Day 11: Life( and Work)

I loved this post by DreamyMommy.

The whole thing of people being oh-so-curious and passing sweeping judgements about our working/non working lives.

I remember from over 10 years ago, there was a lady, someone we knew who would always run down ‘working women’, sometimes in front of my husband, knowing fully well that he had a working woman for his wife. He would be seething with annoyance, but unable to retort back for being impolite. Another time she told us that children of working mothers consider their nannies their real mothers. We, at that point,didn’t even have a child, so we were in the worst possible category. Working woman, and not even showing any signs of having a baby!! God! What is the world coming to!

When I did have a baby, and decided to go back to work, there must have been people judging, but I don’t remember anybody telling me anything or maybe I was just too preoccupied to pay attention. I did pay attention when I decided to take a break from work and I had friends lauding my decision because it was ‘good for my child’. What shocked me was that they used my example to tell their niece that she should not work or refuse to work if her would-be husband didn’t want her to. She had apparently refused to get married to someone who refused to let her work. So they used my example as some one who’s been working and finally ‘came to her senses’ and decided to quit. Needless to say, I put the record right. I’m not sure what happened with their niece but hopefully she got married to someone sensible. Hopefully.

And then of course, there were some from the other side of the spectrum. ‘Don’t you feel bad about asking your husband for money?’, ‘Don’t you feel bad about wasting your education?’, ‘Can’t your parents or in-laws look after your child while you work?’. Sigh.

It makes me wonder about how much people judge, and decide that they can map out our lives for us. No, I never felt bad about asking for money, because I never did, ask for money, that is. It’s not just his money, it’s both of ours. I’ve never been in a situation that I’ve had to ask husband for money. He has had to ask me ,though, because he never remembers to carry his wallet 😉 And about wasting my education, well, I can only ask, can education ever be wasted? As for asking parents to look after my child, well, I wouldn’t have had a child if I can’t look after her. Our parents have done their job of parenting, it’s now our turn, and we choose to do it in the best way we can. Also, don’t parents have a life of their own? Why would we assume that it’s alright to ask them to uproot their lives so that yours can continue unhindered?

Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones who could afford to take a break, and lucky enough to be able to get back to work as well. Some don’t have that luxury. People are of course, quite forgiving of people who have to work. And quite critical of those who chose work over being a stay at home parent. All I can say from personal experience is that you can be a great parent no matter what you do, stay at home or go out to work, and the reverse holds true as well. From my own experience, if you are happy doing what you are doing, you are more likely to do everything well.

As for now, that I’m back at work, I can genuinely say that I did it because it felt right to me. It feels fulfilling and after a few years of being a SAHM, I had started longing for more. I feel happier, more energetic and satisfied. Also a lot busier. Life is more hectic and but that’s something I can handle for now.

Although it does come with some free mummy guilt, which means that I end up baking cupcakes for school cake sales after coming back from work, but that was well worth the trouble when daughter came back saying that they were delicious and all of hers got sold out 🙂

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PS: Please do ignore typos and errors. Again a hastily typed phone post. Sigh. When will I ever learn to plan and schedule my posts properly?

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Breaking the cycle..

… Or to be more accurate, why breaking the cycle is so difficult..

Our friend Bikram raised some questions in his post here, and I thought I’d try to answer.

Bikram questions ‘The mother-in-law knew how his son was treating the daughter in law , yet she did not say anything Rather she was calling up the Girls father to give more, I mean WHY.. Did she go through the same when she got married and came to the family..

Let me explain with an example. I met a young woman here. She must be in her late twenties or at max, her early thirties. She grew up in India, but got married to an NRI who was 34 at that point in time. She was 18. She says her parents had no plans to get her married but when the proposal came up, it felt like a good one. She has three children, and lives in a typical joint family type of environment, here in the UK. One day we were talking and she started telling us about how tough it is for her. She works, but once she is home, she is expected to be the obedient, dutiful bahu, making tea for everyone, clearing up. It might not sound like a huge deal, but as she says, if you end up spending 45 mins for having a simple cup of tea- it becomes a big deal. Especially in a country where she has no maids or anybody to help out. If she fancies a cup of tea and makes it for herself without checking with the rest of the family, it is considered quite rude. A small example, but it affected her badly enough for her to share it with us. Then she went on to say, ‘What can I do, I can only wait for when it will be my turn to be the mother-in-law’.

