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I soon realised that what I wear, where I go, whom I meet, what I eat – everything needed ‘permission’; while my husband was free to go about his life as usual.
This may be the most common thing one would come across when one gets married. That also makes it the most important topic that needs to be discussed and addressed.
Gender bias is blatant. It’s blatantly practiced. Almost to the extent that it goes unnoticed. It is evident in the most common, everyday occurrences in a household. Most women either choose to ignore them or protest against them. Either way, women are criticised and labeled as the torchbearers of shame brought upon the household, the society, and even the culture.
We see this happening around us. This recurring phenomenon. What we don’t see is the toll these nagging occurrences are taking on women.
Like many other independent working women, I considered marriage to be a part of life, not the whole life. And like many other women, I was also counseled into getting married. But, here’s the thing. Nobody understands the complications of marriage until you are married. And like parenting, marriage is also a first-time experience.
I was married into a middle-class Indian household like most women, with all the promises of being treated as an equal. An equal earning member of the family. An equal working member of the family. And like all other women, I also got cold feet before marriage, not knowing whether to believe in these promises.
All my friends who congratulated me on my wedding also commended my choice of moving in with my in-laws. Many of my friends who know me know that I have always questioned norms. Maybe I was questioning the norm in this way. When all the women around me were choosing a nuclear family, I was choosing a joint one.
I got married, burying my inhibitions at the back of my mind. I tried to gel in. Being nice to the relatives at family gatherings. Carrying all the symbols a married woman should. Cooking for the family. Performing rituals dutifully although I consider myself religion agnostic. I lent my ears to all complaints and praises the family had to share. I shared the financial burdens with my husband. I was all in. But, I realised whatever I do, it’s not enough.
I was working, so my late working hours were frowned upon. My going out with friends led to scrutiny of my character. Not waking up in the earliest hours of the day became the most important issue. It was made the most important parameter to judge me. A woman who doesn’t wake up early or doesn’t finish the chores before the family wakes up can’t be a good daughter-in-law, right?
I wasn’t paying too much attention to all of these. While everything was obvious around me, I decided not to overthink. I carried on with my life, not wanting to bog down with all the unnecessary expectations.
All hell let loose when one day I asked my husband to help me out in the kitchen. I was told a man shouldn’t enter the kitchen when two women are around. It was not a shock to me. Because I figured that people had realised that I was not behaving as a daughter-in-law should, which I chose to ignore for a long time. But it was when I protested that everything revealed itself.
I was expected to do everything in the house, for the family, for my husband. My job was nothing more than a means to bring home more money; appreciating it as a career choice was not even considered. My existence was presumed to be just that. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I was not supposed to have any time for myself. Time to nurture my hobbies was considered a ‘luxury’ that I supposedly allowed myself. I was not to participate in any major decision-making process in the house, if I did, I was ‘interfering’. Right from choosing the paint for the wall, using the kitchen’s vessels, what I wear, where I go, whom I meet, to what I eat, needed to go through the process of ‘seeking permission’; while my husband was free to choose.
I was welcomed into the house, but I was never accepted. That happened primarily because they never tried to acknowledge the person I am. They tried to fit me in the image they had in their minds of an ideal daughter-in-law.
We, women, inherit adjustment like the society adapts to changes. Only that the changes are not for us. While everything around has progressed, expectations for a daughter-in-law have remained the same for generations, just changed hands.
In a society like this, all we women can do is hold each other’s hands, and empathise instead of being judgmental. Share without feeling ashamed. Open up to our spouses without the fear of being divorced.
My story is not too different from Priyanka Chopra’s character in Dil Dhadakne Do. Only difference being that I received tremendous support when I decided to put a stop to all that. My parents and my husband decided to choose me over this stupid norm-bound familial structure. And we all found peace ever since. Most of all, I found peace.
It changed me as a person. I realised that I am wiser all of a sudden. I have learned to look at everything from a fresh perspective.
Whenever I used to come across these daughter-in-law stories, I would think I won’t be like that. But, now, I know, it may not be their fault altogether. These things can amount to anything, including stress and mental trauma. Sometimes, it costs lives.
This is not a unique story. There are similar stories all around us. If you look around, you will be surprised to find how many of us succumb to this phenomenon. I am glad I am alive to tell mine.
This had been shortlisted for the IWD 2021 #IChooseToChallenge blogathon.
Image source: CanvaPro
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Copywriter by choice. Dreamer by birth. Observer of society. Views are personal.
Volunteer at BYOB
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