The Cracked Glass

Guest Author: Vibha Shetiya

Originally published here: https://feminismandreligion.com/2017/04/30/the-cracked-glass-by-vibha-shetiya/

I haven’t shared this story with too many people, yet it is one that has always remained on the back burner of my mind.

I was almost thirteen and as boy-mad as an almost-thirteen-year-old could be. I remember me and my then best friend coming of age in Zambia, our experiences manifested in squeals of “Oh my god, I think he’s looking at us” or in the life-and-death decision of “Ooh, should we really walk past them?” for the ultimate target of a not-really-necessary packet of crisps, the “them” referring to equally silly, starry-eyed boys.

I thought these were universal expressions of puberty; shyly glancing over to catch someone’s eye, wanting to look your best while Jello-ed legs and a temporary loss of voice inhibited your ability to say a simple “hi” to the object of your very existence, the raison d’etre of your life, well, at that particular moment anyway.  Or deciding to spend the afternoon at the movies, never mind what was running, so long as cute guys would be hanging out for pretty much the same reason as you were. Of course, all of this was accompanied by the attention span of a freshly pubescent brain with expressions wrapped in innocence, with harmless and fleeting murmurings of the heart.

Very quickly, however, I learned – the hard way – of the power of cultural expectations and norms. At a family wedding soon after I had freshly arrived in India “for good,” a 19-year-old cousin of a cousin took a certain liking to me. We chatted, laughed, and at one point, even held hands. And then after the celebrations, I went back to my life, and he to his. Or so I thought. A few months later, he declared his love for me. I was at a loss – I hadn’t thought of him even once since then, although ashamed of my “shallowness,” I lied that I had.

Of course, by then, I had also been amply introduced to the ways of my new surroundings.  A woman’s character was like glass, you see. No amount of adhesive, soldering, covering, coaxing could hide a crack. I still remember the effect this declaration by an aunt had on my adolescent brain; what did that “crack” represent? What constituted a crack? Had I inadvertently caused a crack when I had gotten friendly with that young man? Did a crack necessarily mean my entire life would be worthless? I was suddenly very scared… I now realized that talking to boys was a sign of overt sexuality, perhaps sexuality gone out of control. I had learned a lot in the short months I had already come “back home” to India, notably about that famed chastity belt worn by women, and how it had to be kept under lock and key at all times until, of course, the wedding night when the key would miraculously resurface, whether you wanted to take off that belt or not.

By now, my fickle adolescent brain had layers of “Indian womanhood” to it, rather layers of what good Indian womanhood ought to be. Of course, there would always be bad women; women who drove men to do unsavory things, and whose own wicked ways caused that most sought after chastity to crumble, never mind crack a little. No way on earth did I want to be that woman.

I was a quick learner. I learned to suppress my blossoming sexuality; to feel that even having a silent crush on someone was wrong, that admiring a man’s good looks was unbecoming, that speaking to someone of the opposite sex would mean I was secretly having an affair with him, and hence tarnish my compromised image, which I was desperately trying to save after that disastrous encounter with the cousin-in-law. That didn’t stop me from having crushes though. Nevertheless, it was always a dichotomous experience – a crush would relieve some of the internal pressure, but I always ended up feeling it was wrong, and ended up hating myself for secretly being “in love” with someone, that something was wrong with me for being “boy mad.”

These injunctions slowly began to pervade other areas of my life. I began to feel the need to always be a “good girl,” to always say the right things, sit the proper way, wear the right clothes… I began to feel like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. While I never really did explode, the long journey towards implosion had begun.

I had forgotten my one week “fling,” but he hadn’t. Ten years later, I learned of his intention to marry me. A few years after that, he said I had promised to marry him. Not only was my reputation at stake now, my integrity was too – I had reneged on a promise. It didn’t matter that I had said nothing of the sort, and that the whole one week “affair” had climaxed into all of a holding hands session. People began to gossip. Someone even asked my mother: “Was it true?” To her credit, she dismissed the whole thing, a courageous act considering her own standing within the community was on the line as a mother of a young, out-of-control woman, a mother with a now potentially unmarriageable daughter on her hands. After all, what did that say about her child-rearing capabilities? I’m sure even today there are stories circulating of me and my “wildness.”

As I have grown older, I realize that this could be categorized as obsession and abuse of power given the fact that I was a minor. But as Bollywood movies often depict, the refusal to let go, and a dismissal of the other’s wishes, is supposedly an indicator of true love (on the part of a man). Decades later, I’m still trying to process the whole thing. Was I indeed an “over-sexed” teenager? After all, my cousins knew better than to chat with an unfamiliar male, never mind “flirt” with him. Did I ruin his life? I hear that he has pretty much turned into an alcoholic. Was it because of me? Was it my “Western” upbringing that had led to this confusion and mess? Maybe I was a bad person at the core. Or maybe I was someone who just enjoyed playing with people’s hearts.