I was stunned to hear that. Surely one would think that she would try to break the cycle rather than have it continue? But then I realized that, for her, it is just a fact, an accepted reality. As a daughter-in-law, she has to accept what is given to her, and she has to wait until her son gets home a DIL before she gets to throw her weight around. She does not think of breaking the cycle because she has accepted the system for what it is.

What horrified me, was just a statement of fact for her. Why? Because that is the system they have been brought up it, that is the system they are familiar with. They don’t see a problem with it. A boy will bring home a wife, while a daughter will be sent away. I have heard this justification from so many people.

Dowry is justified too. People think that it is perfectly legitimate. These days it is termed as ‘gifts’ which the girl’s side gives ‘willingly’. I don’t understand why gifting is only the woman’s parents prerogative? Then of course, people will explain that a daughter is going away to her ‘real home’ so her parents would like to ‘gift’ her things. That to me is the root cause of this whole thing. The imbalance in society which is brought about by the concept of a male child being ‘apna’ and a female child being ‘paraya’.

The system is also the reason a parent dreads the birth of a girl child, dreads the day they will have to shell out huge amounts of money to get her ‘married off’.

The only way the evils like sex selective abortions, dowry etc can be eradicated is the system itself changes. If both sons and daughters take up the responsibility of looking after their parents, if parents of daughters are not left destitute in their old age, if a daughter is not taught that no matter what, once she gets married, her marital home is her home, and not her parental home.

In fact in the program, in both the first and the third episode, we had women expressing how it is so horrible for a parent to have their married daughter coming back home. It broke my heart to listen to that. I can’t even begin to imagine how helpless they must have felt. Where could they have gone? How could they have walked out on their marriages when all that has been drummed into their heads is that their parental home is no longer their home?

The moment that stigma goes away, we will find a lot of women comfortable about standing up for their rights. When they know that they will not make their parents unhappy if they land up at their doorstep. When women understand that they don’t need to accept everything that is thrown at them. When they are brought up with the belief that no matter what, their parents will always be there for them. That they are no ‘paraya dhan’.

When old is gold…

We had a get together last Saturday. A fun and delicious dinner with friends, made spicier with an interesting discussion.

Some of us ended up discussing Feminism, and as is usual, there were a lot of views. Predictably most of the men felt that it was ‘unnecessary’. I have to say rather proudly, that I have a feminist of a husband – he was only man who openly supported us girls 🙂

While a lot of things got discussed, one which I wanted to analyse here was ‘History’.

Just because historically patriarchy seems to be the norm, people seem fine with accepting it as the best thing. I was told a lot of times that we, women need to understand the ‘history’ behind it. And if it works, why are we trying to break the balance. The question for me is, does it actually work? What was difficult to get most of them to understand was that it works only for some sections of society. If it were working, we wouldn’t need to change it.

Also, the fact that the Western world followed patriarchy is always thrown in for added measure. It always makes me laugh that most people who would deride ‘Western Values’, have no problems with using the example of patriarchy in Western Society as an excuse or a justification.

So going back to the issue, I was surprised to see how vehement the men were in opposing any change to the current situation. Most of them were ready with examples of women torturing men, with women abusing dowry laws, citing these, as reasons why men have more to fear than women. Nuclear families, of course, were the worst example of low-life, the moral corruption that women getting powerful, is leading us to. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that the people spouting all this are all NRIs who are most certainly not staying with their parents.

And of course, most of them saw nothing wrong with women being considered ‘paraya dhan’. It was natural, was the claim. Girls leave the house, and the boys bring their wives into the house. Perfect, according to them.. What if there are only girls in the family.. Well, that is of course, unfortunate… but what can be done. ‘Sex selection, perhaps?’, I had to ask!

