It gets really frustrating when feminism (or what is understood to be feminism) is forced to fit into tradition. Tradition, no matter how much this angers my male friends, is not sacrosanct, if at all such a term means anything. It is heavily biased in favour of men, the upper castes, and the landed class. For instance, what do you make of a tradition where the word for ‘husband’ (pati) just as often means ‘owner’?
Of late, a marriage between the inherently patriarchal familial tradition and feminism has been proposed. Under this deal, historically patriarchal traditions have been made to pass off as free will, and what is worse is that this allowance to exercise “free will” (as long as it conforms to patriarchal traditions) is portrayed as progressive and “feminist”.
This is the art of patriarchal doublespeak, where deference for the man and his family pass off as love, a sexist division of labor within marriages, as responsibility, and the oppressive institution of forever reinforcing stereotypes of womanhood, as the “sanctity” of the traditional Indian familial structure.
Tradition is heavily biased in favour of men, the upper castes, and the landed class.
I was checking out my Quora feed last week, when I came upon this excellent question
‘As an Indian wife, what do you wish your husband knew?’
It had an even more excellent answer. Point number 6 read:
“Your wife needs privacy and alone time occasionally. She can’t be at your /in-laws / your siblings’ service at all times.”
This sounded wrong and confusing to me. Why would a wife need basic rights like privacy and alone time only occasionally? The next part of the answer was even more muddled up. Why does she have to be in the service of her in-laws at all?
The rest of the answer had similar problems. Then, I decided to suggest edits for the answer to the original answerer, and help them put their consciousness of establishing equality in the household and between both spouses. Snippets from rest of the answer, with suggested edits, are as follows:
Your wife may or may not know cooking, which isn’t in any way related to your marriage. If she does, she obviously cannot cook like your mother, because, hey, no two people in the world cook alike. If she doesn’t, offer to teach her this very valuable life-saving skill.
Your taste and your wife’s taste will be different, because you are both grown human beings that have developed their own personalities. She will not automatically like what you like, because she is not a sentient robot whose only aim is to respond favourably to your likes and dislikes.
You should know cleaning, washing, sewing, and cooking. Your wife may not have had exposure to these exciting skills, as she may have read books, written code, or scored goals all her life. How about you offer to teach them to her too.
Your wife needs privacy and alone time whenever she desires, as she is not bonded to dedicate her life and body to the service of your family. This could come as a surprise, but she is an autonomous individual, guided by her own will. She need not be at your service at all.
And this was the brightest.
Your wife will rest as and when she pleases. It may surprise you to know that your wife is an actual human being with a brain that can make decisions for herself regarding when she wants to relax. You do not have to decide for her whether she “deserves” a day of relaxation or not.
I was barely done with the answer, when I scrolled down to the comments section. People’s responses to the answer only worsened my dilemma. A lot of people had justified the domestication of women on the grounds of convenience, and one even went so far as to say:
Which, quite brazenly, dismissed the need for any equality at home whatsoever, and aggressively asked for a “service attitude” in women:
What is disturbing is the matter-of-fact tone of such comments that don’t assume even a perfunctory agreement with the spirit of equality associated with feminism. Even the lip-service of “progressive” social media dwellers is absent here. Only an aggressive brandishing of chauvinistic male entitlement is on full display.
the undertones of the entitlement of the pampered Indian male to the services and submission of his wife are hard to miss.
Almost everyone else in the comments section pointed out how women don’t pay for household expenses and hence must not object to being forced to do household chores, when the answer to that is the domestication of women in history came much before them being considered fit enough to work and earn a living.
After men have made women feel inferior for generations, after they have denied women education and careers, after forcing women to do household work, after isolating women to the zenana – these privileged upper-class patriarchs on the internet ask why women don’t pay for household expenses.
The original Quora answer can be seen as trying to effect a change, but the undertones of the entitlement of the pampered Indian male and his family to the services and submission of his wife and her family, are hard to miss. ‘Privacy’ and ‘alone time’ are made to sound like luxuries, and being in the service of the husband’s family is presupposed here. While assuming that adapting to the husband’s family could take ages is alright – why does it have to happen at all?
Evidently, the seemingly progressive section of population wishes to achieve a bargain where the pretence of equality and freedom for women can be maintained with the highest possible level of exploitation in the household. Just like it has been at workplaces, where a semblance of parity often opens doors for rampant masked exploitation. Terms like working women, independent women, emancipated women are made out to be antagonistic to the existence of humanity. Hardly has even such a semblance been reached in the household, and the propagandists of a heteronormative system allotting roles to the sexes have already begun wailing in unison at the ruin of their happy dream of patriarchy.
Here’s to hoping there will be a time the male population realizes that this is about recognizing women as humans and not about somehow making a housewife out of a female life partner. Here’s to hoping we menfolk understand that wives have nothing to do with our families and that ‘rest’ and ‘independence’ to them mean the same as it does to us.
