Does being an earning member of the family make it easier on women, especially after marriage? I thought so, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.
My mother is a ‘closeted feminist’, i.e. she believes in feminist ideologies and principles but feels guilty for doing so.
One of the most important things she was adamant about, even when I was very young was that ‘working’ was not a choice for me; it was mandatory just like it was for my brothers. My financial independence was of utmost importance to my mother.
She had a firm belief that working women have it easier, that they are not subjected to the same amount of wifely duties and patriarchal obligations that a stay-at-home mother or as it was called back then ‘housewife’ does.
This is the belief of many parents across India who want their daughters to succeed and earn their own living. The daughters are pushed to study and get a job with the hope that it will allow them freedom after marriage.
This stems from the assumption that men behave dominant and patriarchal because they earn the living of the family. That when women start earning money too, the balance of power will shift; somehow there will be more equality between the couple.
There is also this belief that the in-laws are going to respect a working woman more than they respect a woman who chooses to stay at home. That they will appreciate the division of financial burden which will in turn benefit their son and any future grandchildren they might have.
These were all very reasonable ideas for my mother and I who weren’t exposed to many working women in our inner circle growing up.
And then there is also a glaringly obvious decision that has to be taken by every in-law before the wedding, if they and their son want the perks of having a non-working wife/daughter-in-law, they will chose a woman who either does not work or is willing to leave her job (that’s a discussion for another day) and if they want the perks of a working woman then they will chose accordingly. But Indian ‘marriage market’ (as I like to call it) is a chaos, it’s anything but rational.
Most of my female cousins and friends grew up with the same belief that these post-marital oppressions cannot touch us if we are financially independent. Since marriage was mandatory, they all studied hard, got good grades in every significant exam and now hold very successful positions. They all went into marriage expecting to be treated with respect because they had done everything to ensure that.
The condition of working women even before marriage is so blatantly bleak in India and it’s an issue people tend to gloss over.
Most working women have to leave their home at some point. Home, even when it is oppressive and offers little freedom has a sense of stability and security.
Work place harassment is extremely common in India, so common, that some of my friends have mentioned that you don’t notice it until someone points it out. Frequent inappropriate advances and remarks by male colleges and superiors, harassment on the road by men and finally coming home to an empty apartment with no emotional support because God forbid if they have a boyfriend to make their life easier! And some women are even expected to save funds and send it back home. Life before marriage isn’t easy and often times marriage is offered as a solution to these problems.
So, many women agree to this ‘solution’, because they think that it would be so nice to not have to come home to random roommates or empty an apartment, it would be nice to have some care for you when you get sick and have a meaningful emotional connection with a partner. After continuous pestering from everyone, they give in to marriage. Some of my friends and family also did. It was then that my mother and I realised how enormously wrong we were in our belief.
You see, we as an entire culture have been telling women to become empowered, to do this and do that because the WOMEN CAN DO EVERYTHING, but we have still not taught our men that women’s suffering are real, and how much of a big role they play in perpetuating that suffering.
Most if not all women are given so many guidance and tips before marriage on how to impress their husbands and in-laws. Suddenly, sex which has never been discussed in your family, you find yourselves sitting in front of a bunch of aunties and older sisters telling you that you have to “tolerate the pain and do your duty” or “enjoy it but not too much”. It took you 3-4 months to learn simple addition but you are supposed to understand enough to practice the entire concept of sex and pleasure through a 20min giggling lecture by women who consider sex as wifely duty.
But have you EVER seen a MAN being advised before wedding on how to manage a married life, balance between his parents and a new wife let alone ensure sexual pleasure of the wife and impress her? Men are never subjected to the “pre-wedding talk”.
The reason they are not given any advice, is because no one expects them to make any adjustments let alone sacrifice as a married man. We expect that ONLY from our women. Married working women don’t have it easy; they have an incredibly tough life. They never complain about their unbearable workload because the second they do, everyone lines up to tell them to leave their job. The problem in a working woman’s life post marriage is that she is expected to do all the work of a stay at home wife and her job as well.
Even when she hires house helps and cooks, managing them also fall solely for on the wife’s shoulder, what has to be cooked or how the work is to be done is the wife’s responsibility. If something is not done right, it is wife’s fault. If wives earns more than their husband or are in better position, then begins the never-ending process of soothing the husband’s ego, diminishing your value so as to make him feel important, making him feel like ‘a man’.
And if you have children, somehow you are expected to singlehandedly take care of them on top of everything that you already do. Even the decision when or if to have a child is dictated by everyone except the person who will actually carry and care for the child.
Choosing to work as a woman CAN be very empowering but it can also be extremely tiring. As a woman close to me once said, “Choosing to work as married woman often feels like an offence, where job feels like an indulgence for which you have to carry a constant guilt. As if you are being “allowed” to work by your husband and in-laws and are expected to overcompensate by agreeing to all their demands and keep everyone happy constantly.”
And when you refuse to overcompensate or not do a particular thing, or need a rest day, you are suddenly bombarded with comparisons with some other wife/daughter-in-law who is doing all of the things that you do and even more without breaking a sweat. If she can do it, why can’t you? Indian parents to this day are hypocrites who want their daughter to be treated with love and respect but refuse to show their daughter-in-law the same courtesy.
This is the story of countless seemingly empowered women with a happy married life across the globe, not just India. It is time to acknowledge that money and success does not guarantee empowerment or freedom.
Image source: YouTube
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Asefa writes about the lives of women in smaller towns of India. Her interest include
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