The Changing Role of Dads

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a homemaker (when my kids were little), I was in this playgroup of 5 kids and their parents. 4 of them were moms and there was one dad. It was my first time meeting a full time stay-at-home dad. He was completely capable and handled tantrums, diaper leaks, eating disasters, and slushy mud puddles with ease and a great sense of humor. This was about 10 years ago.

Now I meet stay-at-home dads everywhere – in my neighborhood, at work, at my kids’ school, in my support group. Some of them work from home. Some of them run businesses from home.  Others take care of their little kids and the house full time.

In the last post, Chaiwallah brought up the point about a man being discriminated for being a homemaker. I do not see this discrimination as something separate (men’s suffering versus women’s suffering in patriarchy) but as connected. The more we encourage gentleness and caring in boys, the more nurturing and helpful they will be at home when they become parents. Dads doing their fair share at home supports moms’ empowerment. If men are free of stereotypes, then women are free to make more choices. If men can choose to stay at home more, then women can choose to be more career focused (in families that prefer to have this division of labor). If both parents choose to work outside the home, then both can share the housework and childcare fairly without attaching gender labels to these duties.

Here’s a sampling of some recent ads about dads. Of course, for every one of these ads, there are a 1000 others that show women in traditional roles.  In reality, (if we look at stats worldwide) men have a long way to go in terms of doing their fair share at home. But, look around you. Things are changing, little by little. The fact that businesses want to spend millions of dollars positioning their products around this cultural shift means that the shift is happening. It means we are beginning to lean toward the following notions:

  • gentleness, warmth, and caring don’t make a man any less of a human being
  • the ability to demonstrate emotions makes a human being stronger, not weaker
  • dads are not clueless at home, they can be relied on to do their part at home and keep the family running smoothly, and they can multi-task as well as moms
  • housework, cooking, and cleaning are not “inferior” jobs assigned to “less capable” people (read women), they are simply – jobs that need to get done -and every person (man or woman) has to learn to do them.

Swiffer Ad – dads cleaning the house, watching kids jumping in puddles. Dad complains, “no such thing as deep couch sitting” 🙂

Dove Ad –Dads kissing, hugging, playing with their children. Dads helping kids out of stuck shirts, cleaning them after toilet use, ready to help when they’re stuck on a road, when they’re afraid of water, when they have a bad dream, when they’re distressed.

Tide – Child napping with dad.

Cheerios – A funny ad about a capable, confident dad – it’s called “How to dad” 🙂

Extra gum Origami – Dad is there with daughter through all the stages of growing.

Johnson’s – Dads comfortable conveying their love through touch, caring for their babies, being delighted in them.

And here’s a dad who’s better at cleaning than mom – because cleaning is just like any other skill – it isn’t gender specific – some people are great at it, others not so great 🙂 Some people enjoy it, others don’t.

 

Watching these ads, I am reminded of my childhood. My father would practice volleyball with me to help me win the matches at school. The ball would keep going over the fence and he would quickly scale the fence and get it back in a jiffy. Bonus points for teaching me as well how to scale the fence 🙂 He was also a great cook and could make the best eggplant bhajjis. He would slice them so thinly and dip them in such light batter that they would just melt in the mouth.

Please share if you had fun experiences with your dads at home doing things that break stereotypes. Also, if you have seen other nice dad ads, please share.

Do you agree that things are changing in this regard? Or do you feel they are predominantly the same?  What has been your experience with your father/husband/siblings/friends/coworkers?  If you’re a guy, please add how you feel about all this.  Do you want to change things?  Do you want to be a different kind of dad from your own (assuming your own played a traditional father’s role)?

Related Posts:

I Want To Be A Dad. – Radhika Vaz

“My problem is my wife doesn’t like me hanging out with friends.”

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s body and Willow Smith’s hair.

An email from an Indian father: I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone…

Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

The Men in Our Lives

Why are these dads such a threat to patriarchal social structures?

Dad wears short shorts to teach daughter what she wears is everybody’s business and everybody’s approval proves her great worth.

“My dad tells me not to wear skimpy outfit when he is around”

“I know my dad is short tempered but he was never this aggressive until my relatives started making him over think about my marriage.”

Dad knifes girl for speaking to lover

Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.

“Freedom can wait, I’m staying put for Dad”

Abhishek Bachchan as a Working Dad in the new Idea ad.

“My husband says he can’t go against his family. My father says study but not without your FIL’s permission.”

“Ask your father if he has never beaten your mother!” Please adjust.

Response to “Koi Baap Apni Beti Ko Kab Jaane Se Rok Paya Hai”

Haryana killing : Here is a father A P Singh might want to defend.

“This dad is openly threatening his daughter and is instigating others to burn alive their daughters.”

The father threw the baby on the ground and tried to strangle her with his legs: No case registered.

Father wants the world to know her real name.

Feminism Is Good For Society

Where do they go away?

 

 

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Vedic Wedding Rituals and Society – a feminist perspective

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

After the Thali post, a few readers (Simple Girl, Fem, Aarti, SB, etc.) wanted to discuss the topic of Vedic wedding rituals and society further – so here goes.

Vedic wedding practices are outlined in parts of the Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and the Sama Veda. They are outlined in the Grhyasutras (within the Vedas). Some information about how weddings in the time of the Rig Veda took place can also be gleaned from the description of Surya’s wedding ceremony. Although this is an allegorical tale, scholars think that the rituals described reflect the practices of those times.

There is a startling amount of similarity between Vedic weddings and current day Hindu weddings. Some may find this ability to preserve traditions over several centuries – this sense of rootedness – admirable; others may see this as rigidity and unwillingness to change and evolve.

