Ramblings of a henpecked husband? A comment.

Henpecked husband left a comment on this post – ‘Marriages are sold to Indian women in a glossy cover…?‘  My response in red.

Warning: Long post.

How would you respond to the Henpecked husband?

Henpecked husband: Just have a few observations/ comments on your articles. Nothing to disregard you personally, but a few counter arguments to the age old tirade about the great sacrifices only women have to make in a family life.

IHM – In Patriarchy generally lives of younger men are also controlled by their families. Shravan Kumar and Ram are seen as role models for male children. Sons are seen as budhape ka sahara and kuldeepak, so young Indian men in traditional families are not allowed to choose who and when they marry and what careers they choose, they are also expected to put their parents and siblings before their spouse and children – so you are right, it’s not just women who are expected to sacrifice.

Henpecked husband: When I look around myself, I find a majority of women married to working class professionals would no longer be working. They either quit sometime after marriage or once they had a baby and then never went back. While some of them might actually be out of work due to family pressure, for a lot of them, getting a few degrees and holding on to a job before marriage was mainly to land a well-educated husband with a “good earning potential”. They are out of work because they want to. They would have an army of maids taking care of every household chore right from washing utensils to cooking to taking care of babies to even taking out clothes from a washing machine and hanging them out to dry. The biggest tragedy in the life of such a woman would be if any of the maids fails to turn up for a day or two and she needs to do even a single household chore herself.

IHM – Why do we have such situations?

Most married women seem to want to work even if they have to commute long distances, are not paid as well, and have to be responsible for managing baby care and housework along with their careers, and  and even when they are likely to be blamed if they take their careers ‘too seriously’.

So the lack of interest in having a career/job could be because traditionally women’s career have not been taken seriously. Traditionally we have seen it as fair, that when men’s marriages are arranged a prospective wife’s ability to be supportive in case the husband’s career requires socializing, relocating, or requires the wife to start afresh in her career (often missing better opportunities); or requires her to give up career opportunities for child care or elder care or husband’s career.  I think it is easy to understand a hesitation in starting again or starting late, when the children have grown up. And yet many women do still try and many seem to discover abilities they (or their families) were not aware they had.

I know of women who found it frustrating that they had to ask their husbands for money for spending on interests that the husbands found frivolous (say, jewellery, clothes, outings, bags, shoes). Nobody thought they should have the right to earn so they could spend on these interests, it was taken for granted that they would have and raise children and manage house hold with or without domestic help (that depended on the husband’s income and inclination). Once these women started working, they found earning their own money was empowering, but they also regretted having missed productive years doing something (housekeeping and child rearing) that still left them dependent.

Many other women who never enjoyed being homemakers, didn’t have the pressure/necessity to earn a living like men do, and if they had felt the same need to be self reliant, they would have made happier and more satisfied and more productive citizens, because they would have been doing what they have aptitude for, and not fitting into roles chosen for them by Patriarchy.  One also sees successful women dealing with unhappy husbands who feel insecure because the wife no longer needs their financial support or because she is earning more than them. These husbands who married either non earning women or women who were expected to be content with part time jobs or jobs that never became serious, successful passions find it difficult to accept their roles change from main-providers to equal-partners. But it seems unfair to make women (or men) choose between peace at home and a career they love.

In many families, non earning women struggle to prove their usefulness. Their insecurity makes them take pride in adult family members’ dependance on them for finding a misplaced pair of socks, taking their medicines on time etc

Henpecked husband: The man would come home after 10-12 hours of office work and commute in a crazy traffic and the woman would be all ready to rip him into pieces – “My friend’s husband got her a new necklace for 2 lakhs. When was the last time you got me one?

IHM – Women are raised to believe that  their careers are not as important because once they are married, their husbands would ‘take care’ of them. Jewelery is also often seen as security for women, specially when couples do not plan family savings together. If both the partners are involved in planning their finances, a woman would know whether or not a necklace worth two lakhs is a good investment.

Henpecked husband: Your mother called and said she is coming over for a week. I can’t bear the sight of her.

IHM – I think everybody should have a have a say in who visits them, if there is a problem, it should be dealt with. Or else the wife should be allowed to deal with the issue the way she deems fit. Once relationships become two-sided, everybody will make an effort to either be fair/respectful/polite/pleasant or accept that they just don’t click.

Henpecked husband: Your son fell and hurt himself. You need to take him to a doctor. Do you even care for your family? We are out of groceries. Didn’t I tell you to get groceries on your way home when I called you for the 10th time today?

IHM – Are these issues valid? Does the couple feel that the wife can’t take care of these things as efficiently as the husband can? Is she mobile? Does she feel insecure?

Also, traditionally, dependence has been romanticized. Women in particular are encouraged to prove they just can’t manage/live without their spouse. So it is common to hear of men who can only drink tea made by the wife, or wives who can’t pass their day, choose their wardrobe, decide what to watch/read etc without first consulting with their husbands.

