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.

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Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

If you are a mother who works in a conventional office setting, the scenario in the following article by Katharine Zaleski may sound familiar to you:

http://fortune.com/2015/03/03/female-company-president-im-sorry-to-all-the-mothers-i-used-to-work-with/

Two telling excerpts from the article:

“I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last minute drinks with me and my team. I questioned her “commitment” even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hung over colleagues the next day.”

And

“I sat in a job interview where a male boss grilled a mother of three and asked her, “How in the world are you going to be able to commit to this job and all your kids at the same time?” I didn’t give her any visual encouragement when the mother – who was a top cable news producer at the time – looked at him and said, “Believe it or not, I like being away from my kids during the workday… just like you.””

Zaleski’s article makes some great points on

  • the attitude of younger women/male and female non-parents/male employees with kids(fathers) toward employees who are mothers
  • the very little empathy and support that mothers receive at the workplace
  • the condescension with which they are viewed when they have to cancel a meeting or need to take an unexpected day off

However, this successful, professional woman ignores the role of fathers in parenting: What I find disappointing about this article is

  • The author reserved her condescension (in the past) only for mothers, and did not extend it to fathers as well. Many men in senior management tend to be married with kids. Yet no one questions them if they have to cancel a meeting because it is assumed that the cancellation has nothing to do with parenting responsibilities or family time. This is representative of many people I’ve known here, both men and women.
  • Why is the role of fathers never discussed when we talk about over-burdened mothers?
  • When we say workplaces are “male-oriented”, what do we mean? Do we mean that they revolve around the needs of men, with little understanding of the needs of women?
  • Does this imply that taking care of kids should not be a male concern and only women workers must worry about childcare and parenting?
  • Why can’t we start using the term “parent-friendly” instead of “mother-friendly” to refer to workplaces that provide flexible schedules, work-from-home options, and more autonomy to their employees?

The change in perspective that Katharine Zaleski experienced is commendable. She started a company, PowerToFly that matches women with technical skills to remote jobs that they can perform from home. I’m glad she is doing something to make it possible to tap into the talents of countless women who lack sufficient supports at home.

However, we need to start having discussions on the role of fathers in parenting. Even in the US, men and women still play very traditional roles when it comes to parenting.

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In is in the same vein – it talks about how women need to be more assertive in the workplace but doesn’t discuss how fathers need to do their fair share at home.

We seem to be fighting for equality in the workplace but remain content with inequality at home by turning mothers into supermoms.

How can we expect people at work to treat women (and mothers) as equals if we don’t change our gender based attitudes toward housework and parenting?

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Some experiences I’ve had in this regard:

Everywhere I go, I’m seen as being solely responsible for all tasks related to children and home.

My children’s pediatrician, a woman, always concludes the visit with a list of instructions meant for me alone, even if my husband is present.

“Make sure he takes this 3 times a day with meals, “ she says, looking at me, then turns to my son and says, “Mommy’s gonna get you all better buddy!”

I encounter this at my kids’ school on the days I volunteer in the classroom.

The teacher says to some kids, “Oh look what mommy packed you for lunch today! You are one lucky kid!”

All emails from the teacher to the volunteering parents are addressed, “Dear Ladies”, and unfortunately, most of them ARE ladies.

I encounter this at my workplace too. Even the compliments are suffocating.

“I don’t know how you do it all!” (I DON’T do it all. I do my fair share of the work, my husband does his fair share and we let go the things we can’t do.)

A recent conversation with my friend, a full time working mom:

She works full time at a very aggressive company with an extremely stressful work environment. The other day, she was complaining about taking home work again over the weekend.

She said, “My boss is such a slave driver. Lucky for him, he has a stay at home wife to take care of his kids.”

So, she puts another woman down for her legitimate choice but doesn’t hold her own husband accountable.

I said to her, “They must’ve made a joint decision on that. When one parent chooses to stay home, the family takes a huge cut in income. The advantage is more work life balance, with one parent taking care of earning, while the other takes care of home duties. When both parents work, they must share cooking, cleaning, and parenting duties.   Either way, people should do whatever works for them. In both cases, both parents should share the overall work fairly. “

To this, she said, “The problem is, my husband can come home and relax, but I can’t. He doesn’t feel guilty about not spending time with my daughter or if there’s no food at home. I do.”