There are various interpretations of the Vedas and scholars argue over which is the right way to interpret the writings. There are 3 main reasons for this:

  • The language of the Vedas is an archaic form of Sanskrit, it’s exact form and grammar are now lost to us. Scholars must use their knowledge of later versions of Sanskrit and do their best to interpret the text.
  • The Vedas seem to be written in some kind of a code – the literal interpretation leads to one message and the symbolic/metaphorical interpretation leads to quite another.
  • For a long time, the Vedas were of the ‘Sruti’ variety of literature, that is they were passed on through the oral tradition. Later, they were recorded and became a written form of literature – thus a lot of meaning/significance could’ve been lost in the transcription.

Due to the above reasons, there is a lot of disagreement over the meanings hidden in the verses and it becomes difficult to draw conclusions about Vedic culture. For instance, was Vedic culture egalitarian or was it hierarchical? Were women treated as equals or were they subordinate to men?

I will list and briefly describe just a few primary rituals (there are many others).

Kanya Danam – the father “gives” his daughter as a “gift” to the groom by placing the bride’s hand in the groom’s hand.

The Kamasukta verse recited here is:

Who offered this maiden?, to whom is she offered? Kama (the god of love) gave her to me, that I may love her May the heaven bestow thee, may the earth receive thee

The words “that I may love her” are beautiful but the remaining words – ‘offered’, ‘received’, and ‘bestow’ seem not to indicate independent agency for the bride. Was kanyadaanam a mere formality or was the ownership of women a fact of life? We don’t know.

What we do know for a fact is that the concept of kanyadaan exists even to this day. It remains not only symbolic of the ownership exercised over women by the male members of her family, but also translates to practical life. Women are infantilized both by their birth family as well as by the husband’s family. Many married women are still required to take permission even to step out.

Pani grahanam – a ‘holding of the hand’ to symbolize marital union.

The Vedic chant here is:

I take thy hand in mine, yearning for happiness, I ask thee, to live with me, as thy husband, Till both of us, with age, grow old, Know this, as I declare, to the Gods, that I may fulfill, my Dharmas of the householder, with thee, This I am, That art thou, The Sāman I, the Ŗc thou, The Heavens I, the Earth thou

All of the above lines are acceptable – I especially like that he ‘asks’ her hand and I also like the line about growing old together.   Is the Heaven/Earth analogy meant to be lyrical or does it indicate gender hierarchy? There are several other verses in the Vedas where the men ‘give’ and women ‘’receive’, expressed through imagery.

Kankanabandhana – tying twin bracelets to each other as a symbol of their union and to ward off evil. This practice has a ring of equality to it. The groom AND the bride wear identical ornaments that signify commitment. But why did this practice disappear over time?

This was the practice that seemed to have evolved much later into the tying of the mangalsutra or thali where the tying is done ONLY to the bride. The thread also came to be linked to the husband’s health and long life.  There is no marriage ritual that prays for the health and long life of the bride. Did we become more gender hierarchical over time?

Sapta padi – there are many interpretations of the seven vows, here is a nicer/saner one from Hinduism Today:

  • The first step is taken to earn and provide a living for their household or family.
  • The second step is taken to build physical, mental, and spiritual powers and to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • The third step is taken to earn and increase their wealth by righteous and proper means.
  • The fourth step is taken to acquire knowledge, happiness, and harmony by mutual love, respect, understanding, and faith.
  • The fifth step is taken to have children for whom the couple will be responsible and to blessed with healthy, righteous, and brave children.
  • The sixth step is taken for self-control and longevity.
  • The seventh step is taken to be true to each other, loyal and remain life-long companions by this wedlock.

Completion of the seventh step is the moment of completion of the marriage ritual.

And here is a misogynistic interpretation: http://varan_bhaath.tripod.com/Pages/Saptapadi.htm When I recently asked our family priest at my niece’s wedding to give me an English translation of the Saptapadi, he gave me something very similar to the above.

Note that the nicer version replaces “sons” with children, for instance. The use of ‘You’ and ‘I’ (with separate roles and responsibilities) is replaced with ‘we’ and common responsibilities. Once again, there is a lot of confusion and disagreement over the “correct” interpretation.

Surya’s wedding ceremony – although this tale is said to be symbolic of cosmic events, scholars also think that the wedding rituals described were reflective of the times.   The bride’s journey to the groom’s home is described in great detail.

Raibhi was her dear bridal friend, and Narasamsi led her home. Lovely was Sūrya’s robe: she came to that which Gatha had adorned. Thought was the pillow of her couch, sight was the unguent for her eyes. Her treasury was earth and heaven, when Sūrya went unto her Lord.

Surya journeying to her husband’s home indicates patrilocality. We don’t know if this is a one off instance or if this was the general trend in Vedic times.

What we do know is that patrilocality is an important part of present day marriages in our society. Women are routinely expected to give up their jobs, move to another city/country, or move in with the husband’s joint family.

Origin and Timeline of the Vedas:

The Vedas were written over a period of time from 1500 through 1000 BC by nomadic Indo-European Aryan tribes as they crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and migrated to the North Western parts of the Indian subcontinent. The Vedas were passed through oral tradition in an old form of Sanskrit long before they were written down.

Content:

The Rig Veda is mostly composed of hymns to various Gods. Most of the Gods were the same/similar to other Indo-European Gods and were nature/element based (fire, earth, sky, water, wind). Thus we can see close similarities between these Vedic Gods (Indra, Agni, Soma, Mitra, Vayu, Varuna, Yama, etc.), Greek Gods (Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes), and Persian and Nordic Gods.

