is relief. (makes you want to give him a hug, doesn’t it?) Amy’s intelligence however is used for a destructive purpose. Maybe another argument for men’s preference for “simple women”?   When asked to describe his wife, Nick actually says in frustration, “She’s complicated!”  (Sorry, Nick, a woman is a human and humans are complicated, what you should’ve got yourself is a toy if you wanted something simpler.)

Other charming women characters in the book include Amy’s emotionally manipulative mother who has used her daughter for her personal fame and riches, a media siren who is bent upon making Nick’s life hell, a 20 something voluptuous student who throws herself at Nick (home wrecker?) and crime groupies who want to use Nick and take selfies of themselves with him. The only real woman in the book is Nick’s rough-around-the-edges twin sister, Margo, who also co-owns the bar with her brother. She tries to help her immature brother despite her frustration with his mistakes. She tries to remain fair to Amy even though she dislikes her. But even Margo lets us down when she says “complicated (woman) means b***h”.

Here’s a quote from the book, which has been used to illustrate the underlying feminist tone of the book –

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and jams hot dogs into her mouth …. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined manner and let their men do whatever they want. …. Men actually think this girl exists. ….. And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. …… Maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics.”

In the above sense, the book does hint at the irony of it all – the real progress that women have made in the social and emotional realm of relationships is still minuscule.  We are leading nations, heading successful companies, but who are we at home, really?  A Nooyi who is ordered to go pick up the milk?  A Sandberg who suffers mommy guilt?

Here, I began to have hope.  I thought the author was portraying how women are forced into certain roles by society and in the process, let their whole lives revolve around selfish, uncaring men who want to see a sugar coated, simplified, corseted version of them.  And I hoped that Amy would eventually refuse to be straight jacketed, that she would emerge free from the selfish expectations of society.

However what does Amy DO ABOUT THIS?  What does she do to fight this cool girl burden and set herself free?  She becomes one!!!  How un-empowering is that!  She becomes this cool girl that Nick wants her to be. And Nick predictably falls head over heels for her.  But she’s mad at him for making her do this, so she takes revenge.  There is absolutely NOTHING feminist about this.

Another argument that Flynn put forth for feminism is that women are sick of being used and brushed aside, and when Amy finally begins to take back control in the relationship, when she starts calling the shots, it’s a win for the women’s cause. On some level, is Amy’s viciousness deeply satisfying to all of us women, who are familiar with some form of oppression or the other?  I thought about this but could not find a shred of fulfillment in the self-destructive nature of vengeance.  The argument that getting even feels good is faced with one problem – relationships are not held together with a gun to someone’s head. Freeing oneself from abuse doesn’t mean abusing the abuser.  You are no longer free when you inflict pain on someone, because you are taking on a burden. Taking back control of her own life is what Amy should’ve done, not taking control of Nick’s life. Ever heard of a thing called divorce, Amy? So, much more simpler that revenge.

Feminism is not about being a martyr, nor is it about taking revenge on men for the lost opportunities, but to demand equality in all spheres of life.  And this is what makes the book extremely disturbing – because it taps into the age-old fears of men – that women are irrational, nasty, manipulative creatures, sexually controlling and bordering on insanity, who if given the power (equality misconstrued as power), can easily destroy men to bits.  This mindset of fear is at the root of misogyny and the book does a great job of amplifying it.

Gone Girl is oddly reminiscent of the film noir movies of the 1940s, which possibly reflected men’s fears about women’s newly emerging post-war independence.  A series of films had at the center of the plot, a troubled, brooding male (Robert Mitchum, Fred MacMurray, or Humphrey Bogart) who succumbed to the evil charms of an intelligent, seductive woman.  The outcome of this interaction would be destructive for both of them. The men invariably were lead astray on to a twisted path of deception, murder, and mayhem under the influence of these femme fatales.

With this book/movie (Gone Girl), the virgin-whore dichotomy is still firmly in place.  Men continue to feel torn about choosing between the “simple, good, non-threatening, but boring woman” and the “interesting, sexy, intelligent but ultimately destructive woman”.  Neither kind of woman exists in reality.  The only place they exist is in the fear-ridden minds of misogynists, and the books and movies that flow from them.

