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The Puppet Show Of Patriarchy – Saga Of Older Wife

Patriarchy focuses more on a woman's biological capabilities of conceiving and delivering children. It does not give much importance to her educational, emotional and intellectual maturity.

Patriarchy focuses more on a woman’s biological capabilities of conceiving and delivering children. It does not give much importance to her educational, emotional and intellectual maturity.

A forty-something divorcee with children and a married a second time to a younger guy?

You must be a cougar, a gold digger, a witch or a slut or all these. But a man is none of these when he does the same.

Welcome to the puppet show of patriarchy

Perception of doom and gloom

Origin – A belief system

It’s all-out doom and gloom for the family members of the man who marries a much older woman. The situation is worse if the woman is a forty-something divorcee with children. They take such marriage as an insult, deceit and desertion by their son. They refuse to consider it as a ‘marriage’. They think it is plain ‘aiyashi’ or debauchery.

Why do they think so?

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Traditional Indian society believes  “marriage” is a man’s social duty towards his parents and the family. It is a kind of payback for bringing him up. A son brings home his bride as a caregiver for his parents. She is also a caretaker of his family home and most importantly, a reproducer of the heir to the family. Marriage to an older woman cancels the possibility of all these dividends. 

It is hard for the parents to accept such alliances as sacred matrimony. They perceive it as a pretext of the older woman seeking sexual gratification. Or for fulfilling her urge to dominate and manipulate. All these are disproportionate, misplaced and unapprovable human interests for women! It turns the equation of power in patriarchy upside down. Society finds it difficult to come to terms with.

The person who marries the older woman loses the moral standing in his family. Parents cut off communication and ban his visiting rights to his parental home. He becomes an estranged family member.

For the woman, the main culprit, in this case, is slut-shamed, labelled and name-called by the man’s family. Being a divorcee, she is a “kisi aur aadmi ki chhodi hui jhuti thali.” When translated, it means a used up and discarded plate of another man. They believe honourable men do not eat on a plate used by another man.

The family builds a narrative, popular in Indian soap operas around such marriage. It projects the woman to be having an ulterior motive behind marrying the younger guy. She could be a witch doing black magic or jadu tona on the poor guy to lure him into her trap. She enslaves the man and turns him, a well-educated, adult man in his full senses, into a mindless creature by her evil charm. 

He could be then manipulated to access and snatch away the wealth of his father. This one-sided, completely imaginative story is born out of sheer bias and ignorance. It lacks any evidential corroboration. It creates immense paranoia in the minds of the parents. They ban the son from visiting them. They fear his contact with the family could pave the way for her dreaded entry into their household.

I would like to share here my observations on the issue of age disparity in a relationship or marriage. In this scenario, the woman is older. It is based on my own experience. Barring rare exceptions, others in similar cases may experience pretty much the same.

Patriarchy poses as the caretaker of morality and justice in society. But it is replete with biases and double standards around the issue of the spousal age gap. It has lots of biases and double standards in other aspects of life too. It has a deep sexist aversion towards older female partners. My observation also includes the issue of the age difference between a mother and a child. Sometimes it casts a shadow on the marriage to an older woman.

Why on earth so much fuss about the female partner’s age or ‘overage’?

Prejudice. Origin – Objectification of women

I know everybody knows the answer. It is a no-brainer.

A woman’s sexual viability and her reproductive worth are paramount in the institution of marriage. The institution primarily works for the procreation of the human species in a controlled way. It also perpetuates the capitalist ‘civilizational’ agendas. Family name through its ‘dynasty movers’ (male offspring), social status and economic power are a few of them. Young, (supposedly) virgin and fertile women are instrumental in this system.

I do not want to use this space to dispute that. These are indeed valid aspects of an arrangement of convenience such as marriage. Yet, procreation cannot be the be-all and end-all of matrimony. In that case, the marriages of childless couples having a ‘proper’ age gap should be annulled. 