As my (American) husband keeps reminding me, the fault was not mine but of extreme patriarchal expectations. On a rational and intellectual level, I know that. And I have definitely come a long way since then. But on the emotional, every now and then, I still find myself struggling, years later, with feelings of guilt and shame.

Vibha Shetiya was born in India and raised in Zambia before moving back to India as a teenager. She has been living in the US since 1999. She has degrees in journalism and religion and a Ph.D in Asian Cultures and Languages. Vibha moved to Albuquerque in 2014 from Austin where she completed her dissertation on feminist versions of the “Ramayana,” an ancient Hindu epic. She teaches at the University of New Mexico.

Questions from Priya:

  • why is a woman’s sexuality feared so much?
  • why is a woman’s desire seen as shameful?
  • why is a crush seen as a full blown committed relationship?
  • why is rejection (in romantic relationships, especially rejection of a man by a woman) seen as such a terrible thing?
  • Going beyond this post …….
  • a woman who has many casual relationships is seen very differently from a man who does – she is a “slut” while he is a “stud” – she is demeaned while he is simply “scoring”
  • what are your thoughts and experiences with dating?  how are man/woman relationships different/similar in today’s India compared to the past? cities versus smaller towns?
  • do men still require virgin wives while they feel this doesn’t apply to them?

Related Posts:

Teenagers!

Inter sex mingling in coed schools – permitted or not?

What do you think of this mother, and this family?

Who benefits from criminalizing consensual teenage sex?

Pregnant at fifteen? No moral issues. Unmarried and pregnant at fifteen. Degeneration of society.

Boys and Girls Holding Hands …

Don’t fall in love NOW!

Suicide: How You Can Help

Guest Post by Pragmatic Dreamer

(blog: https://apragmaticdreamer.wordpress.com/)

“Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain.”

― Tiffanie DeBartoloHow to Kill a Rock Star

There are so many articles, movies, TV shows, Cartoons, experts, doctors and so many people who talk about what Suicide is.
They say how unnatural & selfish the person who commits suicide is, they say that they should’ve just asked for help, they say they don’t think of anyone else but themselves, they say they’re just stupid or that they just wanted attention.

I’m just another person to tell you what it really is. What you really feel at that moment you want to just die.

I can tell you that, it’s not like that moment when you say I’ve had such a bad day, I want to die. No, it isn’t that moment when your grades are low that one exam & you want to just die. It isn’t when your bills came out so high that month, you want to die.

No, that isn’t what it is.

It’s days, weeks & months of pain,
Pain that takes you to point when you can’t feel anything
It’s pain that drags you to a corner
And makes you hate everything and feel nothing
It repeats the bad stuff over & over & over

It’s when you push the good stuff away
It’s when you know you’re a burden
When the smallest of mistakes make you feel like a loser

It’s the constant pain
Just & only pain

It’s days of being underwater with no way out
It’s days of hating yourself
It’s days of breathing with your ‘heart under attack’
It’s days of your brain telling you to quit
It’s days of people telling you to go away
It’s days of bullying
It’s days of being called a ‘loser’
It’s days of crying & suffering

It’s days of no one smiling at you
It’s days of no one asking you “How are you?”
It’s days of no one caring for you
It’s days & days of torture within the core of your very being

It’s days of knowing it won’t matter if you’re alive anyway

So, it’s better off, being dead instead.

There are about 800,000 people who die by suicide every year(1.4% of all deaths worldwide). I say die here, but there are many, many more who attempt it. According to WHO, “There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.”*  

So what are some signs that a person wants to commit suicide?

1. They stop being themselves – by this I mean, they don’t dress like they used to, or miss classes & take too many off days at work, they don’t work like they used to, they don’t enjoy the things they used to, you see a dramatic loss or gain in their weight etc.

2. They seem erratically happy, by giving away their favorite possessions, a big party etc.

3. They say things like: “It’s better if I’m not around”, “Soon you won’t see me around”, “Things will be okay, I won’t be around anyway”, “I can’t seem to work on this like I used to before”, “I just didn’t feel like doing this”….

(Remember, just because they said this once doesn’t mean their suicidal. Look for signs, most of them overlap. It isn’t just one thing, it’s usually a mix of multiple things.)

How can you help?

I’ll try & keep this brief. There are links to more detailed articles at the bottom to address this question.

The first thing you need to remember is, you cannot wish their problems away. The only thing you can do is provide support & help & take them to the necessary counsellors or psychologists who have the professional means & knowledge of helping them.

Ask them if they are planning to kill themselves. (Yes, you have to ask this. And believe me, it’s hard when you actually have to ask.)

If they say yes, ask them, how are they planning to do it, when and where?

If they answer these questions, don’t react in a condescending manner, instead just tell them that you feel terrible that they wish to take their life & that you want to help. Ask them if they will be okay if you call a hotline, a person they trust or take them to a specialist etc. They shouldn’t be left alone.

(You can do the above even when they say no.)