The remaining Vedas contain more hymns as well as other poems, allegorical tales, and philosophical explorations in the physical and spiritual realms.

Ideas Espoused in the Vedas

The Vedas contain rational/scientific/skeptical elements as well as ideas that would be considered regressive/questionable in current time. We don’t know if the latter represent mis-interpretation of the original ideas, added on at later stages, or if such ideas are actually part of the Vedas.

Scientific/Philosophical/Literary Elements

There is a lot of philosophical questioning and agnosticism. The Nasadiya Sukta or creation hymn questions the very existence of God and describes the origins of the universe in ways that run parallel to what modern physicists believe. Many prominent quantum physicists such as Schrödinger, Bohr, and Einstein have written that they were influenced by some of the ideas proposed in the Vedas. There are also parallels between plasma physics and the Vedas. Carl Sagan said that Vedic Cosmology is the only one in which the time scales correspond to those of modern cosmology. The concept of a genderless God (Arthanareeshvara) is unique to Vedic thought.

The story of the Great Flood which appears with Prajapati as the Matsya (later versions identify Vishnu as Matsya Avatara) is said to signify evolution, as the earliest forms of life were aquatic. Similar stories of ‘The Great Flood’ appear in other cultures (Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Mayan, Persian, Greek, Biblical). Another interpretation is that the people of ancient times must’ve experienced a natural disaster and passed this experience down the generations in various forms and variations.

Long before there was science, there was philosophy. Philosophers were the scientists of ancient times – they asked questions, they observed. They lacked scientific methods, accuracy, precision, and data collection. But they had endless curiosity and a love of learning.

The Vedas are not the word of God (like the Gita, Bible, and other later religious texts) but the words of man – man’s thoughts, troubles, explanations, and interpretations of the world he lived in. There are no rewards and punishments, no heaven or hell. There are more metaphors, allegories, personifications, and symbolism here than the combined works of Homer, Sophocles, and Dante. This is the refreshing aspect of the Vedas.

It is a fascinating thought isn’t it – that someone just like you and me, sat down at the end of a tired day, looked up at the night sky, saw the same constellations as us, as they composed these intriguing poems. They wondered about the same things: Who are we and where do we come from?

Precursor to the Caste System

And yet, the Vedas also contain concepts that are the precursors for so many troublesome/regressive/misogynistic/discriminatory aspects of current day Indian society.

  • The Vedas were composed/written in such an esoteric form that the possession and understanding of Vedic knowledge could only belong to an elite class of scholars. This is never a good idea for any society – knowledge sharing must always be a democratic process.
  • The power struggles in the Vedic period became the precursor for the caste system. The warrior class reigned supreme in the beginning, but later the priests became important as rituals became more important.
  • Philosophical exploration and questioning became less important and rituals became more and more significant. Rituals also became less symbolic, more literal, and twisted to favor those in power.
  • Other (Nastika) schools of thought (Carvaka, Buddhist, Jain) tried to overcome the dominance of the priestly class and their excessive adherence to rituals, but were sidelined and Asthika schools of thought became the predominant form of Hinduism.

Treatment of Women

Like all other ancient societies, our stories from the Ithihasas (Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas, which came after the Upanishads which came after the Vedas) indicate that women were not equals to men. Draupadi was gambled away in a game of dice, literally reduced to a pawn in a war between men. (Some scholars postulate that the disrobing scene was absent in earlier versions and was added later during the Bhakti movement.) Sita, who loved Rama with all her heart and soul, was suspected of unfaithfulness and humiliated by being asked to ‘prove’ herself. Women in our epics are portrayed as being treated unfairly. Men were blessed “Ayushman Bhava” (may you live a long life) but women were blessed (Akhada Sowbhagyavathi Bhava (may your husband live a long life) and also with the famous “May you be blessed with a hundred sons.”

When did this preference for the male child begin? In Vedic times? If so, how do we reconcile this discrimination with egalitarian concepts of Adi Shakti (primeval feminine omniscient power) and Arthanareeshvara (androgynous/genderless God) and Durga (Goddess and slayer of demons)?

There are a few women scholars and ascetics mentioned in the Vedas – Ghosha, Lopamudra, Maitreyi, Gargi – but then these women are always portrayed as outliers and needed to stand up against society’s norms and expectations in order to be recognized and accepted. Women in many verses were also required to be “pure” and perfect” which can hardly be described as human.

Androcentrism

So, the question continues to haunt us: Is Vedic culture egalitarian/feminist or patriarchal/sexist?

An interesting answer is provided by the following paper.

Anya Gurholt at Westminster College argues in her paper, “The Androgyny of Enlightenment: Questioning Women’s Status in Ancient Indian Religions” that the fundamental ideas and theories in the Vedas are egalitarian but Vedic society and philosophical organizations were patriarchal and sexist in their interpretation, practice and implementation of the ideas . The reason she gives for this is androcentrism – the original Vedic ideas were recorded, interpreted, discussed, translated, and established in society by men.

Quote from her paper: “This fact is referred to as androcentrism, which is, viewing the world from a male perspective, whilst women are viewed and treated as passive objects, rather than active, subjects of history.”

Gurholt concludes by saying that the (patriarchal and sexist) PRACTICES of Hinduism and Buddhism are in contradiction with the original egalitarian PRINCIPLES of these philosophies. (The related reference is included at the end.)

This is why we also need female historians, scribes, professors, philosophers, priests/clerics/rabbis (besides male ones) so we may avoid bias and retain objectivity and truth.