If you read the book or watched the movie, please share your thoughts on it. If you didn’t, please share your thoughts on the concept of vengeance, getting even, and feminism, or on the distorted/appropriate portrayal of strong women characters in books and movies.

Ragging Culture

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

In the following case, do the people who ragged the student understand that what they did is inherently wrong (let alone understanding that it’s a crime)?

http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/Student-Attempts-Suicide-Family-Cries-Ragging/2015/02/04/article2651563.ece

And yet another case where the parents think their son was ragged and tormented and consider his death suspicious (not an accident):

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/nujs-student-falls-to-death-parents-allege-foul-play/

In the above case, I wonder if the student shared with his parents that he was being tormented? If so, did they listen? Did they take it seriously? What specific actions were taken to curb the ragging/bullying?

Bullying is a universal problem. In the US, we deal with it in high school and the earlier part of undergraduate college. In India, we have the added problems of lack of recognition of bullying as a crime (both in homes and colleges) and improper (or lack of) law enforcement.

There is a third very important factor specific to our society – the hierarchical/power culture that pervades through many other abusive relationships (rich versus poor, elder vs younger members of family, groom’s parents vs bride’s parents in weddings and post-wedding life, upper caste vs lower caste, land owners vs farmers, upper class vs laborers, well connected vs man-on-the-street, politicians versus common man), and we can almost see this naturally extending to the campus arena – seniors versus juniors. Once again, respect is demanded for no logical reason. Respect is taken, not earned. Appeasement is seen as the only way to peace and being left alone. Fear is mistaken for respect and power drives the relationship.

I’ve known people who consider ragging as “part of life” or a “milestone in the journey to adulthood”. Some have referred to it as “character building” and a “rite of passage”; others consider it “harmless” and “fun” and for these, ragging seems to bring back nostalgic memories of their student years.

My cousin graduated from the Naval Engineering College at Lonavala about 15 years ago. The first summer he came home, he was unrecognizable. He was gaunt, bone thin, and developed a skin rash that could only be attributed to stress. During ragging he (along with others) was put through unbearable levels of physical pain and mental humiliation. He came close to quitting a few times but somehow pulled through.

But after he got married ( a few years later), when his wife asked him if the ragging at NEC was as bad as she had heard, he shrugged and replied, “It made a man out of me.”

Ragging, on the other hand, portrayed as amusing or hilarious in popular movies like 3 Idiots and Munna Bhai hasn’t helped either.

Ragging is a form of abuse, period. It can be emotional, verbal or physical. It involves repeated, possibly aggressive, humiliating, or manipulative behavior that is deliberately aimed at asserting power over another individual or group. It is harmful to the physical and emotional well being of students, something that any educational institution by its very definition, should be concerned about. In some cases, it can be violent and result in injury or death. Regardless of whether it is mild or severe, it should be treated as unacceptable.

Ragging, bullying, hazing – this destructive behavior goes by different names and takes on various forms around the world.

But it makes one wonder what goes on in these people’s minds? What are they thinking when they insult, humiliate, or harass someone? I’m on the PTA for my son’s high school and bullying is an ever-present concern at the meetings. We’ve had 2 incidents this year, one of them was milder (inappropriate language toward a gay student), but the other involved consistent, deliberate, and elaborately planned out harassment by a group of people toward one student (consistent because the victim remained silent for a longer period before complaining).

In general, education, awareness, strict law enforcement, and counseling definitely minimize/reduce the problem to some extent. There is no doubt in any student’s mind (at my son’s school) that bullying is wrong/unacceptable/illegal.

However there is another side to bullying, one that educational institutions have little control over – the student’s home environment. Despite the education and awareness that is routinely dispensed at the school in the form of talks, fliers, help lines, seminars, text alert systems, counseling, and assertiveness training, bullying still happens. Why? That’s because we don’t have complete control over the environment that creates bullies. How much of bullying happens because some children/youth grow up never learning that it is a serious crime? How many of them have heard it being referred to as something that is “part of life” or a “rite of passage”? Or things like “boys are by nature aggressive” or “boys don’t cry” or “conquer or be conquered”? How many of these children grow up being bullied by the adults who raise them?

