Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Free your mind from patriarchal thinking

(This article of mine is published in Deccan Chronicle - Chennai Edition on 26-3-2013).

At a time when crimes against women in the form of rapes, acid attacks etc continue unabated the least we can do is to discourage patriarchal thinking/values within a family and society. The Delhi rape/‘Nirbhaya’ incident has once again underscored the need for stricter legislations and the importance of sensitizing men towards women. While the law-makers may be busy formulating punitive measures to prevent crimes against women are we as men and especially as women contributing anything at all to end violence against ourselves? It is often said that women are their own worst enemies and it became amply clear when one of my female friends on FaceBook while taking cognizance of a random woman’s decision to separate from her joint family and go nuclear commented that as daughter-in-laws, we have responsibilities and duties towards our parents in laws. The post also went on to say that as a wife, we must do our duties towards our husband. Pray, who has defined these roles and responsibilities for women? A patriarchal society to suit its own interests?

Being sensitive to the needs of husbands and parents in laws is one thing and acting subservient to their concerns/demands is quite another. I am sure most of the Indian daughter in laws do care for their elderly and sick parents or parents-in-laws and would hate the idea of old age homes. However, let us not confine ourselves only to cooking and caretaking domains. We are great at handling not only our kids, our husbands and kith and kin but also our own aspirations, workplaces and individuals working under us. Let us remind ourselves that while we may have our ‘responsibilities’ prescribed by men we also have our rights. The woman in question may have opted for a nuclear family for a variety of reasons. Some of them that come to my mind are 1) proximity to her workplace 2) lack of privacy at her in-laws place 3) ii-treatment by her in-laws and  4) lack of facilities at her in-laws place. I find it completely outrageous to judge our own gender and have prejudiced views of working women, women living in nuclear families and single women existing independently especially at a time when right thinking women and men are striving not to see women through the lens of patriarchy. I am even more flabbergasted when women claiming to be modern by wearing short skirts and trousers, speaking impeccable English and holding post-graduate degrees make such atrocious statements.

Unless our perceptions towards these women change and unless we eliminate patriarchal thinking from our families, societies and our own minds, we cannot expect a reduction in the crimes against women. For it is our patriarchal values and thoughts passed onto posterity which mould and influence the understanding of men, women and the society at large.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Endless Strife for the Housewife

(This article of mine was published in The New Indian Express - Youth Express on Friday, Dec 12, 2003).

Bidding goodbye to her dear ones, she rushes to the kitchen to start on the unwashed dishes heaped in the sink. As she nonchalantly goes about her seemingly endless chores, she wonders if this is all she was meant to do with her life.

Once she does away with her domestic work, she plonks in front of the TV, watching all the soaps, all the other nonsense they show on TV. Weeping with the sob stories, laughing her way with the so called comedies, she is unaware of the punishment her mind is being subjected to.

After a while, she goes to gossip with the neighbors about the working women in the building. Or she sleeps thorough the afternoon, until one day, she wakes up and realizes she has turned into an obese woman, looking twice her age with diabetes and other ailments that plague her for the rest of her life.

This is the plight of the average housewife in India. In her bid to add that much needed zing into her drab, joyless world which mainly revolves around mundane tasks of cooking, washing, cleaning, (all of which we hate to think about) she finds refuge in mindless chatter, gossip and TV programmes. How does a housewife put up with her dreary existence. The unchanging monotony, the sameness of everyday life.

Indeed a housewife deserves kudos for the ritualistic acts she performs day after day – serving her in-laws, taking care of the kids, and attending to her husband’s needs while she herself is in desperate need for some attention. The spontaneous smile that a housewife wears everyday as she welcomes her husband and children home has to be given credit. Perhaps it is not really spontaneous though, and has become perfect after years of practice.

Housewives fall into two categories. The first one hasn’t had much education and is given away in marriage at an early age. This woman finds contentment by being a dutiful daughter-in-law, loyal wife and caring mother. She is blissfully unaware of her identity, individuality and a mind that is truly her own. In the other category are the degree holders who become housewives out of compulsion or ignorance. Compulsion and objection in the form of in-laws and husbands who choose to be archaic in their thoughts and outlook, yet want to live in a modern world with all its comforts and luxuries. For them, a married woman earning and supporting the family is unthinkable. Why should she, when the man gets a fat pay cheque? What they fail to understand is that a woman goes out to work not for the money but for the satisfaction she gets when her work is recognized. To carve a niche for herself, stand on her own feet, feeling secure in the knowledge that her identity and individuality are still intact, that’s why a woman needs to work.

Both categories of woman surrender to their fate, suffering in silent isolation. She takes care of the family’s smallest needs, offering comfort at the slightest sign of tension on their faces. An unemployed mother expects her children to lend an ear, so she can confide in them and share the joys in her life.

They have to understand their mother is a person like them, who probably has the same problems and takes joy in the same things as them. Children can be cruelly insensitive. Grappling with adolescent and teenage problems, trying to come to terms with their sexuality and busy as they are with their parties, dates and pubbing, they do not have time for their mothers.

As for the husband, the less said the better. His paunch is rapidly growing, and the frown has become a permanent fixture on his once loveable face as he is busy worrying over his promotion, bonus, arrears that are long overdue, and the care loan that has not yet been sanctioned. He pays no attention to her graying hair, the unpleasant dark circles, the extra pounds let alone the menopausal blues she is experiencing.

Left in the cold, a housewife becomes a non-entity for her children and husband. She doesn’t have a say. She slinks away, knowing her views and thoughts do not matter to them.

But they do exist. And she is waiting to be heard. So the next time you find your mother lounging in a chair, staring into nothingness, just put an arm around her and let her spill her thoughts to you.