One of the main things to remember is to stay calm & speak to them in a calm but assertive voice. All you have to do is listen – non-judgmentally.

Note: Education is key. The more you educate yourself on Mental Health Issues & Suicide, the better equipped you would be.

For more info, please see these articles:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/ART-20044707

http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/

Related post from IHM: https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/jiah-khans-suicide-note/

—————————————————————————————————————–From Priya:

Suicide doesn’t just happen to “other people”.  It could be someone right next to you – a friend, a coworker, a kid in your neighborhood.  If we are aware, maybe we can help this someone.  Often when suicide happens in their midst, people feel shocked because they never suspected anything.  Sometimes they feel guilty for not having reached out, because they did notice some signs but were not sure what to do.  It is important therefore, to know how to help, if you suspect something.  Thank you to Pragmatic Dreamer for raising awareness regarding this.

Sharing from readers:

  • Are you concerned about someone around you being suicidal?
  • Do you know someone who attempted suicide?  What helped in their situation
  • Have you contemplated suicide?  Have you sought help?
  • Have you overcome your suicidal feelings?  Please describe the process/journey you went through.
  • If you have direct experience with the situation (you yourself have contemplated suicide or know someone close who has been through it) please do share, so we can add it to this post.  There is nothing more valuable than hearing from someone who has actually been through it – so please do not hesitate to share (anonymously if you want).

Email: Feeling Trapped

An email from a reader: please read and share –

  • have you been in a similar situation, if so, what was your experience?
  • what you would suggest to the letter writer’s friend?

Hi Everyone,

I have been reading this blog since a long time and would like to share something. Today, a very old  friend called me and after talking to her, I felt that it would help her immensely if you guys gave some feedback on her situation. I have told her my views but I think after she sees it from the point of view of objective strangers , it will give her a better perspective. I plan to show her the post and comments on it .

She and I go a long way back, we are both in our late twenties now, we became friends when we were maybe 5. She is a past of most of my childhood memories and I feel very sibling like about her. We both come from dysfunctional homes, in many aspects our situation was identical. I, however, was lucky enough to escape while still in my teens while she stayed on. She stays with her parents and her younger sister. While her mom has always been very warm and welcoming to me, I could sense the abnormal atmosphere of her house even as a child. Her dad always seemed absent, even when he was there, he seemed sullen and silent, usually preferring to ignore the kids altogether.

After her sister was born, it seemed like her parents blatantly favoured her sister. As a result her sister was very spoilt and often rude to my friend. Her parents never admonished her sister, no matter how much she misbehaved. As we grew up, we couldn’t meet much, but when ever we did my friend would tell me stuff about not being happy at home, feeling neglected and ignored. The things she told me confirmed that my perception of her circumstances had been accurate. She has had bad luck in relationships which I feel atleast partly has to do with her situation at home. I have tried explaining that to her. If you experience an emotionally abusive situation at home, you internalise it and patterns repeat in your future relationships. That it what happened to me, for which I had to attend regular therapy  after I left home and have strongly advised her the same.

Her main problem at present is that she lives at home and feels that she is constantly disrespected and mocked, and has no mental peace. She has a demanding job and is also preparing for exams to do higher studies. Her schedule is gruelling as it is and when you add to it the unpleasantness at home, it is a recipe for depression. She has virtually no autonomy or privacy at home and many a times she has called me and told me she feels trapped in her situation. She feels like she can neither continue living there nor move out. Her parents and her sister are financially dependent on her. She feels duty bound to live with them and support them. This makes it almost impossible for her to save for future.

She talked to her parents about her financial worries, telling them that she needs to save, especially since she will need the funds to pay for her course, after she clears the exam. They brushed her worries aside. Another time she told me that she had mentioned it to her parents that she was unhappy at home and was considering moving out. Instead of asking her what was wrong, they sneered at her and told her once she moves out she will realise that she can’t  make it on her own.

To me the most disturbing part is that they don’t even her even voice her concerns. As if not letting her voice her unhappiness will make it go away. I find it outrageous that they don’t show any concern or interest in her problems. All they do is belittle her and tell her she is wrong, even without having heard her out. I can see how its affecting her. I can sense her frustration, helplessness and utter loneliness. Just yesterday she sent me a text late at night saying she feels so alone, in spite of living with people who supposedly love her, she feels that she has no one she can really talk to. I know, how toxic this can be. I told her of my own experience and according to me the situation cannot improve unless she moves out.

The last straw was today when she called me and told me about yet another  such instance which had made her stay in a hotel for the night. I reiterated my advice of moving out. My point of view is that, she doesn’t owe them anything. Of course, she should care for her parents but they have a reciprocal duty to respect her as a person. It is possible to find a mid way, where she supports them to an extent but doesn’t sacrifice her autonomy. This need not to be an all or nothing situation as her folks are making it out to be. As in , either stay at home and let things be as they are or move out and be accused of abandoning them. It is supremely unfair for them to make her feel guilty for wanting to leave an abusive atmosphere.