Conclusion

This post seems to have raised more questions than provided answers. I personally feel that the Vedas (like any other ancient text) should be treated as a piece of ancient literature that reflected the big questions and struggles of that ancient time. To me, it is futile to make literal translations of these beautifully composed hymns riddled with multi-layered metaphors and turn them into rigid prescriptions on how to live (which is what the later Hindu sacred texts like the Upanishads and the Puranas tended to do).  The Vedas should be studied from a historical/literary/philosophical perspective for their many intriguing elements. Insisting on literally interpreting and following 10,000-year-old rituals is akin to resisting evolution.

Evolution is a beautiful thing – it created humans with complex brains. Without evolution, we would be Neanderthals, or going back further, we would be Primates, and if we kept on resisting evolution, we would still be unicellular organisms.

Perhaps the great sages and philosophers who composed the Vedas – if they could see us today – would be surprised and disappointed at how irrational and dogmatic we have become.  How much our present day culture fears questioning and truth seeking, which ironically is the essence of the Vedas.

How we live and let live should be guided by current knowledge of the world, and shaped by the accumulated knowledge and experiences of the past seven to ten thousand years, the time that has passed since the writing of the Vedas.

References – research papers, books, articles, Wiki entries related to this topic

Hawley, John S., and Wulff, Donna M. 1996. Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley, CA

Kinsley, Davis R. 1993. Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective

Lalita, K., and Tharu, Susie. 1991. Women Writing in India (600 B.C.[E] to the Present).

Lang, Karen. 1999. Women in Ancient India. In Women’s Roles in Ancient India

A Critique of the Early Buddhist Texts: The Doctrine of Woman’s Incapability of Becoming an Enlightened One. 2002. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies

Barnes, Nancy S. 1987. Buddhism. In Women in World Religions, edited by Arvind Sharma. Albany, NY

Cabezon, Jose I. 1985. Buddhism, Sexuality, and Gender. Albany, NY

Falk, Nancy. 1974. An Image of Women in Old Buddhist Literature: the Daughter’s of Mara. In

Women and Religion: Papers of the Working Group on Women and Religion, edited by Plaskow, Judith., Joan Arnold Romero. Montana

Gross, Rita M. 1993. Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction Buddhism. New York: State University

Anya Gurholt, The Androgyny of Enlightenment: Questioning Women’s Status in Ancient Indian Religions, Westminster College

H. Wilson’s Rig Veda Sanhita (1800s)

Ralph Griffith’s The Hymns of the Rig Veda (late 1800s or early 1900s not sure)

‘Rgveda for the Layman’ by Dr. Shyam Ghosh, and Vedic Physics by Dr. Ram Mohan Roy (for those interested in the physics angle).

Harvard Oriental Series – 50 volumes that discuss different aspects of the Vedas.

http://www.metaphysicalmusing.com/articles/rigveda2014/plasma.htm ( for those interested in Plasma physics – this link gives many other references)

Writings by/Biography of Niels Bohr

Creation Hymn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasadiya_Sukta

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

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.

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!!:))”

———————————————————————————————————–

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.)?

A Woman Who Doesn’t Have to Fit In

A Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Khoobsoorat – Movie Review

(Warning – Spoilers, lots of them)

When my niece recommended I watch this film, I was skeptical. It sounded like a predictable Bollywood romance, replete with beautiful sets, fine costumes and jewelry, one dimensional characters with very little subtlety, and situations that are too easily resolved, usually through the use of lectures and bit of melodrama.

It turned out to be some of the above. But despite these predictable traits, the movie surprised me.

The Protagonist

What I liked about the film is of course the protagonist Mili (Sonam Kapoor). Or rather, I came to like her. Cautiously. Gradually.

Mili is silly, irritating, and clumsy. She puts up her feet on the dashboard, drinks from the wine bottle, and eats messy food with her hands. She takes selfies of herself everywhere. I thought, “And THIS is what they call ‘spontaneous/bubbly’?” I rolled my eyes.

But over the course of the film, Mili emerges as a woman who likes herself and is not excessively concerned whether others approve of her or not.

She is very good at what she does (physiotherapy) and she does it unconventionally and with lots of heart thrown in.

Mili has had 3 breakups so far (shown funnily in a little flashback) and even though she’s just had it with men for a while, she hasn’t had it with life. In fact, she’s enjoying life more than usual, with the complications of a relationship removed.

Mili dares to dream. She isn’t overly awed by Prince Vikram’s wealth or class. At first she’s attracted to him, and then she begins to like him when she sees his human side. As she finds herself becoming closer to him, her only worry is that he is engaged. Never once does she feel he is “unreachable”. It’s as if she’s always seen him as an equal, as another human being. She conveys an easy, natural sense of self-worth here.

Supporting Characters

Another pleasant surprise – there are two other strong female characters in the film – the Maharani, Vikram’s mother, played by Rathna Pathak, and Manju (played by Kirron Kher), Mili’s kick-ass, Punjabi mom. Both characters were portrayed reasonably well. Power does not make the Maharani evil and being middle class does not make Mili’s mom servile.

The Maharani, although strict and rule bound, never raises her voice or gets abusive as befitting her classy background. Her bossiness is restrained, her dismissals aloof, her rebuttals are often polite, and her language is impeccably clean. And there are layers to her. You can understand that she needs to be authoritarian in order to run such a large estate, several businesses, and keep an army of staff running smoothly. You also sense she is protective of the wheelchair-bound Maharaja. She will not let anyone cross the wall he has built around himself. She fears that it could be devastating to him. Gradually, their previous relationship is revealed. How they played polo and tennis together. How the Maharani had love and friendship and playfulness from her husband before one tragic incident brought their lives to a screeching halt. Theirs was (and is) an equal marriage, a rarity among older (or even younger?) Bollywood characters.