We can only look at the behaviors of bullies and find some common underlying issues. Numerous studies indicate that most bullies tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • lacking a sense of control over their own lives
  • anger that is not dealt with constructively and often misdirected
  • low self-esteem
  • may have witnessed violence or aggression at home
  • may have seen power being used unfairly at home
  • may have been bullied by others
  • lacking in empathy
  • lacking in remorse
  • may have experienced harsh, physical punishments at home
  • possibly exposed to only win-lose situations and have seldom seen win-win relationships
  • insufficient or inappropriate socialization during childhood

And then, there are the passive bullies, the ones who don’t initiate the bullying but quickly join in when someone else gets it going. They seem to exhibit the following traits:

  • herd mentality and lack of strong opinions
  • hungry/deprived for attention
  • low self esteem
  • looking for someone ‘superior’ to latch on to
  • tendency to exhibit hero worship and unquestioning loyalty
  • lack of identity and the need to belong

There is a third group that is worth looking at – people who witness bullying. By silently watching a crime, they are knowingly or unknowingly encouraging it. A study titled “Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders” published on athealth.com concludes that “bystanders create the illusion that the bully has the support of the majority and this perception perpetuates a culture of bullying”. These people tend to –

  • not want to get involved and generally don’t take a stand on anything
  • may not connect the dots (if it’s him today, it could be me tomorrow)
  • may not see bullying as a crime and believe it is amusing
  • may be less empathetic
  • may not have been taught self-respect and individual rights in their home environment

What can colleges do to deal with ragging/bullying besides developing a strict code of law and enforcing it?

  • The first thing that comes to mind in terms of solutions is to have a zero tolerance policy or ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ against bullying behavior. But this does not necessarily solve the problem entirely. Bullies have a way of seeking out victims off campus or on social media, via smart phones or in cyber space.
  • It is therefore important for an educational institution to work on the bullying person (or persons) as an individual. Counseling may be needed for the person engaging in this behavior to see his actions as not only criminal but as genuinely wrong and hurtful to others. Counseling may also explore the underlying issues of the individual and find positive ways for him to relate to others and develop acceptable coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be easily resolved.
  • I don’t know if we have counselors at colleges and universities, or if they are trained to guide and support students in addressing their emotional health and development, but if we don’t, we should definitely work toward that goal.

A University of Albany study that examined the relationship between parental aggression toward children and the children’s behavior states that “Parents who may displace their anger, insecurity, or a persistent need to dominate and control upon their children in excessive ways have been proven to increase the likelihood that their own children will in turn become overly aggressive or controlling towards their peers.”

While we need laws against ragging/bullying and we need proper ways to enforce them, preventing bullying behavior primarily begins at home. We need to ask ourselves what we are teaching youngsters in our own homes.

On the communication front –

  • Are we using positive communication to resolve differences with our children and with each other (spouses)?
  • Is the communication style used by parents straightforward and assertive or is it manipulative/sarcastic? Words can often be used in punitive, damaging ways in the form of labeling, veiled threats, and ‘ harmless jokes’ that perpetuate stereotypes.
  • Are we listening to our children when they are angry with someone? Are we showing them ways to resolve their conflicts in acceptable, legal ways?
  • Are we able to handle our own anger at our own problems in a mature and responsible manner?
  • In conflict situations, are we addressing the problem or resorting to personal attacks?

On developing trust and self esteem –

  • Do we trust our children when they complain about abuse? Have we taught them how to stand up to any form of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual? Do we take their reports of ragging seriously?
  • Are we helping build their self-esteem by recognizing their strengths and supporting them with their challenges?
  • Are we instilling confidence in them so that they don’t feel the need for approval and/or belonging from the wrong sources?
  • Are we allowing them to develop their own identity so that they don’t feel the need to put someone down to feel superior?