After all moving out does not necessarily mean she is abandoning them. They are seriously guilty tripping her and making her feel bad for even considering living independently. She is nearly thirty and it is perfectly natural for her to want to be independent.  Its one thing to care for them but another if it comes at the cost of her own sanity and career. I think she should move out and contribute a little less at home so she can save for her higher studies, especially as they refuse to give her any account of the expenditure, or even discuss her worries. Plus, there is this constant tension and criticism hurled at her. I was in a similar situation at home and it made me nearly suicidal. I am concerned that she might go the same way. I request you to post this as soon as possible and the readers to please post their assessment of the situation. I want her to have someone else’s opinion other than mine.

Thanks for reading.

Lony (thats my preferred pseudonym for this post)

Women’s Safety in the Workplace

Guest Post by: Dhanashree

(Blog: https://mylifeintomaking.wordpress.com/author/dhanashreejambekar/)

THIS COULD’VE BEEN ME

by Dhanashree Jambekar

********************************************

Pune: Woman techie murdered on Infosys campus, police arrest security guard

As I read this news, again and again, over and over, I couldn’t help but think – this could have been me.

Couple of years ago, I too was 24-25, working in a well-known, MNC, IT firm, with security guards 24 hrs. But I still didn’t feel safe.

There were 4 buildings of 4 floors in my campus. My desk was on 2nd floor in one of those buildings. And there was a security guard on each floor, working in shifts. So at a time, there would be at least 16 security guards inside the buildings with an extra bunch of them on the main gate, surveilling the visitors and vehicles. Around 3000 employees working in the general shift. And I still didn’t feel safe.

Why?

There was a male security guard on the ground floor of my building. Every time I would pass by, he would start whistling or singing songs. And so subtly that no one else would realize his change in behavior. I could understand his intentions just by one-look-in-his-eyes. Even while writing this post, I can feel that vulgar look, I feel like I was getting raped, every time I passed by. It would happen minimum 4 times a day. And it was enough for me to start hating my office, and not want to go there everyday, just to avoid that creature.

I am not a strong girl, I know. I couldn’t give him a bold look and shut his mouth. Forget about making noise and grabbing attention of others to his behavior. I didn’t even dare to tell this to anyone for long time. I wanted to tell this to my mom at least, but I didn’t. I knew what she was going to tell me, I knew she was going to tell me to act and complain and I know that is right. But I just didn’t have the courage. I don’t know if I have it now either.

There was a lady security guard on my floor. And luckily we would get along well. But I was hesitant to tell her. What if the guy is her friend? What if she didn’t believe me? What if it turned back on me? I don’t know how long I bared those poking eyes, but one day at last, I told her. I told her that guard on the ground floor looks at me weirdly and I don’t like it.

Well, thankfully, she too was against him for some reason. She said there are many complaints against him already. And she immediately made a call to her senior right in front of me and told them about my complain. She didn’t disclose my identity as I told her I was scared.

Within few days, he was removed from the office and I didn’t see him ever again.

I got lucky. But this poor girl from the news report didn’t 😦

I ask Why??

I think there is something completely wrong with people’s mentality. It is totally flawed. And it has to be uprooted. But I don’t know how. I just sit at my desk.

Frightened. Sorry. Worried.

But Why???

What do you think are the answers for these WHYs?

Can you think of a way in which this situation could have been avoided?

Do you think learning martial arts is a solution? (Are you going to give the same answer to a 4 year kid, irrespective of the gender, who gets raped?)

It is a time to bring a revolution, in our thoughts, in our education, in the way in which we treat people.

If everyone makes sure that they think right, and take responsibility for at least the other 3 or 4 members in their family to think sanely I think we will be making an effort towards a better and a safe future.

********************************************

Added by Priya:

  • How can we make workspaces safe for women?
  • What are some spheres where education/awareness need to be happening?
  • How can well-intentioned male co-workers help?
  • How much responsibility does the company have in providing women a safe work environment?  How do women demand this from their companies?
  • When there is a potentially troubling situation (such as harassment), are there avenues/protocols to report it without stigmatizing the victim?
  • Any other helpful thoughts and discussion and sharing of experiences are welcomed.

The Mother-in-law Question

Mansi, one of the readers here, asked the following question:

“We all know that in almost 100% of the cases:- mother in law and daughter in law clash – why is this?  Please do a post on this.”

Mansi’s question appears as a comment in this post:

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/relationship-with-mother-in-law-an-email/

I will answer the question the way I see it.  I would welcome others’ thoughts, experiences, and perspectives.

