As we’ve just crossed International Men’s Day, here is a reflection on how women who earn do not need stereotypes that cast men as the only ones with financial responsibility.
November 19 was International Men’s Day. As a commemoration, a current affairs portal I follow came up with an insightful piece on the modern man’s trials and tribulations. “Today, give men a chance to voice their woes – for once, without donning your feminism-tinted glasses,” it began. I was intrigued.
As far as I know, feminism is and was always about creating social equilibrium, not about seizing power from one gender and handing it on a platter to the other. Admittedly, far too many people, men and women alike, prefer the convenience of not knowing the actual definition of feminism. But even if you take universal ignorance standards into account, this claim that all men need to beseech all women to be taken seriously is ludicrous.
The central idea of the said article can be defined in two lines. One, that India’s laws against dowry and domestic abuse are rampantly misused. And two, women need to stop using men as ATMs.
Now, let’s put the former aside for a while (since a lot of newsprint has already been dedicated to discussing the limitations of these laws and their repercussions on wronged men), and focus on the second accusation. It sounds upsetting, even offensive when men insinuate that (some) women tend to ‘use’ them as ATMs. But if we step back awhile and reflect a little, does this not ring alarmingly true?
Disclaimer: Just as not every man is a rapist, every woman too is not a gold-digger. I know of several women who have suffered enormous setbacks in life, picked themselves up, and found their independence. Women who pay their own bills are a common sight in this country today. There are enough and more women who would rather go without a luxury, or in some cases even necessities, than hold out an imploring hand. Salutes to them – in some ways, they are acting against centuries of patriarchal conditioning by choosing to uphold their self-respect over comfort and convenience.
However, generalisations often take birth in some truth. Not every man is a rapist, but enough men do stare, ogle and wolf-whistle at women for us to be generally wary of their presence. Similarly, not every woman marries for money, but there are enough instances of women milking their partners’ coffers dry for men to complain about hypocrisy. Now, if it is acceptable for women to rant in the public sphere about intrusive men, isn’t it equally legit for men to harangue about gold-digging women?
For the longest time, it has been believed that within a couple, the man is the provider and the woman the nurturer. That it is the man’s job to put the food on the table, and the woman’s job to warm home and hearth.
This arrangement, evidently created to deal with the limitations of the primitive age, is irrelevant today. Today’s woman is as educated as her male counterpart. She can access more or less the same opportunities as him (even if stark inequalities still exist in the areas of remuneration, acknowledgement of effort and respect for personal boundaries). If she chooses to work, she takes home a salary. And most importantly, she has a voice. The battle for gender equality is far from won, but a beginning has long been made, and more and more men are accepting (and even celebrating) the fact that women are in decision-making positions today, both at home and at work.
Which brings us to the essential question – if you are not financially dependent on a man, why should you always expect him to pick up the tab?
To clarify, I am not talking about homemakers here. I am talking about women who have their own income at ready disposal.
Dating websites and fashion magazines will tell you that a man who does not insist on paying on a first date is not ‘gentleman’ enough. Plenty of women think it perfectly natural to demand their husbands’ credit cards to go shopping. Even if the husbands are perfectly glad to hand their money over, this sense of entitlement for another’s hard-earned money is a little troubling. Some of my own friends have rejected prospective grooms because “they earn less than me or as much, not more”. Television commercials remind men to buy their wives expensive presents in return for their Karwa Chauth ‘sacrifices’. It is a different matter that the men do not ask the women to go hungry in the first place, that this entire ritual makes no logical sense, and that if it the fast was selfless indeed, it would not be accompanied by expectations of a reward.
The most unbelievable is this: in recent years, entire startups have sprung up that help men organize the perfect ‘marriage proposal’, complete with champagne, customized jewellery, rose petal showers and exotic locations. In a piece I read on Open magazine last year, men went on record to say that they had paid enormous sums of money on their wedding proposals, because they had seen their friends’ partners respond with indifference at ‘regular and boring’ ones. They did not want to risk upsetting their expectant girlfriends-cum-prospective wives. Some even said they feared rejection if they did not fork out a social media-worthy proposal.
As a woman, if you can confidently say that you have never been guilty of entitlement to your spouse’s bank balance, you deserve respect. If you pay your own bills and do not think of it as a favour on your better halves, you’re being a feminist in the real sense of the word. But, in case you usually take it for granted that the spouse will cough up the dough, would you spare a thought for the unfairness of it all?
India, post-Nirbhaya, is a changed nation. No, crimes against women have not abated and probably never will, but people have become unprecedentedly vocal about the change they wish to see. They’re asking for change, screaming for it, fighting for it. We want governments to bridge the pay gap. We want zero discrimination at work. We are rejecting the idea of “reserved” safe spaces in public transport and asking for safety to become the norm instead. We are screaming for marital rape to be recognized as a crime. Now, whenever the established order is challenged and status quo threatened, there will be some people who feel insecure and uncomfortable. This is already a somewhat bewildering time for men, specifically men who have been raised in intensely patriarchal setups, who are finding it hard to come to terms with the feisty woman of today. They are ill-equipped to deal with the idea that women could actually be neck-to-neck with men, or even beyond.
In such a scenario, when privileged, financially independent women expect spouses to sponsor their indulgences, a lot of men find themselves feeling more cornered, wronged and hostile than ever. The question that arises is, why is an emancipated woman counting on a man to buy her diamonds?
The advent and spread of feminism has led to a lot of resentment among those who are unwilling to settle for equal rights. In an ideal world, women’s spending habits would not and should not impact their access to fundamental rights. But realistically speaking, the world that we live in is an imperfect one, where perceptions do matter. And for some inexplicable reason, a lot of men seem to believe that feminism is an excuse for hypocrisy. Check out the comments sections of men’s magazines and you will see what I mean. Sweeping statements like “I am a humanist, not a feminist” have found much favour among men, which is quite tragic, considering that feminism and humanism are essentially the same thing.
There is no guarantee that becoming more conscious of personal spending will sensitize the patriarchal Indian masses to the need for gender equality. But one thing that this will definitely do, is deprive them of this ridiculous excuse that feminism encourages hypocrisy. If women take ownership of their luxury spending in the same way that they take ownership of their work and families, misogynists will have no pretext to denounce feminism or question its validity
At the end of the day, a couple’s management of their personal finances is their prerogative alone. In families where women are homemakers, it is natural for the husbands to pay for their expenses, because the women are taking ownership of household responsibilities in return, which is a lot of hard work.
In fact, if a man feels comfortable running the household and also gladly pays for his wife’s indulgences (even if she earns her own moolah), I am no one to comment. But personally, I believe that if you are an employed woman with a reasonably comfortable income, you should pay your own bills. Every single time. Not only will this earn women a lot of well-deserved respect, it will also make the accomplishment of gender equality much, much easier.
Top image via Pixabay.com