As a foil to the Maharani’s character is Manju, Mili’s mom – loud, bull dozer like, and calls a spade a spade. You can tell where Mili gets her guts and a bit of craziness from. Manju often advises her daughter to “go get “em” if she needs to and to “not take any crap from the guy’s family”. That really made me laugh with happiness!:)

And now, coming to the male lead – Prince Vikram played by Fawad Khan. The actor is smoky handsome and sexy (I can see why my niece was so hooked on this movie now:). When I say sexy, I don’t just mean his physical attributes. I think people who are good looking in an empty sort of way are seldom sexy. He has what attractive men and women have – an air of mystery, a certain aloofness, quiet confidence that doesn’t require loudness or aggression, a reluctance to easily reveal himself and yet he does so in vulnerable moments. And when he does reveal himself here and there unintentionally, you like what you see.

When Mili accuses him of not joining the party with the servants because he has to maintain his distance/status, he replies, “Yeah …. something like that.” He doesn’t deny that the class gap exists and he doesn’t have all the answers. And then adds, “or perhaps, they (servants) would prefer it that way (him not joining their fun).”

He is puzzled by Mili’s craziness. He is befuddled by her impulsiveness. He is wary of her inclination to say things without a filter. He is jolted by her tendency to act on whim, without the slightest though to consequences.

But when he watches his mother’s reaction to Mili’s wackiness, he is secretly amused. All of his emotions were subtly conveyed – a raised eyebrow, a shrug, a warning look, a little hesitation, a tensing of the shoulders, a bit of subtle sarcasm, or some delicate rephrasing of an otherwise crass situation.

There is great chemistry between the two characters. In both the kissing/hugging scenes, they are BOTH drawn to each other, the feeling is mutual, and Mili as the woman is a willing partner, and once she is also the initiator.

Vikram finds himself reluctantly but helplessly drawn to Mili, despite his rational understanding of the volcano he’s walking into. Mili, on the other hand, true to her character, courts fire, and gives no thought to the consequences.

Humor

There are several funny moments – some everyday situations, some contrived. When Mili asks people from the royal family to join her skype call with mom, her mother puts on a sweet smile, but once they leave, blasts Mili for doing this to her when “she’s cutting onions and sweating in the kitchen”.

When the kidnappers tell Mili they’re just getting started with their ransom “business” and she’s their first victim, Mili who is now high on something, says, “I get it. I remember being excited too – when I got my first client.”

Mili’s breakups are funny – one is with a clueless guy who has found his soul mate in another clueless girl. Another guy is just someone who couldn’t handle Mili’s feet on his dashboard anymore.

And Vikram’s use of “hum” (we) to refer to himself are greeted by irreverent Mili (and her mom) with a “Who the heck is We?? Hello?? I see only one person here!”

I chuckled when the Maharani (upon being confronted in the middle of the night by Manju) says with lovely poise, “I’m sorry but I need my 8 hours of sleep. Can we discuss these “interesting” theories of yours in the morning?”

Room for Improvement

I thought they could’ve balanced out Mili’s character a bit – she doesn’t ALWAYS have to be smiling or ALWAYS have to drop things – we get it – she’s a fun gal and a tad clumsy. But when Vikram tells her they cannot share a future because they are so different, Mili hardens and softens at the same time. She looks at him both angrily and sadly and says, “I agree.” This is where her character looks more complete, more multi-dimensional. I wish there were a few more of these contemplative moments for Mili.

The confrontation between the moms was unnecessary and Manju’s pettiness and arguing to the bitter end dragged down the last part of the movie a bit.

I also thought the Maharaja’s situation was resolved a bit too simplistically. While I appreciate Mili’s determination to do her job as a therapist and her efforts to bring fun back into his life because she believes it will help him recover, I wish she never explicitly TOLD him he is stuck at the time of the accident, and needs to start living again. I wish she had trusted his capacity for self-direction. And I wish he had taken that first step forward himself, with her support.

The Ending

Loved the ending though! It is the royal family that learns to relax and adapt to Mili’s crazy ways rather than Mili changing herself to fit into the clan’s honored traditions. This is not shown explicitly but implied through the Maharani’s humorous acceptance of Mili and the last credits song.

The movie is based on an older film of the same name starring Rekha. And it does have shades of the Sound of Music. I’m not sure if it passes the Bechdel test but overall, I confess I enjoyed this movie. Charming characters, three strong women, one dashing prince, a hauntingly beautiful palace, and lots of heart make this a warm, pleasant ride. Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

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.

 

Kyonkee Husbands bhi kabhi Sons the.

One hears about men “caught between the woman who raised them and the woman they have to spend their life with.”

I have met mothers who seem to want to protect their adult, married, sons from their spouse’s lack of consideration and ‘attempts to dominate’. And I have met wives who want to undo the damage caused by a neglectful mothers.

One mother said her son complained that he missed hot chappaties because his wife was working and he wished she would work from home. He told his mother that he wished the younger woman was like her, well read and intelligent, but also an efficient homemaker.

Does he sound like he was caught between two bickering women? His mother did demand the daughter in law changes her job, I blogged about it here, but at the time I had blamed only the mother.