On power play –

  • Are our children engaging in arguments with the sole purpose of ‘winning’ or are they engaging in discussions with the intent of learning?
  • Are we creating a democratic environment at home, with room for different ideas and viewpoints? Are children able to express disagreement without fear? Are they able to express disagreement without shouting or getting abusive with parents?
  • Are we refraining from using intimidation and aggression in the form of a loud voice, physical punishments, and threats?
  • Are we using our power as adults and parents wisely and fairly?
  • Are we showing respect to our children and earning their respect rather than expecting unquestioning obedience?

On values –

  • Are we respecting people of all cultures, communities, and backgrounds both in our words and actions? Or do we make casual racist remarks or put down people based on their caste, color, gender, orientation, or economic status? Do we subtly convey our hatred or mistrust for the ‘other’? (Children pick up on their parents’ prejudices even when they’re not overtly stated.)
  • Are we teaching them what constitutes a crime? Do our children understand that taking away someone else’s right to be educated in a safe, non-threatening environment is a crime?

The above strategies are helpful not only in preventing children from growing up to become bullies, but also in preventing them from becoming victims of bullies.

Again, it would not be entirely wrong to claim that the emotional well being of children is a low priority in traditional hierarchical families and expecting our existing parenting philosophy to change drastically is wishful thinking. However, cynicism is not the answer. I think identifying and defining the problem is the first step and a prerequisite to awareness building and finding solutions.

Bullying gives people a sense of power. It’s up to us to create and promote democratic environments (both at home and educational institutions) that don’t function on the power principle, and instead operate on awareness of individual rights, mutual respect and boundaries.

Please share your experiences with ragging and ideas on how we can change the culture of ragging.

Edited to add: A Boy’s Courage in the Face of Cowardly Bullying:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/autistic-teenager-beaten-up-by-bullies-makes-them-watch-20minute-video-about-autism-10368201.html

 

The Men in Our Lives

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Lately, we seem to be discussing a lot of situations regarding dil-mil issues.  In India, I’ve commonly heard this advice being given to dils: “C’mon, cut your mil some slack.  Wait until you become one.  Then you will feel the same way.  Understand her insecurities.  How would YOU feel when your son gets married and moves away?”

But these are not dil-mil issues.  At the root, these are husband-wife issues.  The mil is not a monster (am not referring to exceptions here).  Some mils are good people and some are not.  They are human, like everyone else, and come in many shades of goodness/badness. The average Indian mil is not inherently evil.  Rather, the husband is being an escapist and is reaping a double advantage here.

The previous generation mil is not evil, she is feeling insecure because

– she’s never been given an education (in many cases) or even if she’s educated, hasn’t been given an opportunity to pursue a career or interest, or even if she does have a career or an interest, doesn’t have true autonomy in her life (all financial and other major decisions were made by her husband)
–  in most cases, she’s never had hobbies, interests, or passions, these were seen as an inconvenience to the family who would rather be served hand and foot and adults in the household would rather be babies than do their own laundry
– she’s never had any friends or time to herself to go for a walk, read, see a movie, or just chill
she was never allowed the right to her own feelings, she MUST always feel a certain way (loving and giving to the family and completely selfless), she is not allowed to feel irritable, impulsive, angry, or disappointed at the way she gets treated by her own husband and in-laws.  (imagine how unhealthy this is for the mind and how it begins to distort someone’s thinking) She must always serve with a smile.  She couldn’t do anything on a whim. She couldn’t even visit her own parents without permission.
– she was not allowed opinions of her own.  If she disagreed on what should be done about a piece of property or how the money should be invested, she was seen as controlling.
– she did not receive much love or affection from her husband (this is downright cruel to any human being).  Whatever little warmth she received was very much conditional. If she did an outstanding job of cooking for 20+ guests, he would be nice to her in a pleased sort of way (without her realization, she got “trained” to “earn” love in a very specific way – through cooking and cleaning mostly, and giving up on her ‘self’).

