What, Really, Are We Teaching Our Daughters (And Sons) About Gender Equality?

Posted: November 8, 2017

What do we Indian women do for retaining our identity after marriage? Why, for example, are we so prompt to change our names and claim our in laws’ place as our hometown?

I was invited to the birthday party of my six year old daughter’s classmate this weekend. It was the beginning of the year and like all mommies, I was curious to know who her classmates were. I was also eager to befriend their mothers. At the ‘pump it up’ where the party was held, I went around introducing myself, while the excited kids bounced, leaped and screamed.

“Hi I am Anjali’s mom” I was repeating myself for the 10th time to the 10th mom who like all others seemed very busy looking at her cell. I guess this is the only time the poor moms got to look at their phones and they were not ready to spare even a second. Some of them even looked annoyed as I tried to ‘hello’ them. Oh well, I had a clear intention and was not going to get disheartened. I had resolved to meet all the mothers and planned to create a WhatsApp group with all the willing mommies who agreed to share their contact with me.

In addition to adding their numbers, the curious cat in me wanted to know more about them. So I tried to strike a conversation with each one.

“So where are you from India” I asked mom#1
“We are from Bombay” Came her reply.
“Oh did you grow up there?” I was falling prey to my inquiring mind.
“No I grew up in Ahmadabad and my parents are still there. My husband’s family lives in Bombay.”
“I see”

The sociologist in me was intrigued by this answer and I went on to ask the same set of questions to the other moms. 6 of the 10 desi moms quoted their in-laws place when I asked them the q “Where are you from India?” The rest of the four moms had their husbands from the same town as them. So their answers really didn’t get included in my study.

We were all living in nuclear families in the USA, far away from India. All were educated and independent women.Yet when probed, their in-laws place in India was cited as their own. I went on asking the same question whenever I got a chance, to many other Indian women I met at random places. I extended my study asking the same question to other nationalities too.

“Where in China are you from?”
“Where in Canada are you from?”
“Where in Poland are you from?”

I diligently noted down the answers. The conclusion was as follows.

  1. 65% (Approx) of the Indian women (whose place was different from their husband’s) mentioned their in-law’s place as their hometown.
  2. No one I asked from other countries mentioned their in-law’s place as their own. All had a tale to tell about their hometown where they grew up. Some even talked enthusiastically  about all the cities they have lived in their home country.
  3. When the husband was present with them, around 55% of the women from other nationalities took the honor of pointing out their husband’s place as well. A very nice gesture per me. After all, in most households the wives volunteer to talk on behalf of the husbands.
  4. Among those Indian women who talked about their birth place first, 90% mentioned their husbands place as well irrespective of the fact whether husband was with them or not.

We talk about equal rights, about bringing up our sons and daughters differently. We want an India that respects its women. But do we also realize that our daughters learn from us? Our core, our childhood, our hometown, our memories, do we change them to suit our life as a wife, a mother and a daughter-in-law? Do we make sure that we retain our identity after marriage? Do we want our daughters also to do the same?

Our childhood defines us. It lays the foundation for the rest of our lives. The hometown where we were raised, the people with whom we have interacted as a child, the house we grew up in, our relatives, friends all ground us. Do we wipe it all away willingly from the records when we marry? I say ‘from the records’ here as we can never ever willingly wipe it away from our mind. Our mind and memories are quite involuntary, beyond our control.

Some points to ponder:

  1. Why do we change our last name after marriage ? The name is one of the most crucial meaningful connection to one’s past. The name by which we were known, the name that the teachers called us, the name that was announced when we went to perform on a stage in school, the name that we so proudly declared whenever some one asked “Whats your name?”. Why do we change it after marriage? There are no laws, or rules forcing one to change it. Its completely optional. If we are at liberty, why do we change it ?
  2. Why don’t we put our last name as our child’s middle name. After all it takes two to bring a child into this world. Why rob them of  their second half by not including the mother’s family name too in their name?
  3. When some one asks you about the place you come from, why do you want to mention where your husband came from. Why do you deprive yourself from the sweet memories that flood to your mind on the very mention of your hometown?
  4. Do we request our husbands to stay an equal number of days with our parents as they do with their parents during our vacations? It would be a good practice to show our daughters, so they too would bring along their husbands to stay with their fathers in the future.
  5. Instead of selling our inherited property and using the money elsewhere, why don’t we consider holding on to our home or land we grew up in? So that when we are sixty five years old, we could have a birthday party with all our siblings in the same place as we were raised and perhaps play play hide and seek.
  6. Let our kids listen to us talking proudly of our pedigree and about our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. Let their little minds take pride in their mother’s lineage and heritage. Let them pass it on to their kids as well.
  7. Why don’t we be ourselves, rather than characterizing ourselves as someone’s mother, wife , daughter in law? Don’t let the roles you take in your life define the core you. We can only be ourselves if are proud of our ancestry. And talking about it to others will only make us more human, more real and more spirited.

Let’s celebrate ourselves ladies ! Let’s celebrate our family names, our family property, our ancestry, our existence and by doing so, lets watch our daughters grow up celebrating theirs as well. After all, its none other than us they would be celebrating in our old age !

Published here earlier.

Image source: pxhere

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Manju Nambiar hails from the southern state of Kerala, India. A computer engineer by profession,

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  1. I think women tend to mention their husband’s hometown and such because they’re taught at a very young age that ‘this is not your home/town. etc’. This manifests into their conversations. It irks me too!

  2. Agreed that we need to model equality for youth. This needs to be done at scale to effect real social change and that starts at home but continues with social structures outside home, in schools etc. Little girls and boys need to know that they are equal and more importantly respect one another irrespective of where their parents come from, what they look like, how they speak/dress etc Diversity is truly this world’s strength and nationalistic sentiment needs to be defocussed IMO.

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