Yesterday I was in a deep conversation with an auntie from my neighborhood. She read my article and was trying to understand what kind of psychological constraints a family has on today’s women.
“For example,” she stated, ”my daughter-in-law is an independent working woman. We allow her to work even though my son earns well and can manage the finances alone. She has her own life – she wears jeans and dresses in front of us, she cooks if she feels like cooking otherwise we go out and eat. There are no restrictions on her.” My head hung low, it was as if her daughter-in-law’s miserable life almost circled around me. She sensed my discomfort and asked, “Isn’t this enough?”
I shook myself to come out of my brooding and asked, “Auntie, whatever you just said about your daughter in law, can we replace it with your son?” Now the discomfort almost passed to her. I leaned in closer and said, “ For example, your son is an independent man, as YOU allow him to work, even though there is enough your daughter-in-law earns to keep the family afloat. He has his own life and can wear whatever he wants in front of you like jeans, shorts, etc. In fact, he only cooks at home when he feels like cooking, otherwise, your family goes out and eats.”
I had to write about this incident and my hands were itching. Auntie was highly disappointed with me. She told me that modern girls like me don’t understand the “Bhartiya Sanskriti” and this is doomsday thinking. But my mind was working more scientifically to understand the effects of bringing down the disparity between treatment received by a typical “bahu-rani” of Indian household vs a typical “raja beta”.
Let’s consider some typical biases a woman faces from the minute she is born – and try to remove them:
- Not expecting her to get up before everyone else in the house.
- Not expecting her to dress up in a typical way, especially in front of “others”.
- Letting her follow her own religion and letting her find her own path to her spirituality.
- Not expecting her to do household chores including tea making, cooking and keeping equal participation and responsibility towards it.
- Not expecting her to solely take care of the child. Instead, participate equally in bringing them up.
- Not expecting her to leave her career for taking care of kids or due to husband’s transfer to another job or any other reason.
A sudden realization fell upon me, the list is endless and I can go on and on with this – Not expecting her to serve the guests, not expecting her to not speak out her opinion in front of others, not expecting her to sit in a particular manner and at times sit at all, not expecting her to talk smoothly, laugh loudly, walk even and adequately love only those the family approves of.
Women in typical Indian households are judged all the time. We create a huge agenda for them to follow and stick to. Those who skip out are termed rebel, anti-social and even characterless. In contrast, men have an easy way out. The only agenda they need to stick to is to make money. They can swear in public, drink and smoke, and even get away by not moving a finger in the house. In fact, they are praised to glory and become next to the almighty in case they choose to share household chores or the responsibility of bringing up a kid. There is a Bollywood movie on this subject “Ki and Ka” where the actor takes care of the house and his wife goes out to earn. The actor actually ended being more popular and earned a huge fan following as a person who breaks stereotypes just for playing a role in a movie.
Now let’s imagine a world where women are actually free to live life the way they want – a gender-neutral utopia where people don’t expect anyone to behave in a certain way. Responsibilities and power are equally shared and enjoyed by both the genders. An inclusive world where both men and women have an open mindset to speak up and share ideas. This place will:
- Never bear the burden of developing a gender-balanced index, as a girl child will be happily accepted in homes.
- Will have no or highly reduced offenses and crimes against women.
- Male and female wages will be purely performance-based.
- Ideas and plans will see the right mix of left and right brain.
- Laws, policies, and agendas will never be biased and will be more inclusive.
Equal participation of responsibilities will also grow happier families and lead us to a progressive future. So, think again before you “allow” your daughter-in-law to dress and eat the way she wants. Let her follow the religion she wants to follow – her parents or her in-laws. Let her keep her name. Lend her a helping hand when she is burdened up with work and give her a cup of tea when she returns back home from work.
It all starts at home and impacts society overall. Start believing in your daughter’s opinion, respect your wife’s career and understand who your sister is more comfortable loving and living with – that would be a change of a happier growing nation.
And that would be enough.