Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy Woman's Day

Its International Women's Day. I saw atleast a million generic messages congratulating me for being the gender I am or thanking me for what I a difference I have made in their lives. I don't know if I should be thankful or dismissive of this gratitude showered on my sex.

I feel unaffected by this yearly hoopla around celebrating women and their womanhood because on other 364 days, I find a complete lack of regard for her. And I am not even talking about severe cases where abuse, violence and total disregard for her personal space and person is the norm. I am talking about how women are taken for granted in seemingly happy, well adjusted families.

A typical Indian girl from an educated middle class family is raised with the same expectations as her brother. She is expected to study well and find herself a satisfying career that allows her to provide for herself. The focus is on academics and not so much on learning household activities. She is free to pursue her dreams while being provided with material means to do so. All is great till this point.

Then she reaches the marriageable age....and parents suddenly do a volte face. She is now expected to take an interest in cooking, traditional religious activities, and wear age appropriate clothing (read non western clothing!)  If she chooses her own partner (God forbid), she will also have to go through an acid test of being vetted by his family and other sundry well wishers. Her past life will be put under the microscope before she is approved of. An arranged marriage, in addition to the scrutiny, will mean being subjected, a few times, to rejection in the marriage market for a seemingly present flaw in her physical appearance.  The compromises and adjustments will continue after marriage, too. After all she is the one entering the new family. She has to change. The concept of making her feel welcome or giving her time to adjust to the new way of life is not under consideration.

The husband, now, has the responsibility of keeping his parents happy and their wishes fulfilled, his wife's dreams/ family be damned. So more changes for the girl woman. All this while, she is trying to work her way into a good career. Managing the balance of running a house, different expectations from the new adopted family, her own desires from these new relationships, her career aspirations is supposed to come easy to her. Any outburst, any bout of anger, any expression of  unfettered thought is dissected, judged and commented upon or filed under a stereotype. In all fairness, many partners lend an ear to their wives. But, they too continue to sit on the fence, lest they hurt either their families or their wives. All the promises of support, protection and giving happiness made during the marital rituals are forgotten in the name of family harmony. The girl women is alone fighting her battles , often keeping her priorities aside to keep the new family happy.

Parenthood brings more challenges for her. Raising the children is primarily her responsibility. Vaccinations, illnesses, school activities are her domain for which she makes changes in her work schedule. The mother is better capable of handling and raising the child......maternal instinct and all that!!! The father is busy earning the money for the family's comfort and security. By this time , the woman has made so many compromises in her career that she can never provide for the family as well as her husband or climb back on in the driver's seat, professionally. Those who chose to continue at full blast in their professional lives are accused of neglecting their children. Its a no win for her.

This is the ground reality of today's young middle class woman in India and till this unconscious, unintentional neglect of her inner self continues, celebrating her womanhood for a day is meaningless.

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