The social accruals of marriage also cannot ensure a harmonious and blissful spousal relationship. Disputes, discords and divorces happen more in so-called ‘proper’ and approvable marriages. Dynasty movers and shakers fail to prevent them.

The origin of the bias against older women marrying younger men lies in the objectification of women. Society hides it under various layers of socio-cultural or religious virtues. But, it propagates double standards when it comes to men marrying much younger women.

Double standards. Origin – Self-serving patriarchy

For men, the younger the wife, the better she is.

Men can always bring in another woman in their life after the demise or departure of their first wife. He can marry for the first, second or third time a much younger woman. It does not matter whether he has children from the previous marriage. Rather, it becomes even more imperative for him to marry a second or a third time. 

In his case, the whole society comes forward to facilitate it as the man’s legitimate need and right. The reason given is to save the family from collapsing. Or for the wholesome upbringing of children from a previous marriage. There is no shaming, blaming, suspicion or character assassination in his case. 

My husband’s father married a second time a 13 years younger woman. She filled in the vacuum left by his first wife and my husband’s biological mother. My grandfather did the same in his mid-forties after his first wife died leaving behind six children. There are scores of such examples of men marrying or dating much younger women. Society accepts spousal pairing with much younger women with a pinch of salt. But, women doing the same is still looked down upon as an earth-shattering sin.

Misappropriation of the age difference between a woman and her child

Apparently, a little diversion. But it has a connection. Read on, please.

Society has double standards in its approach to the mother-child age gap too. Sometimes it creates an awkward situation if the son marries an older woman. It is evident in my husband’s case. The reason my in-laws are aghast with my marriage to their son is I happen to be in the age group of my husband’s step-mother. While she is 15 years older than him, I am senior to him in age by 11 years.

Many siblings have 15 years age gap between them. We know of cases where the stepmother is almost the same age as the stepchildren or even younger. But the patriarchal society does not find it absurd or awkward. However, they find the older woman as a man’s wife very awkward.

This age fiasco in the family has exposed the flawed double standards of patriarchy in assigning spousal or mother-child age gaps. It is true in both the cases of mothers and their own or stepchildren.

What makes society commit to this chaotic yet concerted cohesion?

Two reasons: On one hand, society refuses to understand motherhood from a woman’s perspective. Motherhood is not a by-default, automatic feature of being born as a woman. Mother-child bonding develops through a complex physical and psychological process. In the absence of that process, it is difficult for women to feel that kind of love or bonding with other’s children. 

It is especially difficult with a present or past co-wife’s children. There is a difference between motherhood and motherliness. Motherliness is a human quality of empathy, nurturing and caring. Both men and women may or may not have this quality. Biological motherhood is not necessary for that. Motherhood is a bio-psychobiological experience available only to women. But it does not ensure motherliness always. 

A woman may conceive and deliver children. But she may lack motherliness to care for and nurture them. A man could be very caring and nurturing without the experience of motherhood. Being male-dominated, society does not understand this phenomenon.

Patriarchy focuses more on a woman’s biological capabilities of conceiving and delivering children. It does not give much importance to her educational, emotional and intellectual maturity. She needs it to raise her children mindfully. But Indian society is more concerned with the number of dynasty movers than their quality. It has not, hence, given much importance to the age difference between a woman and her child – own or step.

The proof of this mindset is in India 18 years is the legal age for girls to get married to adult men of any age above 21. That means the society accepts 18 plus girls to mother a child, her own or her co-wife’s – living or dead. It does not bother if she has the adequate knowledge and education, mental readiness to do this crucial job.

Illegal child marriage is still prevalent in many Indian rural and backward communities. Underage girls are often found bearing and rearing children of much older men, their own or step.

Patriarchy does not mind this misappropriation of an age gap between a woman and her child. It controls a woman’s lifestyle, conduct, sexuality and reproductive choices though.

Paradox. Women are puppets of patriarchy too!

