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Marriage is a big culture change. Change of family dynamic, change of communication (particularly the style of talking and sense of humour), change of lifestyle, change of dietary habits and so much more.
How many of you can remember from your wedding day, family members walking up to you to give patriarchal words of advice? Moreover, how many of you noticed that nobody said anything to your husband?
Here are some of the laws put in place for married women in the court of patriarchy:
How inviting does this list sound? For many women, tying the knot often feels like signing a contract. The need to comply with rules and regulations. The expectation to meet the requirements of the “in-laws.” We are in 2023 but still so many women are expected to give up their careers and stay at home. Many women are forced to go through immediate pregnancy. Many working women are even questioned for financially supporting their parents. The list goes on…
Arranged marriages are still very common. When searching for a groom, many girls’ parents don’t have a clue what a fair and functional family looks like. Unfortunately, their ideology of a “respectable” family is often a patriarchal one. Here is an example dynamic:
Most women get married in their late 20s to early 30s. Surely, we know what it means to be “well-behaved” at this age. However, often what “well-behaved” really means in the world of patriarchy is for women to be submissive, say “yes” to everything and to let go of freedom of speech. Ultimately, to follow the “obedient daughter-in-law protocol.”
That brings me to the most common expectation from a married woman to address her in-laws as “Amma” and “Appa” (meaning mum and dad in Tamil. It could be whatever you call parents in your language – I’m just putting forth what I say in mine.)
Nobody can deny the fact that these are not just words, but an emotion. How can we possibly address anybody other than our biological parents with those words?
Let’s take mothers as an example. A mother is someone who has carried her girl in her womb for 9 months and has gone through the painful experience of childbirth. A bond between a mother and her daughter is irreplaceable and remains cherished forever. A mother is a woman who shapes us into the person we are. A mother is a woman who will love her daughter unconditionally and expect nothing in return. A mother-in-law on the other hand, is someone who walks into a woman’s life 25-30 years later. She is someone who expects her daughter-in-law to adapt and adjust, because that is exactly what she had to do coming into that family several years ago. An unconscious punishing attitude – “I had to, therefore, my daughter-in-law must too!” Instead of celebrating her daughter-in-law, she slowly conditions her to be the second submissive female of that household.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I am generalising here. However, a significant proportion of mothers-in-law still precisely fit into that description. A mother and a mother-in-law can never be placed on the same level. If a woman feels comfortable addressing her in-laws the same way she addresses her parents, that’s fine. However, if she doesn’t, it’s not a crime. It’s completely ok to feel that way. We much rather be natural than be fake.
Our patriarchal society does not understand that marriage itself is a big culture change. Change of family dynamic, change of communication (particularly the style of talking and sense of humour), change of lifestyle, change of dietary habits and so much more.
All our life, we women have been showered with unconditional love from our parents. Our biological home is the only place where we women will find ultimate comfort. It’s the place where we can take anything for granted. The place where our mother will still feed food straight into our mouth like we are still a baby. The place where our father will treat us like a princess. The place where we can be our true selves and don’t need to think before we speak. Last but not least, the place where no one will judge us with predefined expectations. On the whole, it is a kingdom of love.
Therefore, moving away from that environment can be challenging. There comes anxiety with relocating from our natural habitat after spending 20 odd years there. Let’s be honest, 90% of the time, it’s a woman who has to resign her job and relocate to her husband’s city of residence. Quitting a stable job creates loss of momentum and introduces uncertainty. How often do we see the vice versa happening? How many men relocate for their wives? Our patriarchal society does not give a woman’s career the same level of importance as a man’s.
Indian women marry into various family dynamics. I always find that women who endure the most, are those challenged by in-laws who are extremely possessive over their sons. In-laws who cannot bear the fact that their son is now going to share his life with a new human being. Unable to accept the fact that he cannot give them the same level of attention as before. Unable to digest the fact that his decision-making is now influenced by his wife’s opinions and preferences too.>
Let’s not forget about words of appreciation, the only thing which keeps us all motivated. Overly possessive in-laws also lack the ability to give appreciation to their daughter-in-law. Their full focus and pride will be on their precious son and his accomplishments only.
Even if she is equally qualified as their son, she cannot win. If their son has been offered a new job or promotion at work, they will feel ecstatic. On the other hand, if their daughter-in-law achieves the same, there will be no reaction. The only promotion they will approve of is her pregnancy, through which, they can obtain their new progeny (preferably a male).
They will encourage their son to reach the highest level in his profession. When it comes to their daughter-in-law, they will say “take it easy, just do what you can, that’s enough.” Really what they mean is, “don’t bother, you are a woman and your priority should be home.” The poor woman will keep trying and trying, but there won’t be any words of encouragement. They simply cannot stand ambitious, confident, outspoken, opinionated and successful women. In their eyes, such women are arrogant women.
Ever wondered why so many in-laws claim that their daughter-in-law is “like their daughter”, but never actually live up to it? Their possessiveness clouds their vision. They are happy that their son is married but at the same time, squirming in fear in case their daughter-in-law isolates their son away from them. Yes, it’s called insecurity. However, many women choose to live separately because of that insecurity. Insecurity is what triggers the turmoil.
If women are able to relocate when they marry, there’s nothing stopping men from doing the same. Being close to family is important but there is no necessity for everyone to be under the same roof, unless it is an absolute necessity. One of the biggest advantages of living separately is that it provides space and territory. A space which allows just the married couple to focus on each other and not worry about meeting anyone’s expectations. A space that will strengthen their understanding of each other. More importantly, a space where even disagreements can be easily resolved without external influence. From speaking to friends as well as outside resources such as articles and podcasts, its evident that still, the number one cause of divorce in our community is interference and in extreme cases, abuse from in-laws.
Get used to the above, because women of the future will end your puppet show long before you know it!
Finally, a note to all the dominating married men out there – there is no doubt that your parents are important to you, but just remember that your wife has left behind all her comforts to come and build a new life with you. So the least you can do is stand up for her no matter what.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
I'm Dr Shalini Moorthy. I was born in Chennai, India. I moved to the United Kingdom during my childhood as a first generation immigrant with my parents. I finished my PhD in 2019 in read more...
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