Another son complained that his wife couldn’t keep the house as clean as his mother did and wanted the mother to teach her how to run a house (in this case he was unemployed and had lost the mother’s savings in poor investments, but I am sure one doesn’t need to be unemployed to object to incompetence). The incompetent wife is under the impression that the son had an unhappy childhood because the mother was busy making a career, he missed being served hot meals.

Does he sound like a victim? He says the quarrels between the two of them make him go crazy and perhaps he needs to be ‘strict’ (this was meant to be a joke). He reminded me of Ruchi’s husband.

A third son I know had complained to his mother that the wife was not capable of taking good care of the children. I know that in this case his mother advised him to participate in child rearing. This same man also complains to his wife about his mother’s lack of interest in cooking during his childhood, but the wife hired a cook so she could give more time to the kids (who were anyway doing great).

Obviously these are just a few cases, but I am sure there are many more such husbands and sons.

In the first half of a two-part series, clinical psychologist Salma Prabhu advises men on how to keep mother and wife happy.

Do take a look. (Thanks for sharing Kavitha)

Here are some parts I noticed.

“… if a man is unable to take decisions alone it reflects upon the mother. Such a relationship could become overly protective and hamper growth. “

“…you both are going to raise children together, send them off into their own lives and grow old together…”

“Respect is the most vital element… Your mother loves you unconditionally and will ignore disrespectful behaviour, but a wife has expectations and cannot forgive transgressions…”

What do you think?

Related posts:

The Invisible family member in the saas bahu post..

Ruchi’s husband.

My dreams are more precious than yours.

[‘Kyonki Husbands bhi kahbi Sons the’  translates to ‘Because husbands too were once sons.’ ]

Some happy relationship rules. Add yours?

These rules make even more sense after the last three posts.

  1. If a man wants you, nothing can keep him away. If he doesn’t want you, nothing can make him stay.
  2. Stop making excuses for a man and his behavior.
  3. Allow your intuition (or spirit) to save you from heartache.
  4. Stop trying to change yourself for a relationship that’s not meant to be.
  5. Slower is better.
  6. Never live your life for a man before you find what makes you truly happy.
  7. If a relationship ends because the man was not treating you as you deserve then heck no, you can’t “be friends”. A friend wouldn’t mistreat a friend. Don’t settle.
  8. If you feel like he is stringing you along, then he probably is.
  9. Don’t stay because you think “it will get better.” You’ll be mad at yourself a year later for staying when things are not better.
  10. The only person you can control in a relationship is you.
  11. Avoid men who’ve got a bunch of children by a bunch of different women. He didn’t marry them when he got them pregnant, why would he treat you any differently?
  12. Always have your own set of friends separate from his.
  13. Maintain boundaries in how a guy treats you.
  14. If something bothers you, speak up.
  15. Never let a man know everything. He will use it against you later.
  16. You cannot change a man’s behavior. Change comes from within.
  17. Don’t EVER make him feel he is more important than you are…even if he has more education or in a better job.
  18. Do not make him into a quasi-god. He is a man, nothing more nothing less.
  19. Never let a man define who you are.
  20. Never borrow someone else’s man.
  21. If he cheated with you, he’ll cheat on you.
  22. A man will only treat you the way you ALLOW him to treat you.
  23. You should not be the one doing all the bending…compromise is a two way street.
  24. You need time to heal between relationships…there is nothing cute about baggage… Deal with your issues before pursuing a new relationship.
  25. You should never look for someone to COMPLETE you… a relationship consists of two WHOLE individuals… look for someone complimentary…not supplementary.
  26. Dating is fun …even if he doesn’t turn out to be Mr. Right.
  27. Make him miss you sometimes… when a man always know where you are, and you’re always readily available to him – he takes it for granted.
  28. Never move into his mother’s house.
  29. Never co-sign for a man.
  30. Don’t fully commit to a man who doesn’t give you everything that you need.
  31. Keep him in your radar but get to know others.

This is said to have been written by Oprah in her book (Not sure though). Thanks for sharing Ashwathy!

An email from a daughter whose mother endured everything because she did not want to ruin her daughters’ lives.

Dear IHM,

I have a story to tell. And I am reaching out because I am conflicted with thoughts so raw and passionate that I feel guilty, powerless and plain weak. Please don’t ever think I am belittling your pain, but I will gladly take all your pain if I had a chance to live in a home like yours and experience all the love that you have to give even if that means its only for a few years. I yearn and crave for love, having lived the life that I have lived, I don’t seem to know how to give or receive love gracefully.

My parents married in 1986. They are closely related and my father is 11 years and a generation older than my mother. He was an engineer educated and trained abroad. My mother herself was a post graduate and it seemed a good match.

My grandma tells me to this day how she saw the red flags and warned against the union but my grandpa and society just went ahead with it anyway. My grandma being related to my dad’s mom, has tended to frequent bursts of insanity for no reason. Fed her and washed her after she would lock herself up in a room and not open the door to anyone. Little did anyone know that the streak of madness could be passed on genetically and in a boy child could manifest in a way much more destructive. So for years after my mother married and moved abroad with my father, they slowly started seeing the signs of madness. And after I was born and then some years later my sister came along, and when we moved back to India it only turned worse.

My sister and I have not had a normal childhood to say the least. But somehow we managed to make it through to the other end, not unscathed however, and it’s the miracle of my mother’s care and sacrifice. My sister, I am glad didn’t have to bear the brunt of my dad’s madness, because to this day she is the little one. Not that he cares for her or really connect with her because she is the little one, but at least he leaves her alone. But for my mother and me, it was living in hell. The verbal abuse, the physical abuse, the humiliation, the animalistic rage – it completely changed me. But I have to say that my spirit remained unbroken. And that again was thanks to the strength I saw in my mother. She would endure everything and so did my grandparents and my maternal uncle, because they didn’t want to ruin the lives of the two girls. To this day she endures it for that reason – her endpoint being when my sister marries (I am now married) and our lives are ‘settled’. My only fear is that she may not make it through to the end.

