“Practically, what can an introvert DIL do to communicate that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?”

Patriarchy can’t survive without hierarchy and rigid but complex rules that ensure everybody knows their place. So Indian daughters in law in traditional and patriarchal families may not give their opinion but they are expected to be gregarious extroverts in some situations. 

Reading or quietly listening to music, spending time with their own social circle or not wishing to interact with (and seek approval of) the social circle of those who are higher in the family hierarchy is considered disrespectful and non-sanskaari. 

They are expected to be Sanskaari Extroverts who know how to win the approval of the third cousins, friends and acquaintances of those who are higher in the family hierarchy. 

‘Letter from another Indian woman’ asks  how to deal with this and more. 

Dear IHM,

I have been following some of your recent guest posts about dealing with abuse[link] and manipulation [link], as well as the letters that are often published in your blog. I am 28 years old, and I have been married for about 6 months now. From what I have observed around me, and in my relations with my husband’s family, I have a few questions that I would like to use as topics of discussion.

As background, I married my long-term boyfriend, whom I have known for some years. We met while we were at grad school . I have met and interacted with his parents several times before we got married, and during that period, they seemed fairly normal. My mother-in-law has an advanced degree and was a working professional all her life. His parents often lived in different cities, owing to transfers. My husband was primarily raised by his grandmother, and when he was older, was put in a residential school. Whenever I have spoken to my in-laws, they seemed proud and supportive of my education and career. I found these welcome; I was very clear that I wanted to marry someone whose parents I could get along with, and who would not be unreasonable when it came to my personal choices.

We went back abroad after the wedding. I came to India (without my husband) for a vacation this month, and went to spend some time at my in laws’ place. My husband told me to visit them only if I felt like it – I went because I thought I could get to know them better. I stayed for 10 days. However, I realized to my shock that there were sides of my in-laws that I had never anticipated.

Every day, she had at least ten different friends and relatives over, to ‘introduce’ me to them. She made coffee and snacks (I helped as much as I could in a foreign home), and I was expected to serve it to them and receive praise for being such a ‘good daughter-in-law’ (no, I was just being a decent host-helper). My achievements (education-wise and career-wise) were emphatically repeated to every group. The audience oohed and aahed and congratulated my MIL for getting ‘such an accomplished bahu’, while I cringed with embarrassment, yet smiled politely. It felt really uncomfortable to be made into some sort of a trophy. Their conversations were not something I could participate in: they gossiped about their other friends, their sons and DILs that I was sure the minute they left he house, they would gossip about me as well. And then my mother-in-law bade me to touch the feet of all the women who had come home to ‘bless’ me. Some of us don’t believe in falling at people’s feet. When I expressed my inhibitions to my mother-in-law, she said that this was de rigueur in her circles, and besides, it was ‘good manners’ and ‘polite’ to seek people’s blessings. Some of these people were her bosses at work, so I was supposed to ‘make a good impression’.  Her tone made it sound like she thought I was ill-bred.

Secondly, I realized that she has a temper issue. Whenever she is stressed, she shouts at whomever happens to be nearest to her that she considers her inferior. This includes her household help, people who live in her building and her siblings. I noticed that while they say nothing to her face (they mostly grin and shift their weight), they say nasty things about her behind her back.

I was with them for just 10 days, but I had her shout at me for no fault of mine three or four times. The last time, I lost my temper too and said I had done nothing wrong, why was I being shouted at. She replied saying I was ‘disobedient, talking back to her, had no respect for elders, acting like I was smarter than her, trying to one-up her to gain her son’s affections (!)’ accusations that I now know don’t apply to me at all. However, I was very hurt at that time. I have not been able to talk to her normally ever since.

My FIL took me aside and said that this was normal with her, and ‘if I ignore the temper and harsh words, she is a wonderful person’. He also said that she regrets not having spent time with her son when he was little, and now feels bad that he was not able to get leave and come down to be with her.

When I discussed this with my husband, he said he would speak to his mother when she was in a better mood, and that I did not have to be there any more and go back to my parents’ place. He also said that my MIL had been abused verbally and physically by her father when she was young (they could not answer back when shouted at, or they would be beaten). While I feel sorry for her, and understand where the cycle of abuse began, I don’t think it excuses her behavior.