(At this point, if you are a dil, you must be thinking, ‘So what?  Just because I was abused doesn’t mean I will go and abuse someone else.’  And yes, there are always exceptions.  Some mils who themselves suffered constrained lives could be happy for their dil’s opportunities, freedom, and happiness.  But, I’m not referring to exceptions here.  In many cases, the mils feel like they’ve finally been given a little bit of control – what they don’t understand is that to be genuinely happy, what we humans need is control over our OWN life, not SOMEONE ELSE’s).

– So, the previous gen mil began to look to her son as the “man” in her life.  At least the son is more openly affectionate – even if he is being a big baby and wants his shirts ironed and his meals cooked just so (nothing wrong with affection between mother and son, but in many Indian families, it takes on unhealthy nuances).
– Now when the son gets married she loses this little piece of warmth that sustained her and made all the trouble worth it.  Imagine giving up everything – your feelings, opinions, dreams, basic rights.  There’s only one last straw you are hanging on to – your children, or more precisely your son that society allows you (even approves of) to hang on to and get unhealthily attached to.
– The daughter-in-law comes into this complicated, messed up situation, rightly expects her husband to value her, but realizes she has to contend with someone else (mil) who is entirely unhappy about her happiness.
– Dil immediately starts seeing the mil as the ‘enemy’.

But there are 2 men lurking in the shadows that are responsible for this commonly unfortunate situation.
– One is the f-i-l who never treated his wife (the m-i-l) as an adult, as an equal, as a person with a right to her own feelings, opinions, desires, and dreams.  As someone who needed love and affection and emotional support from him.  As someone who needed him to share household and parenting duties.  As someone who could have achieved her full potential (as a writer/artist/teacher/banker/engineer/entrepreneur/blogger/chef/etc) if he had supported her education, her growth, and her talents. (Even in the older generation, I’ve seen a few exceptions of loving couples and in these cases, invariably, the mil is a better person, more reasonable, generous, loving to her dil)

– The second male lurking in the shadows that is responsible for all the drama is the husband (the m-i-l’s son).  He has never been an adult.  He doesn’t like picking up after himself.  His mom has done it for him all his life.  Now, he expects his wife to take over mom’s role.  If the wife complains she is working a full time job like him and can’t baby him, he pouts and conveniently let’s his mom take up this issue with dil.

– I’m not implying that all men are evil.  Some are genuinely good men, but deeply conditioned and trapped in guilt.   For many sons, it’s psychological – they are good men, genuinely trying to break out of this Oedipus complex type of situation and trying hard to have a healthy, guilt-free relationship with their wives.  But it’s hard and they’re struggling. Any attempt they make at bonding with their wives is accompanied by labels that imply that they are lesser men and tremendous guilt.  Move out of parental home? You are deserting parents! Guilt!  Buying a car for your wife and yourself?  You are splurging while parents are suffering!  Guilt!  Taking a vacation? Putting off having kids?  Visiting wife’s parents?  Guilt, guilt, guilt!

– And then there are sons for whom it’s convenient to not acknowledge that they have a role to play in this conflict.  It’s convenient to not take responsibility.  It’s convenient to dismiss the whole thing as a “women’s problem”.  They’re simply being selfish. They shift the blame on to the women (“women are women’s worst enemies”) and reap the benefits of being fought over for attention, and being served, while also being amused at the “silliness/pettiness” of women and allow themselves to feel superior.

– Regardless of whether the men are good (struggling to break out of conditioning) or selfish (and acting in ways that are convenient to them), ultimately they MUST hold themselves responsible and the wives MUST HOLD THEIR HUSBANDS RESPONSIBLE – for both husband and wife to be happy.

– What Indian women REALLY need to do is change the expectations they have for their husbands, rather than seeing their mils as enemies.

And now the answer to the question that is commonly asked of women of my generation: “What will YOU do when you become a mil?  When YOUR son gets married and moves away?  Will you not feel sad and insecure?”

