As a 31-year-old, single, fat, feminist, strong, independent, articulate woman in India, you can well imagine how hard it’d be to find me a ‘suitable’ match. I too have realized how often I use this introduction for myself, and how incredibly more often, I needn’t say much after.
The very act of finding a partner for the sake of marriage has appeared more than mildly absurd to me – coming from a critical belief that marriage is far from an achievement, and must not be evaluated as such. And neither is it a necessity to survive. It needs to be a choice, where equal minds, equal people choose to spend their life together.
However, it isn’t viewed as such in a patriarchy-infested culture like ours. The process that everyone around us chooses to resort to, in this quest of a match, is intriguing, demeaning and throws critical light on the deep running quest for patriarchal conformity.
This expectation runs deep within the trenches of patriarchy across genders. And it is heightened multifold behind veils of pretentious anonymity – that is to say profiles of a ‘suitable’ match, all running to find the sauce bottle that best works to their tastes, in the market of varied goods with varied combinations of ingredients!
So, is your education spicy enough for me? Or is the ‘family background’ good enough for me to judge the ingredient source? It’s a huge marketplace, where you find the right sauce my friend, and then, add salt to taste! Of course, the salt would be added by those in power to purchase, typically the men.
But strong opinions, are a testimony to the woman being headstrong, or in common parlance, difficult.
I often hear, of people displaying ‘interest’ in me. Now that is something I’ve known for a while, having carefully curated myself to be the woman I have become today, that I am interesting as a person. But that ‘interest’ from them, is expected to validate my own ideas about myself, my success, pedigree and efforts to a legacy I wish to leave behind.
The fact that a man, successful conventionally (ghar, naukri, gaadi idiom) has chosen to ‘evaluate’ me, it added to that list that would find me mildly successful. Why? Why does a male’s ‘interest’ in me, his gaze, dictate my success, by societal standards?
What about my job, my success, my package and my opinions? Do they amount to nothing? What is interesting is, that the ideas of success that conform to society standards are still acceptable when it comes to a woman. But strong opinions, are a testimony to the woman being headstrong, or in common parlance, difficult.
Conformity goes well beyond demeanour and ideas of success. It also seeps deep within in one’s own expectations of one’s life. It is expected that I will eventually be a mother. That I may choose otherwise, or that I have a choice to exercise doesn’t even register. Because my body must accept what is expected of it.
Personal choices, careers, body ownership are expected to be just words. Words that are interesting ideals for an evening coffee conversation (as a girl you drink? Oh dear!), but not to be implemented in your own personal politics. I was once emotionally blackmailed into exchanging messages with a ‘suitable’ match, who asked me in our second interaction – “children complete a woman, don’t they? Am sure you’d want children too”.
That was the last interaction we had. This assumption of decision ownership and little space to keep the woman in the conversation beyond her body and the role it can play is stifling. Because if a woman chooses to be a mother, her choice must be celebrated just as much as the one who chooses not to.
Body conformity. On this yardstick, it is critical to measure the double standards we live through. A woman is expected to be tall, thin, fair. The number of times I have been told it is tougher to find me a match because I am fat, probably outnumbers the kilos by which I am overweight.
Why? Because the whole package must appeal to the one hoping to make the purchase. That’s how we as women are viewed. As objects to be evaluated, vilified or glorified. To be ‘interested’ in.
Once the physical yardsticks are met, we are further evaluated to see the role we can play in the lives of these ‘suitable matches’. Not our dreams, not what we hope for, and where we wish to see ourselves and our lives. The idea of space, of a life lived is also undemocratic.
Because his career has him overseas, I must be ‘open’ enough to displace myself to join him. Irrespective of whether the space and circumstances hold opportunities for me and how I see my life, and irrespective of equality based milestones. If I am more successful, even by merely societal standards, would he be willing to uproot? Why do we not build these expectations in men?
It is the steady need to question and fight personal battles, as hard as the political.
My mother was once asked what I do. She explained to the mother on the other side, everything about me, except that I am also a street theatre artist. I did catch her say ‘theatre artist’, but nothing more specific.
I remember confronting her after, on why she hesitated when she did. Was it the strength of my voice that would scare them away? Or the fact that I had opinions, and am brave enough to perform them in the middle of a crowded street as a woman? What was it? Am I expected to stop this just because they may be ‘uncomfortable’ with it?
Look at the stakes – altering a personal political choice because of discomfort. Why does this sheer lack of parity not infuriate us? My confrontation and incessant goading had her return a call to them explaining street theatre, and how this was something that would continue for life, even if nothing else did. And the rest, as they say, is conformity history.
It is the steady need to question and fight personal battles, as hard as the political. The expected need to stifle, to conform, to be relegated to a role families are comfortable with us playing must be questioned. And no, it isn’t enough that we work after marriage, or earn or spend the way we choose to.
What it needs is independence and equality in the true sense of the word. What it needs is equity. What it needs is more than anything else really, is respect. Respect for who we are, why we are, and who we choose to be. Because our struggles are real.
More real than the last dream he had of a beautiful, submissive wife taking care of the children with no sound, irrespective of that life being her choice. Because now we raring to snatch what is rightfully ours, one conversation, one choice, one rebel, at a time.
Also Read: The Pain Of Being An Indian ‘Bahu’
Featured Image Credit: AIB/Elle India