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.



11 comments:

  1. A really good post.
    So well observed and articulated. I so agree with all that you have said here.

    Am sharing the link to this post on my twitter.

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    1. Hi Preeti, Thanks for stopping by, the comment and the share on twitter. :) This disparity in expectations has always bothered me. Glad you agree. :)

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  2. Nice post. I realise how lucky I have been as I have grown up in a house where men not only offer but get up to cook and clear too. I have three brothers and we took turns to cook when my parents were away. My dad cooked for guests too. Also Sanghamitra's dad always cleared his plate from the table, much to my parents' embarrassment! Somehow while they were ok sons chipping in, it was still too much to see a son-in-law do it.

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    1. Thanks Padmaja. It is refreshing to know that there are/ have been households where boys/ men are actively encouraged to do what is mostly considered 'women's work'. Yet they are not as many homes as one would hope for and it it is also true that while we may treat our children as equals, the son-in-law is still the first among equals.:) My observation over the years is that we bring up girls to be people pleasers- do not speak too loudly, talk too much, do not argue, learn to fit in, conform, dress circumspectly ... even our own concept of good behavour changes depending on the gender of the person.

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    2. Yes--I so agree..we're all 'conditioned' socially. If a guy as much as can make a cup of tea, most women say 'So lucky--he makes tea'. Please!! :)

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  3. Hi,
    A shower of compliments on the 'whole' package. The name of the blog to start with, invokes a smile, the 'out of my mind' phraseology is often a stable companion in the lives of most visionaries.

    You have effectively unveiled the growing myth that urban educated women are insulated from the old gender school. The patriarchal DNA thrives in present-day society and the continuing social conditioning of the gender bias continues to make the lives of women an obstacle course. Women are running through the course bare-footed on the gravel floor knowing well that the pain of being a woman in this era is inevitable, they smile and surpass the hurdles with the wisdom that their suffering is optional.

    Well said Suchi. :-)

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    1. Thanks much :) That we can talk about it may be the best thing to make sure everyone is on the same planet.

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  4. Very well articulated Suchi! In your writing, I could almost see so many women (and even men) I know...

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    1. Thanks Tarini. That is the nicest thing you could have said. Nice to know it resonates with people :)

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  5. You have spoken the heart out of so many women....
    Good work....
    Now its our task to teach our kids that there should not be any discrimination like boy and girl regarding work or respect.....

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  6. A very good observation; and what you say is the norm. But then, there are some exceptions, as well. People who know me, will testify to that.

    It's really unfortunate that many women have to do behave in a particular manner, because they are expected to do it. It's a part of stereotyping; and one hopes it will change with time. Actually, it shouldn't matter whether a man does something or woman does it.

    From what I have observed, what matters more in such cases is not who does what. It's the harmony, cordiality, happiness, and general well-being of a home that matters.

    When any norm forced on anyone -- on a man or a woman -- it loses all its grace. A lot of such things vary from situation to situation; and people to people. One simply can't generalize. Be it who should serve tea, or who should clean the vessels, or who should quit the job for the sake of the spouse.

    I have friends and relatives, where a man has got transferred to his wife's place of work; and the other way too, where a woman has moved to the city where her husband works... In both cases what determined the decisions was solely convenience and many other personal and logistic considerations... I know them very well, and their decisions have only added to their happiness as a family.

    When it comes to compulsion it's the woman who is vulnerable. And I know a few unfortunate cases as well.

    As someone pointed out, our children need to have good role models at home and outside. The hope is that the newer generation will be more objective and realistic when dealing with such situations.

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