So here are my comments/questions:

1. I am quite introverted by nature, and meeting lots of people for an extended period of time, gossip and small talk tires me out. However, in Indian families, the DIL is supposed to be gregarious, extroverted and quite the life of the party.While I found it difficult to play this role for 10 days, I shuddered to think of DILs who live with their in-laws and have to face an onslaught of people on a daily basis. In fact, I have heard it said in some homes: “your daughter is not outgoing enough, how is she going to adjust with all the people at her in-laws’?” Why this expectation? Further more, signalling that one is introverted and reserved gets her branded as ‘impolite’, ‘haughty’, ‘thinks too much of herself’ etc. Practically, what can an introvert do to communicate that such expectations are too much for her, and that she means no disrespect by wanting her own time?

2. It appears like most families want a woman who can answer questions in a checklist, fit into a mould that they have crafted of an ‘ideal DIL’, not a real woman. I don’t think any real woman can be all that! And I think this expectation is fairly universal – it is the rare parent who is actually open to getting to know a person, as opposed to a checklist. Practically, what can a woman like me do to convince my in-laws to get to know the real me? Is that likely? Is that even a good idea?

3. When I told my close friend about these incidents, and asked for advice to deal with it, I was told that ‘I should have inquired more’ and absolutely verified they were good people before marrying my husband. ‘Now it is too late, why complain now? Just adjust.’ was the refrain. I found it astonishing, but realized it is fairly common. The narrative that if you have a bad husband, or bad in-laws, then it is your fault is too prevalent today.But that’s not really true! Can one ever know a family so intimately without practically living with them for a month?

4. My in-laws are in their 60s, and getting older. While I don’t foresee living with them since we live abroad, if they are sick and ailing, I would want to take care of them. I want to have cordial relations with them if I can. But I am also sure I don’t want to be shouted at repeatedly for no fault of mine. Practically, what can I do to inform them that while I would like to be cordial, I don’t welcome intrusions and certainly not temper tantrums?

5. The very idea of a DIL (or even the son) negotiating boundaries with in-laws is considered rude, impolite and disrespectful. But I don’t think the MIL-DIL relationship is hierarchical. I am just a woman who happened to marry her son. How do we negotiate boundaries without it coming across as disrespectful? What is the best answer when one is accused of disrespect, when all one is doing is negotiating boundaries?

6. I have observed that my MIL inhabits a very hierarchical society. She fawns over her bosses (she practically sat on the floor at her boss-lady’s feet while she had coffee), and expects anyone younger than her to fawn over her. She takes it lying down when her bosses shout at her, apparently, and expects her ‘inferiors’ to not retaliate when she shouts at them. This is symptomatic of a larger social problem.

I don’t consider myself having significant problems. My husband is very fair and understanding, and we get along well. He protects me from having to face intrusive questions (about kids, etc.) from his extended family. I don’t have to live with my in-laws. However, just going by my experiences, I feel like I have experienced a taste of what so many many women in our country go through every day, and how that wears down their confidence and erodes their sense of self. This is practically human rights violation, it shouldn’t have to happen to anybody.

I request you to publish this letter, so that I can hear from your readers.

Thank you!

Related Posts:

“Someone ate without showering, someone didn’t bring mithai! These are trivialities, not social problems.”

‘Older people in our society need to learn to have a life of their own. Instead of seeking happiness in their kids’ lives, …’

‘I feel that arranged marriages are for extroverts, and there is no place for us introverts here.’

‘If you don’t mutter under your breath “I hate you” atleast once in your life, I am not doing my job properly.’

Display of respect to those in power, in Indian culture.

“When there are guests I don’t get to talk to them because I am in the kitchen all the time …even wearing a Nighty is considered indecent.”

Are you an Extrovert or an Introvert?

Recognizing Emotional Abuse

Some assertive ways to deal with manipulation.

The Men in Our Lives

“I thought it would indeed be wonderful to live with my in-laws.”

‘And if you are unlucky, you will get an American daughter-in-law.’

What kind of company policy puts a husband-wife couple in a boss-employee relationship? Doesn’t matter which of the two is on top.