——————————————————————————————————————–

In a patriarchal system, women take up positions of inferiority.  The girl child, teenager, and the young woman is taught or coerced into the following during the formative years(the opposite traits I’ve listed in parentheses):

  • unquestioning obedience (versus reasoning, questioning, analysis)
  • acceptance of fate or destiny (versus proactive problem solving)
  • a sense of weakness, vulnerability (versus strength, confidence)
  • inferiority (versus a sense of equality)
  • shame in one’s body (versus seeing it in neutral, biological terms)
  • shame in the pursuit of pleasure (versus seeing it as a natural human trait)
  • no personal interests or hobbies or achievements (versus encouraging personal accomplishment)
  • assigned pre-ordained roles (versus having choices)
  • constraints on the smallest things (versus having daily freedoms like going for a walk safely, taking the city bus safely, going to college safely, going to work safely)
  • constraints on life decisions (choosing whom to marry, choosing whether to marry or not, choosing not to stay in an unhappy marriage)
  • permission seeking fit for children (as opposed to adult freedoms – permission to visit parents after marriage, permission to work, to not have kids yet, or to not have kids period)

——————————————————————————————————————-

Some of the above have changed with times, primarily:

  1. education and careers – girls and women now pursue these – but even here the context remains vastly patriarchal – do they have control over their paycheck – do they know how to spend, save and invest their money – do they have the freedom to work where and when they want in a field they choose, the freedom to travel for a job – do they have the supports needed at home to succeed at work or do they carry the triple burden of work, home, and kids
  2. some of the other factors mentioned above have changed for some families (who raise girls as humans that are allowed human joys and weaknesses, and granted equal rights) but remain true for the vast majority to different degrees.

——————————————————————————————————————–

So, what happens to girls and young women raised with these traits?  They develop low self esteem.  They have been constantly told of their lack of worth and they begin to believe it.  Not just about themselves but about all women.  Their gender is the dreaded gender, they are the unlucky ones.

The all-pervading misogyny is internalized by women.  Different women react to this in different ways.  They develop coping mechanisms such as –

  • judging other women (partly because they genuinely believe women should be judged, society has given everyone the right to judge this group of human beings, but partly because they see themselves in other women.  “She is a lazy stay at home mom who watches TV all day.” because they’ve heard this comment over and over again and unthinkingly repeat it.  Or, “she is too selfish and not a good mother, look at her, travelling so much” because this is another stereotypical comment that they’ve heard over and over again
  • petty competition – women in a patriarchy must compete for male attention to win a few crumbs of freedom – putting other women down has a concrete advantage
  • becoming a martyr – in a patriarchy, you can either be a Goddess on a pedestal or evil incarnate – ordinary human traits like ambition and pleasure in women become evil – self-sacrifice is considered virtuous.  Some women engage in self-denial and sacrifice to feel rewarded by the families and societies they live in.
  • passing the baton – the teaching of these “feminine” rules and traits strangely falls upon women – victims create more victims in the process – women are taught early on “to be a good example to their daughters”.  Every time a woman doesn’t toe the line, her parents and her upbringing are blamed.  There is an entire cannon of virtue that needs to be passed down the generations – and some women assume this role whole heartedly.

——————————————————————————————————————–

All of the above come into play in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law situation.

The mother-in-law belongs to a generation of women that have been denied an education, the right to work, the right to choices.  They have been raised with low self-esteem and their most ardent sacrifices have been barely acknowledged.  They have never enjoyed the companionship and respect of their life partners.  Rather they served their lords and received nothing of worth in return.

The typical difficult mother-in-law is not an evil woman – she is an ordinary woman reacting to the above factors related to her upbringing.  She is coping in her own way, trying to find in her own distorted, sad way – some kind of path to perceived happiness.  All her life she’s been controlled by other men.  So she sees control as the singular thing absent from her life.  She tries to exercise control over the one person who is in the lowest rung of the patriarchal ladder – the daughter-in-law.  She fails to realize that genuine happiness comes from control over one’s own life, not control over another’s.

That said, there are mothers-in-law who understand where the problem truly lies – with the patriarchal set up (and not the “bad” daughter-in-law).  Even if they did not live a life of fairness, the better adjusted women (those who’ve developed a healthier response to a difficult life) may obtain happiness by breaking the cycle and treating the daughter-in-law with fairness.  They may themselves have more freedom in their later years – having developed an awareness of their rights and an assertiveness that comes with age and experience.

The mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law problem is not a women versus women problem – it’s a problem created by patriarchy.  The need for male privilege creates the need for female inferiority.  When inferiority is made systemic right from birth and reinforced right through old age, it breaks the psyche and can have extremely unhealthy emotional consequences resulting in unhealthy coping behaviors.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Here are 2 posts that may shed further light on this:

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/the-men-in-our-lives/

https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/a-woman-is-not-a-womans-worst-enemy-patriarchy-is/

Hobson’s Choice

Guest Post by: Jenny (https://jennysreflections.wordpress.com/)

Hi All,

Please meet Jenny, fellow blogger and friend.  I find her writing refreshingly honest and straightforward.  This guest post of hers made me reflect on the choices I’ve been offered, the ones I eventually made and the process it took to go from the “destiny” handed to me to making conscious choices to finding freedom.  It is never simple and clear cut and I continue to learn.

