We were having a discussion at work last week about feminism and marriage and relationships. You should’ve seen how animated I got! I talked for twenty minutes about how marriage is a failed institution.
Mostly, all I said was that women are far more burdened than men. They are pressured to be obedient daughters, desirable (in terms of being fair and tall and curvy but with flat abs) yet subservient wives, dutiful daughters-in-law, exemplary mothers. Then there’s the pressure of having to get a full-time job if they don’t want to be seen as too gharelu (Indian slang for unemployed and homely – and not in a good way).
And if a woman goes out and works all day, she’s expected to come home at night and cook dinner. Oh, and there’s usually no such thing as ‘tired’. The husband comes home at the same time, tired, and the wife’s duty is to serve him a hot meal. If he helps in the kitchen, he’s a generous husband who not only allows his wife to pursue her dream (of slaving all day at work) and helps in the house.
My point being: men have it easy, but marriage makes no sense for women.
People mostly agreed with me on that point, except that they were curiously asking questions about why I married Mister if I’m such a non-believer. I wanted to tell them but it would mean giving up details of my personal life, which I am not ready to do.
But I can write about them here.
Mister asked me to move in with him a long time ago, and I thought it made perfect sense. No more risking being attacked by naked men as I carried packed food from his house to mine, no more fear of stalkers, no more pick me up at 8, no more your place or mine, no more rent and no more questions from a bitchy landlady, and better yet – no more landlords stealing my lingerie.
We were both really excited about this.
But a few nights before the moving van arrived, panic set in at the thought of leaving my pristine white walls and blue-green curtains and my cushions and my Voltas fridge and my house with just about enough air in the summer and sunlight in the winter. The thought of not keeping my bookshelf exactly where I wanted, the dimness of the lights and the aloneness.
Everything I had invested in this house – my time, my money, my hopes – were going to be taken away. I felt like my independence and my substance was being drained out through a hole in the pit of my stomach and I was going to fade away and become once again the phantom that I had been for so many years before I moved into the house I lived in and got a life of my own.
I was wrong.
I moved in with him a few days later and that place finally became my home – I learned that could live with other people without surrendering any part of myself. I could just be who I was and people actually liked me for who I really was. There were no questions, no complaints. I was truly happy.
But then one day, Mister proposed. I was really freaked out for a while because he knew I didn’t believe in marriage as it exists today.
But then I thought about it.
In a typical marriage, I’d be waking up early to get breakfast and lunch out of the way before I left for work. Then I’d slog all day in office, say no to late night calls and meeting and pass up opportunities for promotions so I could get in time for dinner at home. I’d bring home the money, and also be expected to be available for more wifely duties. I’d have no time for myself – because in my country, women are not allowed that luxury – they are daughters, wives, and daughters-in-law more than they are people.
And here I was, already living with Mister and his mom as part of their family. This is unheard of, at least in India.
And in this house, I woke up two hours before I had to leave for work. I’d laze around, reading the newspaper and sipping chai as mom hobbled about taking care of the house. I felt no guilt.
We had shared responsibilities and unlike other households, these responsibilities had nothing to do with typical gender roles. Mom was retired, so she would be responsible for managing the household, which basically meant overseeing the domestic helps (we had three – two for dusting and cleaning, one for the cooking) and making sure we didn’t run out of supplies. When we did run out of supplies, whoever was near the market would buy them. Mister and I only brought home the money.
If one of the maids were on leave, we’d take up odd jobs so the house wouldn’t look too shabby if someone were to drop in unannounced. Mister would do the dishes happily, but had to be bribed by a cup of chai first.
If the cook didn’t show up, either mom or I would cook – and not because we were women – only because Mister’s cooking is unbelievably bad. (He thinks Pasta in Vodka sauce is a simple recipe where you simply pour a 30ml shot on Maggi pasta. It’s NOT that simple!) If we were feeling particularly lazy, we’d all just order in or go out and eat.
I would come home to a mother – not a mother in law. A friend – not a husband.
I married him.
Because I realized that I would not have to carry the double burden of being a corporate slave and self-sacrificing wife/daughter in law.
Because I knew I wouldn’t have to feel thankful for ‘help’ if Mister worked in the kitchen when I was working on my laptop.
Because my sense of self-worth or how my family felt about me would not have to depend upon whether I’m cooking/cleaning/washing/shopping for them.
Because this was my last, only chance at being in a truly equal marriage.