I wouldn’t have worried if these were views expressed by our parents’ generation, but when my generation is so vehement about it, it makes me wonder if education, makes any difference at all.. It made me want to send the IHM’s blog to open their eyes to what women(and men) go through in our society. I wish I could explain to them how patriarchy shackles both men and women. But sometimes, people don’t want to listen, they don’t want change because it works for them at the moment.

You know what was the saddest part? At the end of the night, I was taken aside and told that all this talk of women empowerment is of no use. You can’t change anything.There is a reason society evolved like this, and we should know better than try to upset the apple cart. If at all things have to change – they will change by themselves!

You know what, I was sad, but not for us, women. I was sad for people who thought like this. Who refuse to accept reality, who think that by closing their eyes to it, they can pretend that everything is fine. What a sad existence, don’t you think?

Why every little helps..

Deeps’ post and this post on Women’s Web prompts me to write on this subject again.

A lot of times when I start discussing the topic of the condition of girls in India, I get that ‘There she goes again on her feminist track’. The thing is,whatever I say, I feel that it is not enough. It will never be enough – until the date that people stop this yearning for a boy. It will not be enough until people stop treating girls as the unwanted sex. Until a girl child is welcomed just as much as a boy child is. Until people stop saying things like, ‘Pehla bacha ladka ho to santhusthi hai’ – this was said to a friend of mine.

How will mere words help, people ask. Well, I think, words help in its own way.

For one, some people accept it as part of culture. Having seen the boy child preference practiced all around, they take it for granted. They assume that it is normal for grandparents to love grandsons more than granddaughter(I have come across people claiming this- educated people, by the way). So when they hear/read people talking about the injustice, and the why it is so wrong to shun a girl child, they might turn a deaf ear initially, but slowly, I think it will make a difference. One of the people, who used to loudly proclaim how her son was the favourite of his grandparents, has now toned it down. She is now careful not to mention things like that in public again. Probably after she realized that not everybody thinks this way. Hopefully her thinking might have changed too.

I have seen this happen right in front of me. While people might not change their thinking right away, they might start to understand that culture is not a justification for everything.

The same goes for dowry. The more people talk about it, shame it, publicly, and stop treating it as part of our ‘culture’, the more likely it is to die away as a custom.

I am so vocal about this, that nobody in my friends/acquaintance circle dares tell me to have another child to have a boy. Somebody I know told a friend of mine to try again, maybe this time she might have a boy. Only to be told on her face, that she doesn’t care if she has a boy or not – she is happy with her daughter. That was the end of it.

Will all this talking make any real difference. I think it will. I think it makes people think – even if it goes against what they have always seen. And even if one person rethinks what they have grown up with, it makes a difference, don’t you think? At the very least, they might think before speaking in front of vocal people like us, some may remember not to let subconscious discrimination enter their actions, some might go even further.. From the place that we are at – any progress is better than no progress, wouldn’t you agree?

Women, be warned!

It is depressing to read the news these days. So now that women have been told to not be out after 8 pm, in Gurgaon. What next?

Cover every inch of skin between 8 am and 8 pm to be safe? Or better still, how about women just stay indoors – that should be a foolproof way!

The whole attitude of the establishment is astounding, to say the least. They are responsible for the safety of the country’s citizens, and no, asking people to stay indoors is not ensuring safety. Why do we need police if this is the solution that the government comes up with? Oh I forgot, all that our governments are good at, is moral policing, and preventing freedom of speech. After all when so much time and energy is lost in figuring out if women wearing Western clothes are distracting, or in figuring out which politician was insulted in FB or twitter, who has the time to worry about people getting raped. Not the police for sure!

After all, it is the victim’s fault for being at that place, at the wrong time, and who knows, her visible ankle must have been too much for a man(or a bunch of men) to resist! Or worse still, she works late, now that is unpardonable, she needs to learn a lesson. Police? Well, what can they do, it was after 8:00 pm, you see.

And of course, all crime will stop the moment women disappear from the streets. So all us women, should remember not to be around after 8, who knows who might get tempted by our mere presence. We shouldn’t make the police and the establishment’s job harder than it is.