According to quite a few Indian male Quora users, feminism exists only for women who either want a seat on the delhi metro or want to file a dowry case. Open discussion on Quora sometimes just feels like a lost cause.
Quora is full of self-righteous bigots that believe they can set a certain standard for feminism. They go on and on explaining how far feminism should go, attacking just about every women talking about gender issues by saying all rape charges are false, and glorifying the ideal woman image. These people are not progressive. They assume online platforms are negotiating tables for reaching a consensus on how free women should be allowed to become.
Thank you for writing this!
I found a post on my feed today which had advice dished out for “Indian girls”; it tried to sound all benevolent and “you don’t have to have ‘free sex’ if you can’t handle it” and slightly passive aggressive “you may like a man holding the door for you and that is completely all right but then you have to give him something in return as he deserves it” and among the very best, “Learn to fight like men. Your enemy does not come with a prescribed gender.” Maybe it is the wonder at the staunch belief in their words: “You have been dominated by men because you were afraid to fight.” Maybe Quora has also smelt the “redundant smell of feminism” on me.
Thank you for reading!
So, as per you what is the responsibility of wife towards household and towards her husband, just as it is responsibility of husband to set up the household and provide for and maintain the household including her wife? And this responsibility of husband is legally recognized in our country and feminists are too happy with it. Not only this, they want to increase the liability and responsibility of husband without suggesting any duty for wife. May be, author can suggest.
And yes, if wife is not working and don’t earn equal to her husband then she will have to do domestic chores. After all, why does husband has to provide and maintain his wife at his own standards as legal responsibility?
And family of husband doesn’t deprive wife from any kind of education but her paternal family. So, if wife can’t find a job where she can earn equal to her husband because of lack of qualifications or any academic reason then the economic inequality created between both the spouse not because of her husband and in-laws.
I strongly believe that husbands and wives are both responsible for running the house (financially and with the chores). When I pay the bills, my husband need not feel emasculated. If he does, that’s an example of how patriarchy affects men too.
You mention an interesting point about wives not earning at all or earning less than husbands, which means they must naturally take on more of the household work. Seemingly logical argument. But please ask yourself, why is it that a disproportionately large number of women end up earning less? Before marriage, my husband and I earned almost the same amount. But after marriage, I had to settle for a less paying job in order to move to where my husband was. This severely impacted my income and my career prospects while my husband continued getting promoted because he was never expected to make the “choices” (if you can call it that) that I had to make. Had he moved to where I was, things would have probably been different. It’s easy to take a snapshot of a marriage and comment on gender roles but it takes more time, energy and patience to dig deeper and understand why things are the way they are. Why is it that women who are as well educated, as well employed must automatically give preference to domestic obligations and have a career “on the side”? If both genders shared the load, it would benefit everyone. The IMF has come out with countless studies to show that gender equality (which begins at home and allows for equality at the workplace) can benefit families and even the entire nation.
It’s a sad state of affairs, isn’t it? Men complain about feminism a lot but the truth is that it’s raked us ladies over the coals a fair amount as well. Besides leading women to believe that they are more fulfilled raising children alone and their children will be better off as well, feminism has turned us against each other!
Women didn’t have to compete with each other back in the day, what would be the point? What would they have competed for? Competition is for men, they’re more constructive about it. I don’t think women have been taught to compete constructively, so they end up being really mean to men and to each other.
And yes, I’m a woman. I’m a woman who prefers male friends over female, unless those female friends can keep their jealousy in check because I’m not having it. I’ve sacrificed 10+ year friendships with women for that peace of mind I can only maintain by not having a lot of women in my life as friends. Men aren’t jealous of me and what ever I may have that they don’t, or whatever they think that I might have that they don’t. Men like me, or they don’t – there’s no two-faced back-biting with men. That’s why I like them better. Their energy is just so much more… I don’t know, sincere? Genuine, I think.
Want to know what the sad part is? Women are the glue that keeps culture and society together, and we’re not doing that anymore because too many of us have been led to believe that we must compete with men as well as each other. We tend to look at feminism as destroying the nuclear family (and it does), but it’s destroying our culture, too.
Feminism has fractured women, emotionally and socially – I can’t even stand being around women most of the time, how freaking sad is that? I could have used some women to talk to about certain things over the years, but I was too afraid – and that was on me, I know that. Maybe I should have been less sensitive. Maybe I could have tried harder.
This is a hard truth but it’s the way I feel about women, unfortunately. Meh, I’ve probably just made a whole bunch of enemies on here, but whatever. It’s just what I think, and it goes without saying that YMMV.
I really can’t understand why women choose to marry. It is life of bonded servitude from which death comes as the only relief.
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