This then is the crux of the problem. Women are finally getting more choices and opportunities work wise. But we come home and nothing much has changed. Women still need to make those meals and care for their children. And if the working mother fails at achieving this impossible state, then she punishes herself with guilt. It’s still her job and her job alone to cook, clean, do dishes, laundry, and parent the kids.

Another seemingly small incident that brings to light the casual guilt inducing culture mothers are surrounded by:

I was in line at the grocery store. A woman in front of me with a child in tow placed 3 frozen food type of lunches, 2 cans of soup, and a carton of milk on the counter.

The cashier, who was probably just making small talk with her, said breezily, “I guess you’re not cooking today!!:)))”

The woman looked slightly stricken, and then went on to painfully explain why she was picking up those frozen food lunches and soup cans. “Well tomorrow, I’m expecting guests so I have to clean my entire house and prep for the elaborate meal I’m going to make. So, you know …. (smiles apologetically) …. I’m trying to simplify at least today’s meals.”

The cashier and the customer are probably unaware of this exchange as being guilt inducing. But it’s all around us. I’m sure he wouldn’t have made that comment to a man buying those frozen items.

Or worse, he might’ve said, “Guess, your wife’s out of town!!:))”

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For this mindset to change, we should start changing workplaces not only to support mothers but to also change our expectations for fathers. We need to start building a workplace culture that encourages work life balance – a place where a father can proudly say he needs to leave early to attend his daughter’s soccer game.

To a smaller extent, I do see this happening. One of my colleagues, a marketing manager goes for a run with his daughter on Wednesday afternoons (which is a short school day) to help her train for marathons. Another colleague, a graphic designer, alternates short and long working days with her husband, so they take turns picking up the kids and cooking. My husband and I do the same thing. I know one dad in the autism support group that I run who does business consulting work (for startups) from home and takes care of the home and kids, while his wife has a full time in-office type of job.

Sheryl Sandberg’s next book, “Lean In Together” talks about how men need to do their fair share at home.

“About time we discussed that!” was my first thought, when I heard about the book’s release – although a little voice in my head said, with the kind of money Sandberg and her husband make, did they ever have to worry about household chores when they can hire fantastic help?:-)  What do they even know about the struggles of everyday kind of families?  But let’s ignore that for a moment and look at the advice.

Although she gives suggestions that make sense (share the house work 50/50, be equally involved with your kids, etc.), the overall pitch of the book seems a bit salesy. The “perks” of gender equality at home include “better sex for spouses and better profits for companies (due to more satisfied, productive employees), more promotions to go around and 5% growth in our GDP”. This to me seems like a desperate sell to get men to do their fair share of work. Or a bid to get privileged, white boys club type managers to look down kindly on their male subordinates going home earlier to do “a bit more” at home.

Gender equality at home may not bring higher profits and higher profits and productivity and benefits to men should not be the driving force behind gender equality.

The REAL positive outcome for men from gender equality at home? Dads get to give their children hugs and wipe their tears. Dads get to cheer their kids at sports. Dads get to really know their kids and earn their trust and respect and love. Moms get to be human because the work is shared fairly. When moms feel good, they can bond better with their husbands. Husbands “benefit” too from this emotional bonding and warmth. This is not exactly in the category of “profitable” but it’s an awesome feeling and you can’t put a price on it.

But all of the above benefits to men – better bonding with their spouses and children – are things that flow from doing the right thing. We must do the right thing simply because it’s right, not for a benefit.  And I think it’s not just important to bring about change, but to do so for the right reasons, so that the change is genuine and long lasting.

Gender equality begins at home. And it matters because it’s fair. Because women deserve equality. Like everyone else. It’s that simple.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on the sharing of housework, parenting, and workplace attitudes.

I talked about my experiences in the US. If you live elsewhere, in what respects are your experiences different/same in Europe and other countries in Asia (Singapore, China, Japan, India, etc.)?

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.