– Priya
Hello,
Jenny here. I am so excited to write a guest post for IHM. I am an ordinary Indian woman who one day took a look around the world I was living in and began questioning questionable things. I am an avid reader and started to write mostly out of frustration with this thing called life. I try to write often at my original blog https://jennysreflections.wordpress.com/.
Thanks to Priya for encouraging me to write this guest post.
Hobson’s choice is almost an illusion as it is choosing between something and nothing.

When I first stumbled upon this term on Wikipedia, I hardly could wrap my head around it. Choice between something and nothing huh… how can that happen I wondered? Yet, on further contemplation I realized that my whole life has been a series of Hobson’s choice.

At the age of 15 choosing a group void of math and science was never an option. I was told either choose one without biology or computer science. Leaving out Math, which I hate was definitely not in the cards. Deep down, I knew that I would end up studying math, physics chemistry, and computer science, when all I wanted to be was a writer. So you see I never did really have an option. That very choice pretty much sealed my life as a don’t-wanna-be engineer.

At the age of 21, when I didn’t even know what life was all about, I was married. They said you don’t know how the world works, so listen to us and get married. I had rejected the first guy I saw, using the silly reason that he didn’t look good (Secretly hoping they won’t pressure me to get married). Ironically, using that same reason against me, I was told I couldn’t say no to the next guy, who did look handsome and met all the standards set by my family.  I had to marry a guy when there was only one option and at a point where I had no clue what marriage was all about.

Hobson’s choice is my case was the absence of a meaningful choice.

When I, who grew up well educated in an upper middle class family, can come up with 2 major illusions of choice, I shudder to think of all the women in various strata of the society who completely have no choices in front of them.

It has taken me years to undo this – to understand what it means to be an adult, to reject other people’s warnings and protection, to have the confidence to make my own choices.

Every time someone says with a sneer – so you are a feminist, I have the immense urge to sit them down and tell them: FEMINISM GIVES WOMEN CHOICES.  DO YOU WANT TO LIVE YOUR LIFE WITHOUT CHOICES?

As women in today’s world, we have the choice to live where we want, marry or not, work in any field, wear what we find comfortable.  We have the choice to make decisions that affect us.  Those decisions may not make sense to others.  They don’t have to.  As adults, we get to choose.

So dear reader – think about your life and those around you.  Choice is the most precious thing you have.  It will often be denied to you.  Know that you are born with the right to it.  Ask for it.  Exercise it.
➢ What choices do you have now that you didn’t have a few years ago?

➢ How have YOU changed on a personal level?  What choices do you make despite criticism, condescension, or emotional rejection?

➢ What kind of changes do you wish for, in terms of the specific choices that YOU should have?

Clarification about this site

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a simple choice – Mangalsutra

Sometimes making a simple choice can be so exhausting. 

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

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

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

I was reluctant to wear one for several reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topher DeRosia: HeroPress – The People Of WordPress

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​Sharing an email I received. Please help and advise.

Sharing an email I received. Please help and advise.

I’m not asking if I’m right or wrong. I know this might not be as bad as what some of you have experienced.
I just ask for support. Please do not judge me. I can’t find that kind of support here because Americans don’t know what it is like to be an Indian DIL.
Am I crazy? Am I really self-serving? Is name calling verbal abuse?
Why do I constantly feel like I’m a horrible person for not being able to forgive?

 

Hi IHM,

I’m 30 yrs old working as a Software Engineer in USA. I’m an only child and my parents have gone out of their way for my education and dreams. They raised me with great pride. Growing up I figured I wouldn’t get married because most guys only want to look after their own parents. And if I did get married, I wouldn’t live with my in-laws. I got married about 5 months ago to someone from different cultural background and broke all my rules. And I had never dreamt in my life that that would be the undoing of my life.

My husband is born and raised in USA. When I met him he came across like a level headed, calm, liberal, and progressive. What I did not realize or chose to ignore until I couldn’t anymore that he is a complete mama’s boy. His dad is a recovering alcoholic and growing up his family was dysfunctional. He had told me that we would be living with his family from the beginning, and even though I didn’t want to, I agreed thinking that’s what you do for people you love. His father is sick and they need financial support. I did tell him that that’s not what I want long term, so maybe few years down the line we should get our own place. He agreed at that time. This is before marriage. Initially, everything was great. I used to think that I lucked out with the in-laws if I marry this guy. Things changed quickly.

His parents, as I’m realizing since the wedding, are the typical patriarchal type. Neither completed school. MIL won’t live in jamai‘s house; a bahu is solely responsible for the entire family’s happiness; bahu is also at the bottom of the ladder in the family and has to prove herself; bahu has to respect no matter what; after marriage sasural is where the bahu belongs etc. etc. My MIL made sure to tell me that she’s not like typical Indian MIL because she doesn’t expect me to cook for the whole family or give her foot massage (what decade is she from?!)