Henpecked husband: By the way, why didn’t you pick up when I called you for the 15th time? Oh, you are the only one who is busy with client calls and still what do you even make?”

IHM – Sounds bored and/or insecure. One sees such unhappy wives in many Indian movies, does she feel she is not a priority in his life?

Also, everybody should have their own  interests, social life, self reliance, money and life, even married couples.

Henpecked husband: Honestly, in my experience of looking around at families of working class professionals, I find the above to be a much more frequent scenario than the one you described in your article. A few days back, we were out on a team lunch and a 27ish female in my team was talking about her ongoing prospecting. She’s about 5’2″ and must be weighing about 65, if not more. She was conveying how scandalized she was when a few prospects asked her if she would consider losing some weight. In her online profile, one of the chief criteria for a suitable spouse reads “Must be earning at least 15 LPA” (her own confession). A poor soul asked her about her salary and how much her savings were. And in her own words – “I couldn’t believe myself. How can someone be so cheap? I felt like hitting him right there”. Just to put the torture to an end, one of us asked her what she wanted her spouse to be like. “Well, I really love Salman Khan. But obviously the guy has to be tall, handsome and rich”. I guess this is the guy she would so kindly “settle” for.

IHM – Most Indian women, even today, are raised to see career and financial self reliance as an option and Getting Married and Staying Married as the only goal in their life. I think this will change in the coming years and then women will look for Partners not Providers in their spouses, many women then will be able to take their careers seriously and many would be fine with their partners choosing to work from home or being home makers while they (the women)  focus on their careers. Men too would see that there is more to a life partner than skin color, weight, obedience, chastity, cooking skills, a flexible career, dowry etc.

Henpecked husband: What really bothers me about most women is how naturally they want to be treated as royalty and are fully convinced they deserve that, just because they are females and so kindly agreed to marry that loser who btw, has to be earning at least 15 LPA. But I guess it’s not only within a marriage. We had gone to watch a play in a large group sometime back and decided to catch some dinner post that. We were discussing venues and one of my female friends suggested a pretty expensive place. Most of us hadn’t been there/ hadn’t heard of it so everyone agreed to try it out. The female btw, is extremely articulate especially when it comes to women rights and how women are the better gender. We arrived and ordered. An hour later, she got a call from a friend she was meeting later that night and told everyone she got to go. I had to leave a bit early too. So we quickly ordered main course while others gorged on starters. It was a motley group having many I had met for the first time. I guessed my share should come around 400-500, so I just caught hold of a guy I had been talking to and paid him 500 towards my share. The female got up pretty elegantly not bothering about such trivialities and asked me if I could drop her off in an auto to her friend’s place. It was the other side of town but it was the gentlemanly thing to do. We rode 10 kms in the opposite direction after which she got off, said a quick thanks and took off. It was below her stature to even “offer” to pay for herself.

IHM – Chivalry should be replaced with basic courtesy which should be extended to all, women, men and children. It is okay to remind everybody to pay for their order, unless one has invited them. It’s also okay to politely ask them to pay if they don’t do so on their own.

Henpecked husband: We have so often heard about all the great things each woman does in a family as a mother, wife, sister, daughter, sister-in-law and so on. My obvious question to this is that aren’t there counterpart roles for males in each of these relations? He also fulfills all his duties as a father, husband, brother, son and brother-in-law. Anyone who has even been torn b/w his mother and wife in nothing more than a “power struggle” to make him cater to her whims surely understands what I am saying. But here we have all these soap operas portraying a female marrying as the greatest sacrifice in human history. What about the male who bears a 24*7 nagging of a wife who would simply never be happy whatever he might do?

IHM – I think women who talk about all the sacrifices that they make for their families are those who were given little choice in making these ‘sacrifices’, including in who they marry. Young Indian men are also under pressure to provide caring daughters in law for their parents, and while they may not get to choose who they marry, they are expected to ensure the wife is respectful, subservient, dutiful and obedient to their families – it’s seen as a sign of their manliness and good values that they do not show much obvious affection to her (while she is expected to constantly prove her devotion by obeying, fasting, praying, ‘adjusting’, serving hot meals, eating last etc). Unlike women, men do not need to relocate and also have their family’s support in ensuring their life partner puts the in law’s happiness before her own happiness – since the man’s happiness is connected to the wife’s happiness, this is a ‘sacrifice’ pampered and valued Indian sons are expected to make.

Henpecked husband: After the grind of a grueling week, someone simply wants to laze around on a weekend. Hell No. The wife only has about a 100 pairs of shoes and she has worn them all once each. She obviously can’t wear them again as people would point fingers at her. So she simply needs to buy more. And don’t forget she doesn’t have enough clothes. Ever. And the curtains no longer match the ambiance of the drawing room though she picked them up herself a few weeks back. But did she? Maybe it was your fault that you didn’t take her to the right shop or she picked them under pressure because you were whining after 6 hours spent picking curtains on a weekend.