All you need is a son..

.. to enhance your position in your family…

Remember the baby shower I had mentioned some time back? One of the women had her baby. She had been told it was a girl, but the baby turned out to be a boy instead. She already has a daughter.

The woman’s mother was elated, apparently because now her daughter’s position in her family( read in-laws’ family) was cemented. Apparently they were worried because the in-laws never ‘accepted’ her completely( their’s was a love-marriage). Her mother was worried that they(the in-laws) might persuade her son-in-law to leave her daughter and marry someone else – just because she had two girls! Now that she had a son, all was nice and rosy.

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was from a woman whose daughter was independent, she is a doctor – totally capable of taking care of herself. And yet, the mother worried about her daughter ‘staying married’.

And equally important, isn’t it insulting for a man to be thought of having no mind of his own? Surely, a man who chose his wife, would stand up for his wife and his children? Surely, he can’t be brainwashed by such nonsense, especially when he is a medical doctor himself? Especially, when there was no reason to doubt his intentions. And if he were indeed the sort to turn his back to his wife and children, because she had 2 girls, is it worth staying in the marriage at all?

I don’t know what makes me more wild, the mother thinking like this, or other women, educated, well-aware, understanding her sentiments, because that is how society works! That having a son, does indeed, makes all the difference to their ‘position’.

Quiet and Sober Post 24

Which gender do you instantly picture when you hear the qualities ‘quiet and sober’?

Dumb question, isn’t it? Yesterday, a friend described a little girl like this, as a compliment to the girl. That set me thinking. Quiet and sober, does not sound like a compliment to me though – it sounds boring. While I am all for well-behaved children, quiet and sober goes one step ahead. It somehow indicates a suppressed personality, in my opinion.

Why quiet? I would want my child to be quiet, if she chooses to or if that is how she is, not because she thinks that it is a sign of ‘good behaviour’. I can’t help wonder if these quiet children actually stop airing their views because they have got the message that being ‘quiet and sober’ is a good thing. Maybe I am making too much of it, but it annoys me more because I have never heard a little boy being described as ‘quiet and sober’.

One of the things which husband and I feel is important is to being up our child to be confident. Confident in her abilities, confident enough to know her mind, and confident enough to speak her mind.

Some children might be gentle, some boisterous, some naughty, some quiet, by nature. Which is fantastic, as far as that is their nature, rather than an expectation that is heaped upon them. I get annoyed when people describe little girls as ‘very ladylike’. Please let her be a child first. Please let her enjoy her childhood, ladylike or not, let it be something she is, rather than something she conforms to, because of what is expected out of her.

Haven’t you come across households where girls are treated differently, and grow up in that mentality. Haven’t we all come across mums who try to boast about their little boy’s ‘naughtiness’, even if the child is question is actually a reserved, quiet child, who keeps away from trouble? Mothers who get annoyed when their sons play with dolls or prams, or love the colour pink? Why is a quiet boy, so unacceptable and a boisterous girl, so unacceptable? Wouldn’t the world be an easier place to live if every child is allowed to be true to their intrinsic nature? A boy who loves playing with dolls is and a girl who likes to repair cars encouraged equally?

Can’t we describe a child as well-behaved, sunny, confident, happy, well-mannered, instead of quiet and sober? Can a child be free of the stereotypes that society seems eager to heap upon him/her?

Please tell me, does quiet and sober make sense to you?

More on adjustments, compromises, and a woman’s life.. Post 9

Commenting on Iya’s and Roop’s posts made me realize that there was so much more that I wanted to say on this topic…

Last year, someone we know got married. She was barely 22, not financially independent. The worst part was that she was getting married to an extremely conservative family, who lived in the same village as her parents. This also meant that she would not be allowed to drive her scooter(which she did before marriage) or wear anything apart from a sari even when she visited her parents. We had tried dissuading her parents and convincing them to let her get an education, and gain financial independence. But to no avail. They wanted the ‘responsibility’ out of the way. They wanted to get her ‘married off’ so that nobody accused them of ‘keeping an unmarried daughter at home’.  They believed that a daughter has no place in her parents place.