There was a LOT of drama from his mother, sister, brother-in-law even before our engagement. This led to huge fights with by husband (boyfriend at the time) because he saw just their point of view. Fights that involved name-calling, yelling and basically making me feel like I’m a horrible person. His family never tried to even ask what the matter was, nothing. Assumption and judgment. And everything was my fault.

I tried to break up, but I was weak to not stand by that decision when he begged me to not break up. Red flag ignored.

Anyway, we ended up getting through and getting engaged. I had already started resenting his family but kept thinking that if he stands by me, then I’ll be ok. I need my partner to be my rock.

The drama didn’t end there. Things like my MIL getting angry that I texted her about my mum’s birthday outing just a day before (and she couldn’t make it. Her opinion is that if I respected her then I would have let her know a week ahead on the phone) leading her to yell at my mom (who was visiting at that time for our Roka ceremony) on the phone, and us having a show down at my place. My husband supported me during that time, somewhat. He still validated his mom’s opinion and actions, which is where it started to go downhill. I agree that I should have been more mindful, maybe I should have called her as soon as the plan was made. I apologized for it. But how is it ok for a MIL to yell over the phone at my mother and tell her that she hadn’t taught her daughter anything? Who gave her the right to yell? And she left telling my mom that I had “issues” and that she has none. So, her actions were justified and it was because of my behavior that she acted that way. See the trend here?

You must be thinking why I didn’t break it up? Indecision. Thinking it would get better after marriage. The many stories from my mother about how much crap she had to deal with. I just figured I could deal with it and I’m strong. My parents basically left it to me. I wish they had put their feet down, but they didn’t. I try not to put any blame on them. Ultimately, it was my decision making or lack thereof.

My husband isn’t a bad person. He helps around the house, kitchen, around the home. He is supportive of my career up to a point, he doesn’t think I should move away if I got a good job offer because he might not be able to shift (because of his family) and he should be my first priority always.  I found this out post-marriage. Different things were assured before.  Name calling and yelling has always been an issue with him during arguments. I have given him many chances thinking don’t abandon the ship just because there is choppy water. But I think I’ve had enough.

Fast forward to wedding planning, his mother hardly contacted my parents for any wedding discussion. Even getting back on dates was an issue, and my husband would just let it be saying “My mom is like that only”. Red flag ignored.

They wanted us to show them “respect” by giving the close relatives tokens of welcome. And, I’m sad to say my parents did. Even when I tried my best to stop them. In return, there was no show of respect for us. We don’t expect gifts, but my MIL’s behavior throughout the wedding was that of her attending the destruction of her world (son). No appreciation for the effort my parents put in to find a place for them to live in, checking in on them when we could, sending them homecooked food etc. etc. All we heard all the time were complaints. They didn’t show much respect for our culture but expected 110% so that they wouldn’t have to hear anything from their relatives! They expected the ladki wale to be at their feet, serving them because they are ladkewale?

On the day of the wedding, immediately after the pheras, my MIL forced me to put on the lehenga she had picked out for me (mind you, didn’t even pack the chunni). When my mom asked her if it was necessary since she had bought my benarasi with great love and would like me to keep it on, she snapped at my mom in front of her relatives saying “Do what you want! No respect for us”. Everyone in the hall noticed it. She made my mom cry, on my wedding day for a stupid lehenga. Rest of the night my MIL acted as if it was the saddest day of her life. My parents had also bought our traditional groom wear for my husband, but his mom didn’t let him wear all of it. Just the kurta under the “designer” sherwani they had got made. So is that not disrespectful towards us? My mom then has full rights to create a scene too like my MIL? But she didn’t. Were my parents sad about it, yes; did they lash out? No.

And what I’m about to write about is probably the day it solidified in my mind that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. My parents, husband and I had gone to visit my dadi since she could not attend the wedding. My dad developed a fever on the way back, so we dropped off my husband at his maasi’s house (he didn’t even want to come to his “sasural” because his parents weren’t with him) and we came back to my house. My dad went to the doctor to get medicine. Within the hour, my MIL calls yelling at my mom that I had disrespected her, I had hurt her by not stopping by (ok, I agree maybe I could have taken 2 minutes to do that and that’s my mistake), how embarrassing it was to find her “married” son come home without bahu, that people have been talking about how I’m not very bahu like, my mom had not taught me anything, and on and on she went. And then she also dared to ask my mom why she was so attached to me especially since I had been living abroad for the last 12 years. What mother asks that of another mother?? Do you love your child less because she lives somewhere else? Or is my mother to prepare mentally that I’m to go away and serve another’s family so she shouldn’t be attached to her child?

I called my husband and demanded to know why his mother thought she could yell at my mother, and he simply defended her.
Later I came to find out he was there the entire time that his mother was yelling at my mother and he lied to me saying he wasn’t there. He justified her behavior, he defended her act. They both blamed it on me and my parents.