IHM – Once again, it helps tremendously to have one’s own circle of friends, some hobbies, interests, career, money – basically a life of one’s own. Marriage does not mean Bollywood-style ‘do jism ek jaan’ or one soul and two bodies.

Henpecked husband: Dowry is something we all learn growing up as a social leprosy. I have a simple doubt here. The moment a woman marries, she is entitled to at least 50% of everything the guy owns. Even all his paternal property that he hasn’t really earned himself.

IHM – Legally a woman is not entitled to what her husband inherits, and traditionally she was not entitled to anything her parents owned either, even the dowry belonged to the in laws, her jewelery (stree dhan) was mostly handed over to the in laws and if she was separated or widowed, she was generally left penniless.

Most of the work women do is not paid labor – like cooking, working in the fields, going through pregnancies and labor, bearing and rearing male heirs for the husband’s family; even when they do earn, the income is handed over to the spouse or his family (even today).  Also the kind of careers women are allowed to choose also depends on the spouse’s family, they are brought up with the sole aim of becoming good daughters in law – their careers, clothing, eating habits, education etc are all chosen keeping in mind the approval of future in laws. Their self reliance or happiness is not seen as a priority, their Getting and Staying Married is, so if 50% of marital joint earnings is seen as wife’s right, I wonder if it is really unfair...

Henpecked husband: And why exactly is that? Because she made the greatest sacrifice in human history by agreeing to marry the loser your see in the mirror? Obviously when you talk about parent’s selling organs or taking up debt they can’t pay to meet dowry demands, it’s an evil. But what about cases where a woman acts as if she deserves everything in the world just by virtue of marrying you and agreeing to stay with you while the man has “fun” at his job. For how many of us, is a job a holiday on the beach for God’s sake? And such well-educated, empowered and awakened women are scandalized if someone were to suggest dowry, for them to work, do any household chores, lose the 20 extra kilos they have on them or adjust for a week with her mother-in-law. That would be against women rights and the progression of womankind, I am sure. It would be the male chauvinistic pig dragging them back by centuries after so much of struggle, pain and suffering.

IHM – Why is a suggestion of dowry not wrong? If a man or a woman have to be paid to to marry someone, should they still be marrying them? Suggesting a woman works is wrong if the rest of the responsibilities are not shared, or if she is not permitted to grow in her career or to choose what work she does.Or if she is expected to give up the work when it inconveniences the spouse.

Instead of suggesting a man or a woman adjusts with their mothers in law, maybe the spouse could ensure the reasons for reluctance to ‘adjust’ are dealt with.

Asking someone to lose weight as a condition to marry? What happens if the weight is gained again?

I am also not sure if it is a good idea to agree to marry a woman/man only if she is willing to earn, or bear children etc. What if there is some reason for not being able to do either?

Do you know in China and Thailand it’s the man (or his family) who pay dowry to the bride’s family? Also in Saudi Arabia and Fiji and I am sure in many other places. Dowry is not a payment for a woman’s upkeep, though today in India it’s seen by some parents of brides as a bribe or ransom to keep the in-laws from ill-treating their daughters.

If a traditional Indian family were to pay for everything a daughter in law is expected to do,  like relocate to their place; give up her independence, her name, her freedom to dress comfortably, her family, friends and support system, her right to nutrition and rest; provide elder care, heirs, nursing, child care, sex on demand, free labor etc, they would not be able to afford daughters in law for their sons. 

Henpecked husband: It has been a long article, I know. But principally here is my problem. When we say, “equal”, we have to mean “equal”. “Equal” can’t just mean tilting the scale heavily in favor of the perceived “weak” side to correct for historical wrongs. Awarding a gold digger all of a husband’s property leaving him penniless is not going to bring back the women who forcibly committed “Sati”s a hundred years ago.

IHM – Suggestion of dowry is okay? Suggesting a wife earns (or not earns) is also okay? Suggesting that a woman’s contribution in family income during the marriage is acknowledged is not alright? The bill allows courts to decide if the wife deserves a share in the matrimonial property (that was created during the marriage) – this seems to be an effort to ensure neither partner is left penniless. Also note, that the woman probably gave up opportunities to earn because she was in that marriage. 

Henpecked husband: The woman who goes around blowing trumpets about how she is in no way inferior should also not be hesitating in picking her bill at a restaurant or supporting a family financially.

IHM – I agree.

Henpecked husband: And finally, just because you might sense a lot of emotion at a few points in the article, don’t dismiss it as the ramblings of a henpecked husband. It gets a bit emotional at places because I feel strongly about it but to the best of my knowledge and belief, it’s a far too common scenario is urban families of working class professionals than what’s stated in your articles.

IHM – Self reliance for women, would automatically open many closed doors for men, they would be able to see wives as life partners not as dependents to be protected and provided for. But expecting dowries and dependent wives who can be asked to start and quit working earning when they get breaks from their other responsibilities (child rearing over and elder care not yet a full-time duty) seems unfair.