DG of girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com shared this video – where the wife is the boss who asks the husband to stay back in office and finish an assignment while she goes home and cooks a meal and shares the pictures with him – and suggests he tells the boss that his wife is asking him to come home.

Take a look.

What is the ad trying to show? That when women are empowered, hierarchies are created (or reversed) and they become their husbands’ bosses in offices?

Here’s a comment in response to the video above,

I really like the ad… that man doesn’t mind his wife being superior to him even when it comes to profession and also respects his wife’s post. This contradicts the typical Indian man thinking where one cannot bear that a woman, especially his wife, is more successful than him…! [by Thanvi Vishishta]

Would you say that men who would rather not work with their wives as bosses are misogynists?

This ad reminded me of this email:

I feel bad to think I will have to stand at her door and ask my wife, “May I come in Madam”

And I agree with this comment:

“What kind of stupid company policy puts a husband-wife couple in a boss-employee relationship (doesn’t matter which of the two is on top)? There are proven detriments to that sort of work relationship. I wonder if this is just a troll writing a fictional letter to IHM.” [Nish on January 28, 2012 at 8:19 pm said:]

Also, what if the roles were reversed? Would the husband then be shown to go home, cook and then share videos/photos of the dinner?

Maybe the wife needed to prove that the boss stays in office, and like Indra Nooyi – a woman is always a wife and a mother first?

Do you think we need hierarchies in relationships where equals are involved?

Related Posts:

Absolutely loved this one – Boss

Are these advises and suggestions possible for an Average Indian Woman to even consider? Will she be able to think that way… educate me

Here’s a comment I would like to respond to:

Comment: Hello everyone ,

In this forum, I see a lot of very sensitive, sensible, intellectual and rational comments and arguments in favour of women, and by women. Rightly so.


1. Not in favor of women or men or Patriarchy or tradition, just the honest, and maybe sometimes the only practical and realistic option/s.

2. What might make the advice appear radical sometimes is that it is generally not what most people would hear from the family and community elders and the neighbours.

3. The traditional advice does not (and is not meant to) consider the well being of individuals concerned, but to protect patriarchal norms and the status quo. It was (and continues to be) less of an ‘advice’, and more of an ensuring the individual didn’t question established norms (often convenience of those who are advising is a priority).

4. Whenever questioned, this traditional advice continues to be proven either seriously harmful, ineffective, blatantly biased and frequently quite impractical.

It has directly lead to male child preference –  and hence a skewed gender ratio and crimes against women.

Some examples of impractical traditional advice for the average Indian woman:

i. “Please adjust and win over their hearts” – this advice is never meant for anybody except those who are the lowest in the Indian social hierarchy – mainly the average Indian daughters in law/paraya dhan/ghar ki izzat/chaati par bojh.

ii. ‘The restrictions/unhappiness/abuse will become easier to bear/disappear once there is a child’,

iii. Daughters must win the approval of the entire community specially if they are related to their present/possibly  future husbands,

iv. ‘Elders know better’ and ‘husbands know better’.

And of course,

iv. Get Married Stay Married (or die trying)

v.  ‘Obey.’ (only if you are lower in the social or family hierarchy)

vi. ‘Don’t question.’/’Don’t answer back’.’

Comment: Many argue that in a relationship,”men are mostly non-committal, and women are desperate for a commitment”. Hmm, In my opinion, when one looks at Urban India in most of its parts, this is quite true. Only when you are talking about India`s Elite group (rich, richer and richest), this can be arguable.

IHM: Any woman (self reliant, rich, educated, or poor and dependent) who believes that her happiness is less important than random people’s opinion of her might find herself believing that her life’s biggest goal is to Get Married and Stay Married.

Often this is what makes women (elite, illiterate, non earning, wealthy) desperate for commitment.

Please consider, if the patriarchal pressure to Get Married Stay Married is lifted would an average Indian woman worry more about her happiness than about getting and staying married?

Who benefits from the social pressure on an average Indian woman to Get Married and Stay Married? Mainly, dowry seekers and  abusive and controlling misogynists.