No apologies, nothing. And, now I’m living with them. To see them every day is a reminder of everything my parents and I have tolerated. My parents don’t even want to come visit anymore because of my MIL’s actions. I have been called names during fights with my husband, labeled as “selfish”, that I don’t like his family etc. etc.

I have tried to forgive and forget, but I have been unable to. I’m still hurt and my parents are too. I keep thinking that something is wrong with me that I can’t forgive yet. I have been made to feel bad that I can’t forgive, by my husband, who says it’s a mental choice, if one really wants to forgive then they can in a snap. I don’t think so, but I have no one to back me up.

My parents still try to maintain good relations with my husband, and he thinks it’s because he is a great son-in-law. In his family, I have realized that they believe they are wonderful people with perfect manners, and if they act rudely then it’s another’s fault. His mother and sister make decisions for him and don’t even communicate with me. He lets them and if I protest, then he doesn’t understand why it’s wrong because it’s his family. I literally feel like he’s married to his family.

I have ruined my life. The person I thought I was marrying turned out be another family puppet. He has no backbone to call out the wrong when his family does wrong. He will defend them for everything. And sadly I got to see the worst after the wedding not before.

Now I’m at a point where I want to take the control of my life back. I want live by myself, with or without the husband, I don’t want to serve his family or even call them my family. I used to take pride in being a feminist, always fighting for equal treatment. I’m not sure who I am anymore. Every point I feel selfish because it’s not aligned with what my husband/in-laws might want.

Mentally I have decided to separate in a year’s time (my parents are supportive of this decision) and do my best until then. I don’t see myself ever fitting into their mentality, lifestyle etc. I don’t want to have kids and have them grow around my husband’s family. And I don’t want to stay in this family because of kids.

I’m not asking if I’m right or wrong. I know this might not be as bad as what some of you have experienced. I simply ask for support. I don’t think it’s right for my parents and me to have to tolerate and put up this kind of family for the rest of my life. There is no point in counseling because (1) I don’t want to waste my energy and time and time (2) he had made it clear, it’s him and his family together or nothing.

I think I have chosen, but not acted upon it yet.

Like I’ve said, I just ask for support. Please do not judge me. I can’t find that kind of support here because Americans don’t know what it is like to be an Indian DIL.

Am I crazy? Am I really self-serving? Is name calling verbal abuse?
Why do I constantly feel like I’m a horrible person for not being able to forgive?

Just wanted to clarify/add some things.

– I wasn’t fully aware of the extents of the traditional mentality my in-laws have until and after the wedding. I’m sure I must have had seen signs that I ignored, but it didn’t hit home until those words were spoken.

– After coming from the wedding, I had told my husband that I could not live with in-laws who disrespected my family. It really upset him and he called me “selfish” and walked out of the apartment where we were living (moved in with my in-laws after a few months). We had a huge fight where he involved his family and threatened me that if I did not come and settle the matter with his family, then we will end it. I regret not having the guts to end it then. I regret that I let him treat me like that and I went to apologize. I regret sitting and listening to their patriarchal view. I have so many regrets and I feel helpless. 

They complained about my parents not being attentive to them post the pheras (even though it’s not true and I have witnesses), about the bloody lehenga, how in general we didn’t show them sufficient respect etc. etc. I just sat there listening like a coward and did not do anything. I did not stand up for myself or my family. I am so ashamed of myself. All through this my husband just sat there. In his silence, he showed whose side he was on. I did not tell my parents about this until months later after keeping it to myself. I blamed myself for all of it and still do.

– I wonder if I’m in an abusive marriage. It’s not explicit with physical/verbal abuse so it’s so hard to gauge for me. But there is always an undercurrent of tension I feel at all times. Fights almost always involve name calling and yelling especially if it’s about his family. I don’t respond well to yelling at all, so I shut down which makes him further angry. I’m not an angel, I have yelled back too when I reached my limits. Almost anything I say where I don’t want to do something with his family, results in “you just don’t like my family”, “you never want to do… for my family”, “are you telling your mother how depressed you are here?” “if you love me unconditionally, then you should do/accept/act…” “you’re selfish” etc.

And, then comes a honeymoon phase, where I have given into his/their thoughts/opinions, and he showers me with hugs, kisses, and care.

Is it somewhat bipolar in nature?

He doesn’t expect me to cook, clean or wash for him. I can dress as I want, go where I want, meet whoever I want. Yet I have to conform to how he and his family wants to live.

– Even though I said I will wait for a year. I’m not sure why I would do that. I tend to dilly dally a lot. Sometimes I think this year, before the 1 yr anniversary. This is significant because it will bring me no joy. I don’t even want to look at my wedding photos/videos. They only bring back bad memories. Why would I celebrate, esp with his family, 1 yr of the day I wish never took place

Am I beyond help? I’m scared of what his family will do… make me pay for things/rent (since we are renting a house right now) / insult my family and me some more.

From,

Your blog is my support group.