Not even a year down the line, she is back at her parents place. She has been verbally/mentally abused badly by the husband. He wants ‘money’ to shut his mouth. Things have got so bad that, she even tried to commit suicide a few times. Finally she is now back at home. Her parents are supportive of her, but they are still trying to see if a ‘samjhauta’ can be reached. I can’t help wonder what ‘samjhauta’? What compromise can be reached when the husband is not even concerned about her. When all he is bothered about is money.

Last year, I had met her when we were in India. She was newly married, and had a few concerns at that time.  I heard her mother/aunts explain to her that we, women cannot expect everything to go our way. We have to compromise, adjust. Don’t have high expectations. Just learn to be a ‘good daughter-in-law’ and everything will be all right. Having known her, I know that she is a sweet person, soft spoken, and someone who generally toes the line. Not someone who will try to make a fuss out of nothing. Knowing this, if she is unhappy, surely, someone should be listening to her rather than pretend that everything will be alright if she ‘adjusts’.

I can’t comprehend the huge rush to get her back in her marital home. What if her in-laws decide to make her life worse for going and talking to her parents about what she faced? Why, why do people think that an abusive husband is not a big deal? Isn’t it better for her to get out of an abusive marriage now, before she has children and gets even more trapped in an unhappy life?

Clearly, nothing matters apart from the perception that the daughter is married. What is of utmost importance, is that an unmarried daughter is not at home, so god forbid, if the married daughter comes home. Lets find the quickest way to send her back. Lets talk about adjustments, compromises, whatever,  lets just get her back where she belongs. After all, she is the paraya dhan. So what if her next suicide attempt is successful. All that matters is that she is in her marital home. Nothing else, apparently, matters.

Adjustment – The magic word?

Couple of years back, we had friends staying over, and as usual, we spent the better part of the weekend, talking.

One of the topics that came up was of their niece who had just started working. Apparently, the family was trying to get her married off and she was being rather stubborn -according to them. They were lamenting about how girls these days have ‘fancy’ ideas and have their own demands before getting married. On asking what these demands were, it turned out that she wanted to continue working after getting married. The family was trying to get her to ‘adjust’ because obviously ‘getting married was far more important than having a career’.

I was shocked to hear this from a seemingly modern couple. They went to explain that they even tried to make her understand by giving my example. ‘My example?’ – was my reaction. Apparently they said that even career women like me gave up their jobs and adjusted. I tried explaining that I did not ‘adjust’ – it was my choice – I worked when I wanted to , I took a break when I wanted to, I was not made to ‘adjust’ at all – by anyone. I did not adjust, I just took a decision based on a lot of factors, but I certainly did not ‘adjust’.  All she wants is to have that same freedom. Why should she be expected to give up her way of life? Why not look for a man who has the same expectations as her. Why expect her to enter a relationship starting off with compromises and adjustments that she does not want to make in the first place. Of course, that fell on deaf ears.

It makes me wonder why a man can lay down expectations of wanting a working wife( or a non-working one, for that matter), but a girl having the same(or similar) expectations is told to adjust? If anything, I would think that it makes more sense to have all these thing on the table – right at the beginning, than expecting one person to give up all their expectations, and then have a frustrated life- all their life?

Last time, in India, I met a newly married girl. She had got married within the same community, near her parents. Her mother wanted more for her. She was hoping that her daughter gets married outside the community so that she gets a different life, but that did not happen because the mother does not have much of a say in matters like this. This girl, after her wedding, is now confined to wearing sarees, she can’t ride her scooty anymore, she can’t step out of the house without her in-laws permission. And to make it worse, most girls, apparently get a little freedom when they go to their parent’s place, but because her parents live in the same town/village, she has to go around with a ghunghat even when she visits her parents! And when she voices her frustration, she is asked to adjust, because that’s what married women have to do. She is told that she will get used to all this after some time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cheerful, bubbly girl is transformed into a woman with hardly a smile on her face, the next time we meet her. Her husband’s life on the other hand, continues just as before.