The answer would be a ‘NO’ from most women who HAVE been given an education, and the opportunity to pursue a career, who were allowed to have control over their own lives and destinies.  The answer would be ‘no’ from any woman who’s been loved and treated as an equal by her husband.   Such women can love their sons but also be happy for their sons when they find love (and not feel insecure).  In fact, they would WANT that for their sons.  So, yes, it IS possible to both love your children AND set them free.

In fact I’m seeing this all around me – with my sister who is 10 years older to me and has married kids, with friends in their 50s who’s children are beginning to meet and date people. The mothers are no longer jealous or insecure.  They have a life.  They have interests.  They have friends.  They have a more fun, enriching relationship with their own husbands.  The cycle IS breaking.  We are the in-between generation.  We ARE breaking the cycle.

Yes, women need to be assertive   – but Indian men need to change as well.  That change won’t happen unless we expect it or demand it.  If we keep blaming the mils, there is no incentive for the husbands to change.  Secondary relationships can sometimes be draining on the primary relationship.  It is up to the 2 people in the primary relationship to prioritize their relationship.  For that to happen,  we Indian women need to start having higher expectations for the men in our lives.

I want to know how readers view this stance – that the responsibility for making a relationship work belongs to the 2 people involved and cannot be assigned to extraneous people or factors. Specifically I want to understand the challenges –

  • Do you and your husband consider your relationship the primary one (please know that this does not mean we stop loving our parents or our children, it just means that it begins with US – the biggest decisions will be made by US – our life and it’s direction will be defined by US)
  • Do you make all major decisions that concern each other by yourselves (and together) or do parents play a role?
  • Do you feel the need to constantly explain your choices?
  • Have you tried to assert yourself , and create your own space?
  • What is getting in the way of asserting yourself?
  • Do you live in your own space or with the husband’s parents? Do you think this arrangement is working? If not, why not? What would you like to do about it?
  • Have you tried to set boundaries, and if so, how?
  • What is the one thing you would like your husband to do? Are there more things? (here I’m talking about significant human needs like emotional support, a sense of belonging, avenues for fun. I’m not referring to how he loads the dishwasherJ)
  • Finally, and most importantly, was your husband able to overcome his Indian culture conditioning (guilt, unhealthy attachment, etc.) and does he now have a happy, guilt-free fulfilling life with you? If so, how did he get from A to B?
  • And readers who are not married, please feel free to express your views based on what you see in your own families – siblings/cousins/aunts/uncles or among friends.

 

Six True Blue Indians.

I asked a question in my last post and was hoping the contest would last a few days hours, but unfortunately there were, almost instantly, not one or two, but six correct answers.

The lack of imagination was disappointing. Too many correct guesses answers.

Can’t be helped. 🙄

The Unsung Heroes of Indian Cricket 🙄 , and the six Winners of The Prestigious Yellow Polka Dotted Cup are,

Neha

Celestialrays

Writerzblock

Igirit

Transmogrifier

PD

But all is not lost, you can still go back to the last post (click here), and without looking at the comments, read the question and see if you can guess the answer.

It’s always good to find out how true an Indian you are.

Congratulations Winners 😀

This is the root of the problem. Do you agree?

She couldn’t have been more than 50, born not before 1961. (She wasn’t sure).

Your brother is ten years older than you? That’s a lot of age difference!”

“There were four daughters in between, Dadaji didn’t ‘keep’ them… Ma used to say, if he was alive when I was born, I wouldn’t have lived either.”

[55 words fiction. Not really fiction.]

Do you think Indian (or Chinese) parents can start valuing their female babies, just because they are told that’s the right thing to do?

I found this article while looking for something else, sums up what I believe. Do you agree with what it says?

The strongest son preference is evident in societies which are rigidly patrilineal and patrilocal.

Patri-lineality implies that group membership and productive assets are passed on through the male line.

Patrilocality implies that it is normative for a woman to take up residence with her husband’s family after marriage often outside her parental village.

In these societies, in which both inheritance and marriage rules are heavily weighted in favor of men, women have little economic independence or autonomy.

Furthermore, since daughters move away from their birth homes after marriage, parents can have little expectation of subsequent physical or emotional sustenance from them since they are not living in close proximity.