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.

 

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

Nobody wants to acknowledge the real issue because the majority would rather live with skewed gender ratio than give up unfair benefits that Patriarchy gives them if they manage to have male children.

This 260 word email sums up Female Feticide in India.

“The purpose of writing this email is to share with you some thoughts that were triggered off after a conversation with a friend.
My friend is the younger daughter of her parents. Her father passed away 3 yrs ago. Her mother lives on her own in the same city where her older sister lives. My friend lives in another city with her husband and child. Her MIL stays with them.
Recently when my friend’s mother visited her, the MIL said,
In our community parents of DIL’s don’t visit their daughters often. Even if they do, they dont stay for long”.
This hurt the mother a lot and she left the same day. My friend was very upset too.
Later the mother in law said she did not mean to hurt the mother but was only sharing tradition in their community. Now my friend’s mother refuses to visit them.
After the conversation, I thought why is it that the husband’s mother can come and stay with the family without any hesitation or questions being asked? It is her right  to stay with them, no questions asked or clarifications sought.
Why is it when the wife’s mother visits, she is made to feel bad? Why? It is her right to stay on her own and denied a chance to even stay with her daughter……Is this right at all?

Why is there so much bias? And to think this is happening in 2011 and that too a woman (who herself is a mother of a daughter) offends another woman.

When will this stop?”

Legally all Indian children, sons or daughters, are required to take care of their parents.
[Link.More links in the comments]

But traditionally a son’s parents were given exclusive rights over his spouse’s care- giving, time and attention. Senior citizens who did not have any sons had to manage on their own. So sons became an asset and daughters became a liability.

I feel, only when the girl children become assets (and not liabilities) for their families, will their concerns be taken seriously by their families, law makers and the society.

So what is the only, and very obvious way to make sure that Indian parents stop wanting to kill or neglect their girl children and their happiness?

The rapists often don’t see their actions as crimes, the police said, and don’t expect the victims to report them.

Sometimes one crime and how it is reported tells so much about a society.

‘Five drunken young men from a nearby farming village accosted a couple…, beating the young man and gang-raping the woman. It was the latest in a series of brutal sexual assaults and gang rapes of women in India’s booming capital and its sprawling suburbs.’ (Thanks for the link RenKiss)

“The attackers often do not see their actions as crimes, the police said, and do not expect the women they attack to report them. “They have no doubt that they will get away with it,” said H. G. S. Dhaliwal, a deputy police commissioner in New Delhi who has investigated several such cases.”

We shall soon see where the attackers get so much confidence from.

Let’s believe the attackers really don’t see a gang rape as a crime, or at least not a serious crime.

How do they get this idea? This news report illustrates how. It’s a perfect example of how sexual crimes must NOT be reported.

One example,

“In each case there has been an explosive clash between the rapidly modernizing city and the embattled, conservative village culture upon which the capital increasingly encroaches.”

Why this effort to explain the rapists’ point of view?

And the facts are inaccurate. These rapes are a result of clashes of culture?
So rapists (some with previous criminal backgrounds) don’t rape women from their villages? (Click if you think they don’t.)

Going by the above logic a 6 month old or a 2 year old would be safe in these ‘sleepy villages’ with narrow lanes ‘redolent of cow dung’, since these babies are not ‘enjoying’ any unheard of freedoms, or romancing forbidden lovers?

What about when village girls looking for jobs in Delhi get raped by WagonR owners?

“India’s economy is expected to grow 9 percent this year, and its extended boom has brought sweeping social change. The number of women in the workforce has roughly doubled in the past 15 years.”

Can’t really blame the rapists, can we? How are they expected to adjust to ‘sweeping social changes’ and women doubling in workforce?

So women who stay inside their homes and whose lives signify no social changes are safer?

More facts.

A 60 year old, raped by her husband’s employer in her house (this rapist was earlier acquitted in a rape case), another 77 year old raped by a rikshaw puller, an 8 year old in her house, a 12 year old by her driver, 17 year old daughter of a Grade IV employee in Lady Hardinge Hospital, a 9 year old in Sarojini Nagar in her house, a 3 year old

[All examples are from Delhi]

The victims are almost invariably young, educated working women who are enjoying freedom unknown even a decade ago. The accused are almost always young high school dropouts from surrounding villages, where women who work outside the home are often seen as lacking in virtue and therefore deserving of harassment and even rape.”

