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?

“Can I really marry and live with a guy who is so uncomfortable with the fact that I am open and expressive?”

Sharing an email.

I’m 27 years and a couple of months old and it suddenly seems that everything about my life is turning upside down. i’ve been blogging for over 10 years now… been a reader of your blog and have been in touch with so many of the people who read it..

However, one thing I have been and still am is a confused soul…  I’ve so far had a lot of freedom given to me by parents, some of which was after a lot of hard won arguments and simple rebellion which they then accepted. I have a huge family, full of well meaning aunts and uncles and cousins and grand some thing or the others that very obviously love me but would probably adore me a little more if I were less frank and a little more subtly manipulative about getting what I want…
It’s always been a strange phenomena to me that being publicly (and by that I mean before anyone who doesn’t actually live in the same house as you) sweet, quiet and submissive to some degree lets you get away with doing whatever the heck you want while putting yourself out in the open makes people restrict you even when you haven’t technically or overtly broken any rules that society and family had set for you… I’ve always been very “moonhphat”,  but at the same time I’ve tried to be a “good” daughter.
What is completely freaking me out now is the sudden shift in the rules now that I’ve agreed to see a boy my family’s picked as a “perfect” arranged match. my parents have changed their attitude completely… but that is not what I need advice about… its about the Boy…
He’s from a “good” family, well educated, has his family business that he took over a few years ago because he lost his father at a young age. I’ve spent a total of 9 hours talking alone with him over three separate days, and we managed to talk very openly and frankly about whatever things we wanted to… however, it seems that he is a very very different person from how I am.
The first serious conversation we had, was about  how he had found my blog and spent two whole days reading through the last 10 years of entries on it. How it had made him supremely uncomfortable that such a huge part of my life, my thoughts were online for the world to see, and comment. how i had written about my previous relationship, about my friends, about family, about my ideas and ideals.
He asked me whether I would continue that after marriage. His second serious question was, “What am I supposed to say if an aunt/cousin/assorted family member finds your blog and reads it and says this girl has been in a relationship, this girl is so combative…” Then he told me that his sister had read it and was equally disturbed by it.
I told him that it was nobody’s business but mine what I’d written and why on earth would anyone bother going through over 300 posts spread over 10 years???
Then he tells me that he is a very private person and doesn’t like it if “outsiders” are told about his family life… and he qualified it with a, “but my best friend is a girl and I tell her everything thats going on in my head… I just don’t feel comfortable with the fact that a million strangers can read your blog and know intimate details of your life.”
Anyway… since throwing my drink at his face and storming out wasn’t an option… I chose to simmer down and think about what he had said… my blog is now set to a private invitation only setting, not because he says he is uncomfortable but because of the idea that random strangers would judge me on the fact that i was a wreck after my college relationship failed.
The next time we met, he said that the girl in the blog was “disturbing” because all information that he had got from various family sources said that I would be a “good wife” because I was a “family oriented person” and the “life of every gathering”, whereas my blog has some of the darkest, most depressive and frankly combative things in my head…  I told him its my venting space… when I can’t let out how I feel any other way, I write… and about half of that ends up on my blog… so the blog has my rants about my ex, my ideas about feminism and independence and family, how disappointed I feel sometimes that my family is still following hidebound traditions even while they give my generation the leeway to make our own decisions.
It is not the blog of a “sweet bahu” who will “carry the family together”. Its the blog of a woman who thinks of more than just the menu for the next family get together…
What I am worried about here is the fact that both sets of families are extremely interested in seeing this match go through… but can I really marry and live my life with a guy who is so uncomfortable with the fact that I am open and expressive? That I am NOT exactly a “sunshine and rainbows” person…
The good point about this guy is that he seems to be sensible enough to ask me flat out what I feel.. he seems to accept that i am independent, i have a fairly combative head but at the same time i would do a lot for the sake of my family…
Thankfully both families are giving us time to think, even though every second day someone or the other asks if we are ready to say “yes” yet…
I’ve known of the existence of this boy for a little more than 10 days now.. and apparently that is more than the “arranged” people in my community usually get before they atleast have a roka… the formal engagement and marriage thankfully are months after the ‘roka’.. but i don’t want to agree to anything just yet because i am genuinely worried about how someone as free as me is supposed to deal with somone who is uncomfortable about a blog spread over 10 years…
My best friend pointed out that since the boy has never been in a relationship previously, the fact that I was “in love’ with my ex and am not a virgin is likely to remain an issue and an insecurity for him.. the fact that I have a circle of male friends, and a large circle of friends, may be a problem for someone whose life is not as open outside of his family.
So now I don’t know what to do.. when I discuss this with my parents all they say is that you anyway lose touch with friends after you get married, and that I should not tell the guy about my ex…. I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents that he’s already read my blog and knows most of it…
What do I do??
A confused soul

If you are a woman, do you consider yourself ‘feminine’ – how important is that to you? Why?

Ten questions on femininity.
1. How do you describe femininity?
2. What makes a woman feminine?
3. How important is it for a woman to ‘be’ feminine?
4. What must she do to be seen as feminine?
5. How much effort would you consider reasonable for a woman to put for being seen as feminine (or are all women born with femininity?)
6. In what ways does being feminine make women’s lives happier? Does it give them more choices?
7. Is being unpredictable and mysterious (difficult to understand/complex?) considered feminine? So is being rational, straight forward and honest unfeminine? What other traits would you describe as feminine?
8. What is the biggest reason women are given to want to be feminine?
9. If you are a woman, do you consider yourself ‘feminine’ – how important is that to you? Why?
10. Do you know of women who are not feminine, how do you think are their lives are affected by their lack of femininity?

Of Viragoes, Shrews and Tom Boys.


Q. 1 You are (choose one)
1. Feminine ?
2. Masculine ?
3. Err.. ?

Ans: I’d like to be ME please.

Q. 2 Are women naturally feminine, gentle, mild mannered and nurturing?
Ans: No. Women (just like men) come in all kinds of temperaments. Some are gentle some are not, some are nurturing some have no interest in kids, some are mild mannered, some are aggressive.

Q. 3 Why not all?
Ans. I guess nature made them (us) all different!

Q. 4 Are the unfeminine ones abnormal or unnatural?
Ans: LOL what a dumb question!!! No.

Q. 5 Are the one’s who are unfeminine undeserving of respect?
Ans: No more than unfeminine men 🙂 This is a dumb discussion!

Q. 6 Whose respect?
Ans: I think it is important that they respect themselves first. This goes for all humans, even children.

Q. 7 Isn’t being respected important for women?
Ans: As much as any other human. No more. No less. And it isn’t a matter of life or death (as in honor killing).

Q. 8 If a woman expects to be treated as an equal human, is she being radical?
Ans: As radical as Democracy. All humans should be treated as equals. All children and even all men.

Q. 9 If a woman is being aggressive, rude or arrogant does she still deserve respect?
Ans: Any human – man or woman being rude, arrogant or aggressive needs to count till ten. (To begin with).

Q. 10 Doesn’t a woman’s charm lie in her being gentle and feminine?
Ans: I think her charm lies in being herself. Beauty and charm come in all shapes and sizes.

Koi Shaque? (Any doubts or disagreements?)

 

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If you are a woman, do you consider yourself ‘feminine’ – how important is that to you? Why?