Comment: I am just curious about the people commenting or commentating about the issues here in this forum. I suppose they (the women especially) are all from either one of pretty well-to-do backgrounds, progressive, liberal, positive, well educated, confident etc. by nature, or they became this way after a bad relational experience of their’s or their known one`s, whichever way, I don`t know.

Are these advises and suggestions that they give (I endorse them, practicality questioned) possible for an Average Indian Woman (read as middle class typical) to even consider? Will she be able to think that way… educate me! To know one, you have to be one. Because, most of the solutions to many problems were like, to date, get to know the guy in person before commitment, should put your self esteem before his work, be ready to say NO if you don`t like his family members, be brave to just walk out of any relationship you don`t like, dress the way you like, have a child when or if you want to, etc…

Absolutely sensible. Sensible for the women I previously mentioned! I am not a male chauvinist, not a pessimist, not an optimist every time either. I try to be a Realist. I`m open if need be. I would love not just a woman, but anyone to be that way. Be absolutely independent, and then look for the whoever they cannot live without… gaud. This idea of “get committed to a guy as quickly and easily as possible” is a problem or a forced phenomenon which most Indian women have, irrespective of financial backgrounds. Reason being, financial, social, xyz security, whatever. But who needs more of this, and in turn being exploited, is the one to talk about? Aren`t they from the majority of lower middle, middle, and to an extent, the upper middle income group?  people who are not as confident, gifted, fortunate, financially and emotionally as strong as most of you (us) are ??  (presuming financial might brings with it, confidence, fortune, exposure etc.. debatable though!) I have a few questions to ask to the “solution/suggestion givers” in this blog, with due respect ,

1. How will You instill your confidence, questioning and reasoning ability into a middle class, Indian born and bred woman, who doesn’t have the backing, background, exposure etc. that you have? (the middle class Indian girl gets to face most of the problems that we are discussing here)

IHM: I think a good beginning would be talking about the possibility of self reliance and the freedom and happiness it can bring. Awareness has to be the first step. The discussions on this blog are a small step in that direction.

Comment: 2. In India, who wants a marriage badly ? Who is best equipped to live without a marriage ? a guy or a girl ? I think the answers to these questions should give us a proper answer to all that has led us to most of what we are discussing and arguing about now. Most of the lower, middle, and upper middle class women in India are still dependent on men for a future, whatever that might be. Middle and upper middle class women in India are mostly not brought up emphasizing the absolute need to work, unlike the boys. They just get a degree for social status or acknowledgement. I know a lot of women (some my classmates) who have their BE , M.Tech , MBAs ,M PHILs etc , but don`t have a job. They didn`t even try for one. They got it just for the sake of it. May be its one of the ways of bringing down the dowry, or getting a groom who makes good money and/or lives abroad.That is how the girl`s parents`, her relatives` thinking process is, and, or may be, the girl herself is made to think that way. Devil knows.

I`ll make this short and sensible if possible.

At a very young age, boys are told that they have to work once they are grown ups, irrespective of what they learn or what their grades are, in school, college and wherever…  It is not the case with all the girls. They go, or are told to go to college just to keep them occupied till they are 20 or 21 years old. They are then married to someone else. It is a shame. In India, both boys and girls have to be brought up in a way that they are independent financially, physically, emotionally, and what not. Marriage should only be an option and not a compulsion , for everyone .

IHM: Agree. How can we help in making it happen?

By creating awareness about it.

Awareness and attitude, it seems, doesn’t depend upon education, social status or financial self reliance.

Women and men, of all ages, who work as domestic helpers and construction workers, defy social norms as much as educated middle class or upper class women and men do.

Most people who don’t fit into patriarchy defined societal roles rarely find support for two reasons: 1.)  because those affected don’t seem to directly benefit from their decisions or 2.) often those who are not being supportive are genuinely convinced that Patriarchal norms, however unfair, are the only way to live by.

How can this change? One way I can think of is, to be that often much needed moral support by simply providing validation. As in, acknowledging a wrong is a wrong, and no amount of traditional excuses and no matter how unavoidable it is, nothing makes it right. At other times just knowing one is not alone is reassuring.