Examples above show this is not true.

FACT.

Who gets raped?

Everyone. According to some statistics, only one in 69 rape cases in India are even reported. Only 20 % of those reported result in convictions for the rape accused.

Rapes happen across the social strata in India. In the Indian villages, it is the poor villager’s wife or sister or daughter who gets raped by another poor rowdy villager, and everyone from the local thanedar to the landlord. These rapes, unless the news becomes public due to unavoidable reasons, are never reported. It is reported in the newspapers or reaches the police only when a rape becomes part of a larger caste battle, family feud or political game. [Click to read and save the entire, very well written  article.]

“Seema Chowdhury, 20, the sister of one of the accused men, graduated from high school. But when she tried to enroll in college to become a teacher, her brothers refused to allow it. Young women who wander too far face many dangers, they argued.

“I wanted to do something in my life,” she said. “But they thought it was not a good idea.”

It’s so nice to see they are family men and want to see their sisters safe from men like themselves. Maybe such nice men can’t really be blamed for doing something they don’t see as a crime?

In comparison, the young woman who was raped here had unimaginable freedom. She had a job as an accountant at a garment factory and her own cellphone and e-mail account. Using those, she carried on a secret romance with a young man she met online despite the fact that her parents had arranged for her to be married to someone else, according to the police.”

Rape justification continues, so does victim blaming. The girl was asking for it by being in the wrong place, in wrong company, at a wrong time and doing the wrong thing – basically breaking all the rules these nice rapists lay down for their own nice and hence safe sister. Also note, the notorious cell phone and the internet being used to carry on a  ‘romance’ when her nice parents have arranged a nice match for her elsewhere. Maybe she asked for it?

If she was a Swiss Diplomat, working with full permission of her parents, not meeting her secret lover, she would have been safer?

When they picked up Tony …he was still drunk, Mr. Singh said.

“He was so shameless he narrated the whole thing without any sense of remorse,” he said. Tony later denied that he had raped the woman, according to the police report.

Tony had apparently assumed that the rape victim would not come forward because the shame would be too great.

Why don’t the victims feel more angry than ashamed?

This newly-wed’s rapists were also given a subtle benefit of rape justification’ because she probably opened the door and offered a glass of juice to her rapist and murderer. Did she know the rapist? That might justify the rape?

It has become a strategy to talk about a victim’s ‘shame’ instead of pointing out the rate of conviction, as reason for women not reporting.

If a victim was assured support instead of blame, do you think she would not have complained?

“on Feb. 5 a young man came into police station to report that his cellphone and laptop had been stolen. When the young man claimed they had been snatched near some isolated farmland at the edge of the city, Mr. Singh became suspicious: it was an unlikely place for a robbery.

He pressed for details, and eventually the young man admitted taking his girlfriend to the secluded area so they could be alone, and that five men had beaten him and raped her.”

Why didn’t the man want to say anything about the rape? He too had little faith in the police, and, he knew a couple being alone in a secluded spot would be seen as a bigger crime than a gang rape.

“I realized from the beginning that the girl would not help us,” the police said.

“The police will not be able to restore my honor.”

Is it really about honor?

Why don’t women report rapes to the police?

We all have heard about shame and honor etc. But there’s more.

Police. Police is the reason.

Have you ever taken a good look at the average Indian policeman? have you ever been to a police station?

A police station is an intimidating place. The cultural sophistication of the average policeman in India is pretty much that of the average roadside thug. Your average policeman hardly knows how to talk politely, is barely educated, is uncouth, brash and rude.

Is this the paragon of sensitivity a victim of rape will run to?

Add to this the rising number of custodial rapes which every one knows about. People will turn to a policeman only when they are desperate. Educated, rich people are abused by the police in India routinely and they have to call upon their networks and call upon little netas to get the policemen to treat them with some consideration.

