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.