Also, it’s possible that those who have understood that the only way to be happy for them is to fight back, but they are not able to gather the strength to fight back. They need to know that sharing their awareness of abuse is not permitted only if they also start fighting back. Sometimes one needs to know that they are understood and that they have themselves understood the situation correctly; and they need not feel guilty for not understanding their feelings for the abusers (and for those who excuse the abusers). And they need not feel guilty for not being able to/wanting to do anything about the abuse.

And knowing that when they can fight back, they would have the support they need.

Change can not come without first admitting and then accepting that the change is needed. Which is also why this first step seems to face a lot of resistance.

Related Posts:

And then there is this 21 year old.

The Life And Times Of Another Indian Homemaker.

How important is it for a girl to get married and stay married?

These lines sum up the biggest reason for male child preference and skewed gender ratio in India.

“I will never live in a joint family, it has its roots in patriarchy and benefits only men.”

When a newly married Indian woman gives up her career, what else does she give up?

“Can anyone guarantee that absolute empowerment of women thru feminism will improve the social balance and not give rise to new social problems?”

I feel bad to think I will have to stand at her door and ask my wife, “May I come in Madam”

Sharing an email by a husband.

Do hierarchies in relationships make it difficult to celebrate a life partners’ success? Would there be more celebration, if she was working in a different office? What would you say to the email writer?

I and my wife have been married for 5 years and we share a very close bond. We never hide anything from each other.
She joined to work in my company last year. Now, she has got a promotion and now has an offer letter that will make her my boss.
I feel uneasy at this situation. I do not know how this will affect our relationship. So far we used to discuss A-Z of all that happens at work with each other. Now I feel that there is a new barrier between us.
I feel she will not tell me what happens at her level to me, because she is my boss now. Also, I am not sure if I can ask her about that. I fear I would lose my status in the relationship. I am not able to bring myself to ask her about that, as I suddenly feel there is a hierarchy between us and doubts such as “Can I ask her?”, “How should I address her”, “How will she take it if I talk?”, “Will I lose my say in household matters”, arise in my mind. I love her dearly, but I have these fears. Changing companies is not a good option now, as the job market is down.
I feel awkward to take orders from her, address her as Madam, wait for her to let me talk to her, facing disciplinary action from her (maybe) and above all, losing the transparency – can I ask her like before what decisions she makes, what went on in her meetings etc…….
What do I do?

How should I behave with her? If I say something that angers her at home, will I have to face the consequences at the office? So, is the free and uninhibited talk a thing of the past? Should I talk every word after thinking twice? I feel ashamed to live as a man…..

I feel bad to think I will have to stand at her door and ask “May I come in Madam”, and obey her orders in front of other people…. I know there may be things I will not know with other bosses, but IT HURTS to know that there are things that my wife will not tell me because I am below her.

I feel the intimacy is lost…… I have to submit to her will, haven’t I?
She has told me that she has got the offer, but she has not asked me whether I’d like her to take it or not…. So far, she’d discuss every thing with me and do only if I am ok with it…..

Are such insecurities the reason why some men don’t want working wives? (Or only want safe careers where there is no chance of her being more successful than they are ). Would anything change if the the wife refuses this promotion offer to save her marriage?

Emotions, Masculinity and Hierarchies in Relationships: Or making men walk alone in the journey of life.

Traditionally men have been discouraged from communicating their feelings (except with anger which was not seen as losing control), not just with their wives, but also their own children. For Indian men showing emotions to their mother was seen as acceptable.

Hierarchy creates distances and loneliness.

Imagine a father who can’t give his son a hug? Should it be so difficult to tell his son he loves him?
In this video, if the son had not taken the picture with him, would it mean he didn’t love his father? In the last part, the man is embarrassed to be ’emotional’.

Notice the ‘ahem’ (cough) to silence all protests. Would you like to have such a relationship with someone you cared so much for?

Tagline in the ad is apt : ‘Why walk alone in the journey of life?

Do keep the men is this ad in mind when you read tomorrow’s post from an anonymous Indian husband whose wife has just got a promotion.


Related Posts: 

Cynically Engineered: Honor and Masculinity: How Patriarchy Warps Your Thinking

What do men need liberation from.

Boys don’t cry. – Starry Eyed