Expect a policeman to humiliate a rape victim, turn her back, discourage her, be foul-mouthed or maybe rape her in turn.” [Click to read the article]

*

Such reporting tells a rapist that when his mother claims, “If these girls roam around openly like this, then the boys will make mistakes.” someone looking to justify rape will promptly quote her with some satisfaction.

What else do we say that gives rapists so much confidence?

Related posts:

The rapists are listening gratefully.

If he were a a woman he would have filed a case against a man everyday.

Updated:

Another example of Victim Blaming by New York Times:
Victim-blaming in the New York Times’ Cleveland gang rape article.

(Thank You Ankita Prasad)

The interference of parents in the married life of their daughters…

Pallavi shared this link.

‘The interference of parents in the married life of their daughters has become a major cause for playing havoc with the lives of young couples post marriage, the Delhi high court has said.

Daughter are supposed to become paraya dhan once they are given away in kanyadan, and any Indian man and his family would be justified in wanting a divorce if a woman’s  parents forget that.

Why I’d worry about any such biased and generalized statements. Because they encourage Indian parents to continue to disown their married daughters. Happily-Married-Daughters bring approval of the neighbours’ uncle’s nephew’s third cousin’s grandfather, so even if a married daughter is unhappy, she is advised to please adjust, or die trying. Having no one to turn to, makes her less equal and exposes her to abuse, exploitation and harassment.

Also, even if the parents were interfering in the case mentioned, it does not mean that this is becoming a trend. The idea that a woman’s parents have no right to support her once she is married, and an adult male needs to be mothered all his life, is changing and this change should be welcomed.

I wonder why there was no mention of ‘parental interference’ in these cases.

1.

Allegations that the mother-in-law kicked the daughter-in-law with her leg, told her that her mother was a liar, poisoned the ears of her son against the daughter in law, had been giving perpetual sermons and threatened her with divorce. [link]

2.

Bombay HC held that in-laws’ insistence on sari can’t amount to cruelty under the Hindu Marriage Act. [My response here.]

Deciding what an adult son’s adult spouse wears is not interference?

3.

Another mother “filed an affidavit that the daughter in law works 8 am to 8 30 pm, but does ‘no additional work’ at home.

Was this seen as interference?

*

And just how much do an Indian daughter’s parents interfere for it to have ‘become a major cause for playing havoc’ with their daughter’s marriages?

In Haryana a son beat his wife in the presence of her parents, for wearing jeans when she went shopping with them.

‘…the police promptly dispatched the battered woman … to her in-laws house, terming it as a “family matter”. No case was filed.

Promptly dispatched to her in-laws house, a paraya dhan‘s rightful home once she is married.

*

Bollywood went out of it’s way to show loving a married daughter could lead to breaking her marriage.

How would you see this scene from ‘Phagun’ (1973)  if Waheeda Rehman was the husband’s mother and not Jaya Bhaduri’s?


Related posts:

No Jeans for Indian Daughters in law.

Can’t end marriage over sari.

Loving sons who devote their days and night to maintain peace in the family.

(and many , many more)

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.

Should religion be seen as a personal matter?

Mixed with politics, religion stops being about god or personal beliefs, and starts being about taking control over lives and choices of those who follow or don’t follow it.

Religion empowered can redefine rape in the US. “Rape is only really rape if it involves force.” So an  incest victim, or an unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to resist person, should not be seen as a rape victims? [Link, ‘Yes Means Yes!‘]

All the hard work to create awareness about sexual crimes, to be undone to prevent women from having a choice in a decision that can’t be easy anyway. If it isn’t rape, then there is no justification for an abortion.

*

Religion allowed a 14 year old child in Bangladesh to be killed for ‘adultery’, when at 14, she could only have  been a victim of child abuse or rape by her 40 year old, married cousin. The rapist ran away. The 14 year old ‘endured about 80 lashes before collapsing‘.

*

Religion allowed a seventeen year old boy in Pakistan to be ‘arrested under Blasphemy ordinance for writing unpleasant remarks about the prophet’.

…Chairman Intermediate Board of Karachi… admitted that he was aware of the severe repercussions.