Even if women are educated and employed, the fruits of their labor are monopolized by their husband’s family, and parents cannot claim a share of their daughters earnings. On the other hand, a son is expected to provide his parents with economic security and insurance. He is also expected to bring in a daughter in law who will take care of his parents physical needs in their old age.

In these societies, women also gain in prestige and status if they bear sons to continue the family line, so both women and men have a strong interest in producing sons.

In some patrilineal societies, there are additional norms which increase the burden to parents of raising daughters. Religious beliefs and social customs such as dowry and purdah serve as further instruments of patriarchal control, and reinforce son preference.

Furthermore, family honor often depends on the purity of patriarchal descent, which requires ensuring women’s sexual purity. This often entails secluding women from outside activities which implies reduced income-earning opportunities and marrying them off at young ages, before they have had a chance to develop into independent people.

In contrast, where kinship rules and norms make fewer distinctions between males and females, women have greater voice in the household and in public spaces, and face fewer constraints in becoming independent economic and social actors. In these societies, women are not constrained from providing old-age support to parents, and are valued accordingly. [Link]

So there is only one way Indian parents will begin to value their girl children. They should find them as much worth having as male children. Patrilocality and Patrilineality will have to go. All children should have equal rights and responsibilities, they should move to their own homes when they marry, and parents of both should be able to see them as support in their old age.

This is happening of course, but very slowly.

‘This is not America’, court tells married man in live-in relationship.

So this 22 year old young woman has started living with her sister’s husband (25), a father of two. The couple asked the court to protect them, because even though the wife is fine with their ‘friendship-agreement‘, the rest of the family isn’t. The Jeeja-Saali feel their lives are threatened.

Justice Hema Kohli pulled up the woman and the 25-year-old married man, saying, “This is not America. You have no right under the Hindu Marriage Act to marry twice. Anyway, the boy has his wife and she is alive and with two kids to look after…”

This kind of relationship is not new in India. I have blogged about a 15 year old who was reported ‘kidnapped’. She was found in another part of the city with her sister’s husband, 25.

The sister’s husband – the son in law, in Indian culture, is a very important family member. This man visited their house often and was treated with deference. He could beat his wife and his sister in law and control their lives because each felt the only way to save their ‘honor’ was to stay married or to get married to this man. The young sister in law felt she was unlikely to find a husband (even if this man ‘allowed‘ it) because she was ‘tainted‘. And Indian girls are raised to believe that Getting Married and Staying Married was their goal in life. So could the girl be blamed for thinking her happiness depended on this abusive, irresponsible, dishonest and married-man? If he didn’t marry her, she would be told, ‘Ab tu kaheen ki naheen rahi‘ (you are doomed now).

We have Bollywood songs (and I am sure folk songs also) describing the relationship between Jeeja-Sali. Often the son in law of the house is the only male, the young sisters in law have ever interacted with and they have grown up hearing jokes like ‘saali to aadhi gharwali‘ (a sister in law is half a wife). Also a ‘Happily Married Daughter’ is a status symbol in India, so even if the sister in law is very young (say 13 or 14) and even if she seems confused (flattered, even attracted, ashamed and guilty) with such attentions in an otherwise segregated society, the elders tend to ignore the child-abuse (that is what it is).

Most importantly, for a live-in relationship to be legally a Live-in Relationship, both, the man and his partner are required to be unmarried. A married man cannot have a ‘Live-In’ relationship.

In ‘My Feudal Lord’ a Pakistani wife, Tehmina Durrani describes the relationship between her sister, a 13 year old Aadila and her middle aged, violent and abusive husband. I blogged about another young girl, related to my maid, in Delhi. [Linked above] Such cases are not uncommon this side.

I have not heard of such cases happening in America. Are married American men permitted to marry twice? Do American wives get bullied into saying they are fine with their husbands ‘friendship-agreements’ with their sisters? Do young American girls feel they must marry the first man they ever find attractive, even if he is abusive and married?

I think the definition of a Live-in Relationship needs to made clearer to such couples. It definitely is not another name for polygamy. [Linked above]