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5 Confessions Of A Feminist Daughter-in-Law

Posted: June 5, 2021

While juggling multiple roles, don’t forget you are important too.  Make yourself a priority because no one else will with #KhayaalRakhna

To tell you honestly, the concept of a traditional Indian marriage totally misses the mark for me. Here’s why.

By traditional, I mean a set-up where post marriage, the woman moves in with the in-laws.

In my experience and having spoken to my other sistahs, who are living in such an arrangement, the set-up is flawed at its core. So, in this rant cum expose, I would like to lay bare some inherent ironies in this system which makes it grossly unfair for us women.

(You are welcome to disagree and enlighten me in the comments section below.)

Irony no. 1: I have to leave everything that’s comfortable

The first and foremost binding rule here is that I am supposed to leave my family, closet, bathroom and the whole shebang I am most comfortable with and adjust to the norms and idiosyncrasies of my new family. A family, in most cases, with whom I have never lived before; while for the guy, life is smooth as butter, as he gets to sleep in his own bed, eat his favourite snack at favourite time of the day (which his mother adoringly/annoyingly remembers) and gets to play an innocent victim with both the mother and wife clamouring for his attention.

Some of you may argue that people shift houses for jobs and a host of other circumstantial reasons for which they do leave their homes without making so much noise. Yep, people do that, but in such cases, you get to start afresh and build your whole new life, your way, without the fear of getting judged or criticised. Such a move doesn’t involve live CCTV footage of your performance being relayed to the extended family of the in-laws.

Irony no. 2: I need to maintain a whole new persona

While the unfamiliarity of the set-up is discomfiting enough, I am also expected to make a good impression on these newly acquired family members, by maintaining a persona that is calm, respectful to elders, eager to help in the kitchen, tender towards all and fits in like a missing piece of the puzzle. Like that’s totally obvious, turning the idea of home on its head. A home that’s supposed to be a place where you relax in your PJs, put your feet up, binge-watch Netflix and basically just be yourself, not a space where your loyalty, obedience and sincerity are put to test every now and then.

Also, if you may remember, I am already going through an identity crisis, trying to find my place in this new set-up and you are putting up this mountain of expectations on me and anxiously waiting to give the verdict on my behaviour. Meanwhile, the guy I am married to, is dawdling around in the same house he grew up in, with the same dog and the same everything else. On the other hand, I have left an entire world behind and am still under the scanner, being analysed, ranked and scored for every move. Is this PRESSURE for REAL? Sadly, it is.

Irony No. 3: I become mother to a man-child

The coolest (I mean sarcastically, of course!) part of the set-up here is that although, technically the house is owned by the man (in most cases), the caretakers are largely mother and wife. With the entry of wife into the picture, MIL looks at handing over of duties that include not just managing the household but also looking after the son.

Now, this comes in as a bit of a shocker. Last, I checked we were both adults as certified by the Government of India, wilfully entering into a matrimonial bond. So how and when did I assume the role of a mother to this man-child? Why am I supposed to be the one worrying about his meals or if his shirts are ironed? Shouldn’t he be doing that on his own, doesn’t that come with the adulthood package?

Irony No. 4: Changes are not allowed

At the risk of not finding many takers, I have a point to make about the interior of the house. It may not resonate with all of you, but bear with me and give it a thought. The dilemma here is that if you are not too okay with the interior of your in-laws’ house, you can’t point that out before marriage because that would project the image of a woman who’s all too controlling and worse, non-compromising… and after you get married, you have got to wait a while before you start commenting on the bad architecture because that’s just too rude as a conversation starter.

So imagine, along with that mounting pressure on your head, you also hate those bathroom tiles and want to tear down the fourth wall in your room to add spacious windows. But that’s not what you can immediately act on, because the convention doesn’t allow it.

Irony No. 5: These people won’t know me!

This is stage 5; by now you clearly know the landscape of my mind, having peeped into its darkest and deepest crevices. But my in-laws still have no clue. They are keeping up with their usual antics and are now about to drop the biggest BOMB OF AN EXPECTATION! They are waiting for me to give them the good news, take the lineage ahead and gift them their future grandchild. And I am your regular little gal, with my mind at loggerheads with my heart, trying to make sense of everything, still wondering who are these aliens around me and if it’s okay to keep the door of my room closed at all times.

How am I to bring in a helpless, little toddler on the scene while am still ravaged by the complexities of my brain? And hello, shouldn’t it be entirely for me and my husband to decide whether or not we want to have a child? Like why on earth are you doling out opinion freebies on family planning!

Looking at all this, I wonder what happened to my dream of meeting the one, sharing my life journey with him and together exploring the bliss of married life. I thought it would just be about the two of us finding our natural rhythm and turning years into decades with our beautiful anecdotes about unravelling layers to each other’s personality and together finding our sweet spot.

And here I am thrown into a dynamic, where am thinking, if my MIL didn’t eat daal (lentil soup) because I didn’t follow her recipe or why am I the in-charge of laundry while my husband gets to throw the towel on the bed!

I am sure, you would all unanimously agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have barely scratched the surface with this puny list. Given an opportunity, all you ladies reading this, can cite many more examples of your own that have made you question the inequality embedded in the system.

While some of us may have registered faint protests, a large section of us, have unfortunately, reconciled ourselves to it. Till the time we don’t overcome our conditioning and start raising our voices, the system will keep churning out such daughters-in-law, who will have many more confessions to make but not the strength to fight and assert their rights.

First published here.

Top image is a still from the Hindi movie Pagglait

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A perennial misfit, my opinions have always been at odds with the mainstream society. So

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