“It was the boy’s neck or mine. I was aware of the harsh consequences which the boy and his family would have to go through, but we could not do anything… or else we would be in hot water. The professor who checked the papers had sent reports … to other places. My hands were tied.”

*

Religion could be behind Ugandan gay rights activists, David Kato, being beaten to death.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” At his funeral the presiding pastor called on homosexuals to repent or “be punished by God” and when they protested, the pastor refused to conduct the burial. [Click to watch the video]

*

Presence of religion in politics allowed some to find justifications for Graham Staines and his two minor sons to be burnt to death while sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur,” the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities”

[The Bench later deleted this passage, click to read details.]

*

Without religion being in power, this graphic video of flogging of a Sudanese woman by policemen who are laughing at her pain, would not have been possible. It seems she was to be given 53 lashings for indecent dressing.

*

Not very different from,

Two years ago, hooligans in Mangalore used religion to object to what they claimed was indecent dressing and behavior, by beating and molesting innocent citizens. Their sentiments were hurt when they were compared to the  likes of the policemen in the video above.

Of course there is a basic difference. The victim in Sudan was legally an offender.  Indian law and society saw the violent, attacking mob as the criminal.

Not sure if they have been subjected to any kind of, what is described above as ‘teaching a lesson’.

Guardian’s attempt to stop woman from marrying genuine suitor a crime …soon.

A news article says that one in every 16 women above 32 in Saudi Arabia is  forced to stay unmarried.

“There are a variety of reasons behind this phenomenon including unemployment, a housing shortage and obsolete social traditions.

Al-Fouzan urged men to find wives closer to their age. “This would help reduce the number of unmarried women,” he said. [Link, “Four Million single women in Saudi Arabia by 2015“]

A group of young Saudi men have launched a campaign to convince Saudi men of the unappreciated virtues of polygamy.

Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi blogger who often writes about women’s issues, said…

“… they want to convince the men to marry older women… The men want virgins, not older women or divorcees. The problem is that we have a lot of women in their late 20s or 30s who are not married and which men are not interested in, while the young ladies don’t want to be the second wife as their first marriage.”

Saudi men see polygamy as their right and prefer to marry young girls. Dowry – given by the husband to the bride’s father, makes it easier for richer, often older men to marry young women. Girls are often forced into such marriages.

Some academics are suggesting that suicide, especially among the young, is increasing. “…80 percent of these cases involved girls or young women. Causes included domestic abuse, favoritism expressed by parents toward male siblings, forced marriage and preventing marriage…”

The HRC is also seeking to include forced marriage as a human trafficking crime. A common motive for forced marriage is a father’s attempt to strengthen bonds between families or friends, often in exchange for a dowry that the father steals from his daughter.

*
In some cases women, especially employed women, are prevented from getting married by their fathers, who deny them permission, out of concern of losing the household income. From the comments that follow this article it seems girls supporting their families is appreciated although Saudi girls are not allowed to drive and they can’t buy a car with their hard earned money, without a male guardian’s permission.
Once married whatever they earn, they might have to hand over to their husband who might otherwise ‘boot’ them out of their home. [link]
*
*

“…the rising number of Saudi men marrying non-Saudi women is also contributing to the rise of single Saudi women.” Under current Saudi rules, Saudi women are not allowed to marry foreign men unless under exceptional circumstances. (This too is likely to change).

“…more and more young Saudi women are well educated, financially independent and exposed to different ways of thinking about themselves, relationships and their roles in society… this leads many young Saudi women to refuse the advances of men seeking to take a second, third or fourth wife.

Some women seek out foreign men, in the hopes that they will not end up in a polygamous marriage.

*

All Saudi women are not unaware of injustice in the situation, they do object, question, and even write about it. Are young men finding ways to rebel too?

Last month, the HRC announced its effort to include the crime of adhl in the Kingdom’s official definition of human trafficking, which would codify a punishment of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to SR1 million to any guardian found guilty of preventing a woman’s right to marry a man otherwise deemed acceptable by Shariah.

Along with these changes, would it not be simpler if everybody had control over their own income? And some day, also over their own lives?