For years he would live outside of India with our mom raising us in India and that was the saving grace and the opportunity for us to see normal and be normal. But even when not in India, he would still torture her through phone calls. He made her give up her job and thus made her more dependant. We were in a strange predicament. We were in a social circle of relatives and friends who were educated and rising in class. So there is this certain expectation. We were meeting those expectations financially because my father, not being able to survive life in India due to his madness, would happily retreat into the low key life on some far away country where he could work a few hours and be a hermit inside his house and earn good money. He could not be friends with people in his own age and “social status” or background. He was an engineer and didn’t have a single colleague as a friend. His friends were the single, poorly educated drivers and clerks. Now many of you may think I am judgmental, but there is fundamentally something wrong with this situation. It showed an inferiority complex. Someone who never held himself in good esteem, someone who had to constantly hide from society and people of the same stature, even when there was no reason to. So even when in India, we never went to gatherings when invited because he was too ashamed to go. And even when we went he would start a fight with someone and use words so crass, we didn’t want to go to any gathering as a family after that. People slowly started shunning us.

Childhood was an extended period of self doubt and humiliation that I never want to go back to. The only good parts were the summer and holiday trips to my grandparents place. In the apartment complex we moved into when I was about 13, we avoided going out to play because we were constantly humiliated. Neighbors and friends started giving strange looks and would murmur among themselves because not a fortnight went by without my dad yelling at my mom in the middle of the night and her screaming to his beating and kicking her. My sister and I would cry in silence, while we cried for our mother, we were constantly worried about people hearing and the humiliation. To a child in an unstable household, living among rich and well balanced families, public perception means the world. I would have give anything to be able to stand before society with my head held high and not cringe about the place where I came from. I still cringe when I talk to my mom about the things my father still does.

My earliest memory of having to watch what I say was when I was 6. Now thinking back, it wasn’t because I was saying something wrong, in fact to any other parent it would have been endearing, but it was because any little thing would set him off. He would beat and kick and spit on my mom in front of her parents and they would just cry on, powerless. We would come back from school and within seconds of looking at the state of the house and the expression/puffiness on my mom’s face, had to calculate what to and what not to say. We would be yelled at and beaten if we left the house without saying goodbye or went to bed without saying goodnight. To this day goodbyes and goodnights have a sinister shadow of evil in my ears.  And I can talk a lot about the years of oppression and abuse, the sheer madness of an evil kind.

But the point of this essay is how it’s taken a toll on my sister and me when we entered youth and now adulthood. It’s scarred our lives and our abilities to live a normal life and have normal relationships. Much more for me than my sister, because I usually received the brunt of the madness, and I will take that ten times over if my sister had the opportunity to start over life without a trace of all that happened to us.

I never made friends in school or college. Yes I had friends, but little did I know that sharing my life with them would make them so uncomfortable that they would instantly move away. I learnt it the hard way and stopped telling people much. I didn’t completely stop until I finished my undergraduate after having learnt that my friends who I had confided to had thought I was weird. So I stopped telling anyone but 3 other souls to this day. I had zero confidence in myself. I was not a carefree young thing – I was constantly burdened by what I would have to go back home to. Financially we were doing well but there was nothing to show for it when it came to happiness of the soul. To this day I have a wall around me and I don’t let anyone close for the fear of being hurt or humiliated.

My sister has been a little different, partly because she was free from anxiety as she wasn’t attacked as much and also because she is probably built stronger like my mother. She has many more friends and a strong attitude towards life. We haven’t been much of friends until the last year or two. We grew close after some tough times.

When I was in college back in India, I was so vulnerable. Any guy could sway me and one did – he didn’t have to do much because I was so vulnerable. He said the right things, took advantage and left abruptly. The humiliation was intense. No one knew, at least that what I think. It was painful but I learnt to move on. Focused on the next thing in life and the pain was gone in a year. I am not sure if it made me stronger or weaker or if it was wrong or right. It’s all just a blur. After all the years of oppression, I guess at the time it looked like a way out. And I was vulnerable and weak.

So that is probably why I was so mad and yet forgiving when the same thing happened to my sister. She met a guy when in high school, was taken advantage of and promptly dumped. Only this time, the whole world knew and news reached my mother and me. My father was kept out of the loop because he would turn on one of his mad rages which wouldn’t really help the situation. My mother was broken because in my society a girl’s sanctity lies in being a virgin and her good behavior and its everything when it comes time to get her married. I told my mom that I felt it was inevitable and it is part of a process through which she grows spiritually and mentally. I don’t attach much value to virginity any more, although my part of the country still does and it would be sacrilegious of me to say so. The way I see it, this incident in both my sister and my life was like a lesson on learning to respect oneself and that you (if the universe is merciful) are the key to your freedom and how a guy on hormones isn’t. And we weren’t going to learn it any other way than this.

After that my sister enrolled in college and she seems to be on track for her future. Although she doesn’t work as hard as she could and may not be terribly competitive to succeed, I feel that’s alright.