Now let’s talk about the saddest part of the flip side of the coin. It is the paradox in this story. Often a woman becomes another woman’s oppressor. In my case, the stepmother of my husband, is slut-shaming, abusing, cursing, doubting and hating me the most for being a divorcee with two children and marrying her stepson. The reason is double-edged. One is her social conditioning and the other is related to her personal matters.

She is the classic example of how women internalise misogyny and become walkie-talkie puppets of patriarchy. My MIL does it without realising her share of victimisation by the same society. Unknowingly she tries to be an ambassador of it.

Step motherhood, when imposed or accepted under compulsion of socio-economic circumstances, is unfair. As a mutually agreed humanitarian arrangement, it is still okay. But the expectation of love and care for her stepchild as her own is a difficult imposition. The demonisation of her character as evil when in most of the cases she fails to deliver on this expectation is, unfair.

I have written one full article on this aspect published on the Women’s Web. You may read it here.

By being puppets at the hands of the male-dominated society, women make it easy for men to pass on all the blame for women’s oppression on other women.

When would women see this and stop being puppets of patriarchy?

Death of parental divinity

Rigid approaches of patriarchy often make it the altar of the sanctity of parenthood. The parent-child relationship suffers a huge loss due to this.

My father-in-law died after maintaining an eight-year separation with his son after he married me. My husband called him or sent him text messages almost every day. He never replied to his messages or calls except for a couple of times. Those were full of anger, abomination, scathing criticism, contempt and allegations.

He died as a helpless and unaware victim of patriarchy. It displaced his heart from his parental divinity. He became disconnected from his core humaneness, his authentic self. He could not overcome the self-induced grief and hurt. But it was not caused actually by his son. The social conditioning and belief systems he grew up and lived with were the causes of his agony. Cancer took his physical life. But patriarchy killed his mind and heart.

A parent does have the discretion of not approving or accepting the child’s choice of life partner. But they often develop blindfolded judgement about their offspring because of this. Their impression may not have complete truth in it. It leads them to alienate their children.

Is this alienation justified in this once in a lifetime, sacred parent-child relationship?

The annihilation of spirituality in a parent-child relationship

A parent-child relationship is more than a family support system. In this relationship, they come together to evolve mentally, intellectually and spiritually. Parents’ job is not only to raise children as employable citizens, capable of continuing the cycle of social traditions. Parents should help children transcend the limitations of form-based social concepts. They should support them evolve to higher spiritual levels.

Similarly, children are the catalysts in parents’ spiritual growth. They sometimes shake and break our belief systems. They challenge us to break free of set norms and our comfort zones. They urge us to look at things from a new, impersonal, yet humanistic perspective. They compel us to unlearn and learn life’s lessons from a fresh point of view. 

Thus, they play the role to help us become our better versions. They push us in expanding our horizons beyond ego. They nudge us breaking free of the shackles of the regressive social indoctrinations. It’s up to the parents, how they respond. It decides the path of their respective journeys of spiritual evolution. In the absence of empathetic mutual acceptance, they fall apart due to perceptional disagreement.

Sadly, the deep patriarchal conditioning overpowers compassion, forgiveness, a larger viewpoint and acceptance. All these qualities ascribe divinity to the role of a parent. The absence of that makes the parent-child relationship almost like a trading alliance. The most sacred relationship gets stifled by personal and societal expectations from each other.

The older wife’s saga brings me to this question once more.

How long the puppet show of patriarchy will go on? How long the characters in the show will live and die in self-inflicted sufferings? How long do social puppeteers promote delusional patriarchal conditioning giving rise to discrimination and inequality?

Don’t you think it makes us miss the joy of life and living?

Image source: A still of Anjali and Sachin Tendulkar

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About the Author

Somma Banerjjee

Born in the land of Royal Bengal tigress, Somma was tamed in the hooter driven steel city of Jamshedpur. At the dawn of the 21st century, Somma suddenly stumbled into the wonderland of digital world read more...

3 Posts | 4,551 Views

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