Another girl, I know, married into a joint family. All the ‘family’ responsibilities came onto her. Including waking up before everybody else, cooking, getting breakfast ready, and even taking a bed-tea to her sister-in-law! On the weekends, her husband would go out with his old friends, while she stayed at home, looking after her in-laws. And this girl, in question was a professional, before she gave up her job because of all the pressure on her. When her husband went abroad on work, she was asked to stay back to ‘look after her in-laws’. I wonder how they would have managed had their son not been married? Oh wait – that is why they got him married! To get a care-taker! Is she happy with her life? Well, lets just put it this way – I would not have heard about all this, had she been happy.

The reason ‘adjust’ and ‘adjustments’ have become a dirty word, so to speak, is because more often than not, it is the women doing most of the adjustments. More often than not, a woman is expected to become part of a new family, take up responsibilities, live life according to other people’s terms, while her partner gets to lead his life just the way it was.

On the other hand, if both partners were to adjust, compromise, and work towards their marriage, one would feel less annoyed with the word – ‘adjust’. Of course, life is full of adjustments, compromises, but people would be happier doing it, if they did not feel forced into it. None of us will get everything on a platter, and we all have to work towards it, in some way or the other. All of us are fine with certain adjustments, but might draw a line at others. I guess a happy relationship is where both partners are not expected to make those adjustments, that they don’t want to make. So if a girl is clear about having a career, then don’t make her ‘adjust’ and get her married off to man who has made it clear that he doesn’t want a working wife. What is the worst that could happen? She might get married a little later – isn’t it better than a life time of unhappiness for both partners?

Like I tried explaining to my friends, if I had been forced to leave my job, I would have felt frustrated and annoyed. Today, because I have the option, I feel at peace with my decision. And if more women want that, the choice, – what is wrong with it? Unless both partners feel happy and secure  in their relationship, it can go nowhere. And an unhappy relationship affect both partners equally. Eventually.

This is my contribution to ‘The Great Adjustment Story‘ at http://www.womensweb.in.

Not Without My Daughter

The other day in the library, Betty Mahmoody’s Not without my daughter’ caught my eye. I had read it a few years back, but wanted to read it again, yes, I am one of those mad people who re-read books.

The last time I read it, it had moved me, but this time, I was practically in tears. I guess being a mother made me feel what she was feeling much, much more.

The mere thought that someone who you trust(or had trusted), enough to have a child with him, could turn out to be so different and would not think twice before taking away your child from you, is devastating, isn’t it? We dread anything that might take our children away from us, but how would we react when someone as close as your husband decides to do it? And even worse, when he takes you to a country where a woman has practically no say in anything at all. Where a child is always a man’s property. For a while, she was praying for her husband’s death, only to realise that on his death, her child would he his family’s property – not hers! She says, she stopped praying for that as soon as she realised that.

Betty’s chilling tale of how she managed to escape the country with her daughter,Mahtob, will stay with me for a long time. Her determination to leave with her daughter. The embassy in Iran gives her the option to leave without her daughter, which she refuses. She stays determined to leave and leave with her daughter. She explains towards the end how while in the US, she had seen another side to her husband, Moody. She had checked divorce as an option, but had backed when she realised that divorce would give her husband visiting rights at the very least, to her daughter. She decided that she had to take the risk and take her daughter to Iran at least once so that Mahtob is safe forever.

Trapped in Iran, with no friends or help, at times imprisoned in her house by Moody, she wonders if she did take the right decision. Thankfully for her, it all turned out well,in the end. It does make me wonder about how many women go through similar experiences, in countries across the world. Even in countries where laws are equal and fair, things like this could happen if the woman is not strong enough or independent enough. Betty had met another American woman in Tehran, who had accepted her fate and chose to be with her abusive husband in Iran, because she felt that she could not manage on her own, given her lack of educational qualifications.

In so many cases, in our own society, women are held hostage(so to speak) in marriages they are not happy in. While they might not be imprisoned in a physical sense, they are held captive by their lack of confidence, qualification or just the lack of societal support.

The book is thought-provoking in so many levels. It made me thank my luck that I was born where I was.