Life changed for the better when I came to the US for my post graduation. I loosened up, gained confidence, made some good friends who are friends to this day. I still have only maybe 2 or 3 friends but I think given my past, that’s the best I can manage and have come to terms with that and am happy. I had an arranged marriage and the first 2 years were a nightmare, half because my baggage and inability to love and half because of my husband’s baggage. But in the last year, things have changed for the better and I think we might make it and I feel like I can have a happy life – a normal one. I dream of the day when I will have a child and will watch my husband care for and love my child. And I promise myself that I will not leave my child with my father for a second, I want no part of his evil to touch my child.

My sister, mom and I call each other to talk through tough times. My mom stays silent, not disagreeing however, when we talk about how we just might be a million times happier without men in our lives. Just the three of us, we could be so much happier. Although she wants to see us married and happily settled with our own families, I think it resonates with her that MAN hasn’t done much good to our lives, we were and are probably better off by ourselves, rich or poor. So I am married and my sister is in her last year of college, looking forward to the next step – marriage, post graduation, a job or all three. And still the trauma never really is removed from our lives. There of course isn’t any direct physical or mental abuse. My father has toned down since my wedding, he is very aware that if he were himself, that would be the end of my marriage. My sister in boarding school minimizes her visits home and has a group of friends who she cares for. A group who help her with her baggage and teach her to open up and be more forthcoming in relationships, less guarded. And I am grateful that she is getting that earlier on. My dream is for her to marry a good person and lead a happy life. After all that’s happened is that too much to ask?

We may have moved out of home and learned to breathe and really look at what we missed out in life. Some we are able to learn and imbibe now, some are just lost and we are too old to learn or inculcate. But we are still gripped in constant fear for our mother and shame hearing his latest antics. It’s hard to hear about the torture she still has to endure.

My father still beats my mother and forces her to do all the work, at home and to deal with the business outside. My mother sometimes says it’s easier for her to sort things out rather than have him yell obscenely at the workers who then just create insurmountable problems for us  (her). She takes care of administration, payouts, personnel management, bills, pretty much everything. For him it’s constant fighting with the, workers, the staff, and then my mother. Everyone around knows he is mad and have witnessed episodes – they say it’s more frequent now. I know for a fact in their hearts everyone knows the sacrifices my mother had made and probably wonder why she still sticks around. But it still doesn’t lighten the burden of humiliation and embarrassment. My sister and I are mortified by his behavior and just want to crawl under a bed. In gatherings and events where families stand proud together, we just want to be left alone, far from the humiliation.

Lately, in the last few months, the lunacy has gone up a notch – more perverse, more disgusting, more inhuman. He is 61 and my mother is 50. He has grown daughters and now stemming from all his inferiorty complex and inability to be successful or happy, he has turned on my mom in a sick way – why are you talking to that young man? What did he say that you find so funny? Why are you wearing your blouse so low? Ask the milkman to just leave the milk and go, he shouldn’t be talking to you. Who are you wearing these jewels to impress? The never ending perversity of the sick twisted mind. You would never believe this is a guy who excelled in his field and was well educated, trained and had exposure to the world. It makes my blood boil. And my mother now tells me he has gotten into the habit of texting this girl of 20. He is 61 and the girl is 20 – the messages are innocent just matter of fact, but still inappropriate. My father has never a day in his life taken an ounce of effort to connect with his daughters, get to know them, be a father. And here he is in his 60th year, enjoying texting and messaging a 20 year old girl. I half die every day fearing the dangerous implications of his wild insane behavior. In the type of society where we come from that would have a huge impact on my sister’s marriage options, if not destroy it.

I want to be rid of this person in my life. I dream and fantasize that he would die in an accident or he will hang himself some day. He really should because if a person tortured everyone around them and In the end is unhappy in his own life, there is no point in living and would really be doing everyone a favor. I have been struggling with thought about the meaning and purpose of my life. I see people who have had stable families, enough money to never worry and have been free-willed and spirited – and will probably have things working out for them for eternity. And I fight against the unfairness of life. Childhood was a nightmare and we barely made it through to the other end, semi-normal, and life is still being uncooperative. I look up to the sky and want to scream “What more do you want of me?” I am happy to lead a semi successful and happy life with my mom, my sister and my husband’s family if only my father would leave us alone.

We don’t ever tell anyone our story. It’s a struggle to keep up straight faces in society and not feel inferior, because we truly are like any other person. But we have learnt to maintain low profiles our whole life, just to avoid a scene or embarrassment. Sadly, its become my approach to life to this day with work and friends and family – and my sister approaches it the same way. All that extra caution, the despondent feeling when you see families together achieving great things. It’s the desperation to show the world we are normal and failing miserably. Years, of kind words, gentle suggestions, firm admonitions, indirect advice – nothing worked on the mad man that he is.

In the end I know that if we came out and said our story, people would say, Leave! Why do you still stay and endure and suffer.  I don’t have an answer. I can, my sister can, but my mother for some reason wont. I think she secretly waits for my sister to be married and leave and then she might, but not yet. I don’t know if divorce courts are good about getting a woman her alimony. I don’t know if restraining orders exist in India that could keep you alive with a scorned raging man a woman has just divorced stalking you.

I fear the murmurs of society talking about my family, how well they were doing and how badly they have fallen, while they never knew that all along it was hell. And sometimes I feel he deserves to die and leave us all the money because it essentially is the wealth (however small) that my mother worked so hard to build and hold together. Why should she be the one going to court and fighting for it? If there was any sense of fairness in this universe, he would just die and vanish from our lives. But the universe works in mysterious ways that I don’t understand. Why some people have it easy without having to choose, while others suffer no matter how hard they try to make it better is beyond me.

Thanks for listening,

Cluless.