Monday, May 6, 2013

Why women are from Venus and why it mars their life.

The next time you visit someone, watch who offers you a drink or a snack first. Then watch who gets it to you. Chances are it will be the woman of the house in both cases. As for getting it to you, it will almost certainly be a woman. It is very unlikely that in a house where there are men and women, a man will will get the snack/ drink (unless it is alcoholic, but we can talk about that another time). Not that there is anything wrong with anyone helping a guest. But what if the guest is the son-in-law of the house of which you happen to be the daughter-in-law?

Ever notice that despite everyone travelling far and wide and even though the joint family is less common than it was, the daughter-in-law is still given the same status that she always has been and the son-in-law is still the revered guest. I know of daughters-in-law who live in other countries and the families manage fine without them. But during a visit home, if someone should drop in, she is expected to play co-host, by cooking/ cleaning and serving. Again I have nothing against anyone chipping in to help, but why is it that  with the same relationship, we have not just different standards, the standards oppose each other diametrically! One in-law is an honored guest while the other is regarded as the unpaid help. If the reasoning is that women make better hosts, then a) Why do they make better hosts? and there are a number of parts to this question and  b) Are men then asked to move heavy objects and move furniture around on every visit based on just their superior (generally)  physical strength?

Equality is not a 'tit for tat' approach. And yet, it is interesting -  I have seen countless 'bahus' being asked to help, I have almost never seen a 'Damaad-ji' being asked to help at his ummm marital home(?!). On the contrary, everyone falls over themselves to make him the most comfortable. (Has anyone heard of a 'bahuji'?)

I know of a forty something woman, (call her Eve) an MBA running a business being told to touch the feet of some of her random couple, younger than her, distantly related to her husband. The explanation being that they have relationship that warrants it (they happen to be nth cousins to her Mother-in-law and in some obscure way 'uncle and aunt' ). What is even more intriguing, the blood relative, Eve's husband did not have to touch any feet. So in the whole gathering of 10 people, the only one who bowed down to all was Eve. She also ended up washing the dishes at this gathering as the hosts did not have help and her Mother-in-law willingly offered Eve's services, saying she would help.  There is nothing wrong in helping an overwhelmed host to clear up, but the initiative should have been Eve's.

Have you heard of a women complaining about her Father-in-law? When in-laws visit, you will hear a lot of cribbing about the mother-in-law not helping, or interfering too much with a child's upbringing etc while the god like father-in- law just sits still looking helpless and being waited on since he does not know what to do in a home that is not his. A man can retire and expect to just enjoy his life, but should a woman employ help to cook so she can retire from the kitchen, woe is on her-- because nothing is like 'mother-made'. (Well, she deserves it for spoiling their habit by catering to their every taste all these years)

People who visit their grown up married children often complain how the daughter-in-law did not take any leave from office to be with them, while the son-in-law is always excused with a proud "he was so busy" as if it were a mark of success. A surgeon who fell in love with her class mate, was accepted into the family on the condition that she  would move to his city, give up non vegetarian food and wear saris. She was even expected to cover her head when visitors came over. She who was otherwise up to her elbows in blood, trying to save lives! Strangely, the husband did not see anything wrong with this as he had grown up watching his aunts, cousins and all the female relatives around dressed and behaving this way.

I have caught myself instinctively rising to get people things, ask them if they would like more - basically playing the host even when it is not exactly 'home'. I do not think of myself as very traditional or even a nurturing person and yet I do it. I guess having seen my mother, grandmother, aunts and a  host of other women - practically every woman I came across growing up, was enough to instill the idea that it is 'my' job to do so. I even feel somewhat guilty when I think I could have done more. Decades of socialization are hard to shake off and centuries of  people pleasing probably encode it in your genes. Which is why more often than not, women are  the ones who ends up making more effort than any of the men of the house. Which is why during family gatherings man can comfortably sit with empty glasses and plates right next to them and wait for some woman to swing by and get them. Which is why at the end of a dinner party for friends, the female guests rise and offer to help, while, men continue discussing politics, cricket or the latest car on the block.

The Mars - Venus debate will be on as long as the planets last,and this is not even a real issue when we have  female infanticide, bride burning, rape and dowry etc to deal with -  but if we could stop telling girls to learn cooking so they can bring joy to their marital homes and instead tell both boys and girls that  learning cooking  would be a good way to ensure that they eat healthy meals, if we could as readily accept that a women needs to retire from her house work as much as a man needs to retire from a factory or business; if we could as easily request  a son-in- law to clear up the dinner table as we do to a daughter-in-law - maybe we could stop sending women to Venus and forcing them to conform to Venusian ways.Maybe if we stop training women to be people pleasers, they will find the strength to fight their battles better. Maybe we should send everyone no matter what their gender, to the same boot camp on the same planet and then let each one decide which planet suits them best.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Espousing teleshopping...

Coming soon to a TV screen near you - the man of your dreams! (or if you are a man, a woman of your dreams). No, I do not mean Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie or even Shahrukh Khan and Katrina Kaif. I am talking soul mate, better- half, till-death-do-us-part sort of dream ummm.. person. What the matrimonial ads in the newspapers, online sites and matrimonial services could not do, the idiot box will do for you - find a match and even better, tell you how to keep him.

Yes, I did say him and not her because from what I can make out it all seems to be about how to keep your husband happy. Oh never fear, there are tips for him too like the ‘Mujhse Shadi karoge’ show which apparently tells a man how to propose. But once we women get delirious with the ring on our finger we can learn to deal with our mothers-in- law  in  ‘Saas ko saas rehne do’ (his relationship with his in-laws is apparently not a concern) deck ourselves up with ‘gold and beautiful’ and of course, take cooking lessons. And who can forget the makeover? In a show called 'Roopmati',the channel tells you how to look gorgeous   - "Since makeup is indispensable on the wedding day" Maybe a show called ‘Exes and Whys - its all in the chromosomes’ , talking about dowry deaths and female  infanticide would have been a better way to have Mother-in- law stop blaming their Daughters-in-law for not begetting a male heir.

Promising to be “very unique and exciting to all matrimonial-related matters”, it goes on to have the same old same old astrology, shopping or honeymoon travel planning! As usual paying more attention to the wedding, rather than the marriage itself. If only we could have talked about blood typing, equality in marriage and what to expect when the ‘shehnai’ stops and the journey after the honeymoon, it would have indeed been unique and exciting.  Talking about the realities of life instead of the best make up and lehenga and the most exotic romantic destination.  – now there’s a revolutionary idea! 

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