As I bitch about the patriarchy of the institution of marriage, I have to clarify a few things about my own experience. My angst is mainly related to two aspects:
1) The various traditions – often spouted and insisted upon by the family rather than the two hopefully more enlightened people in the marriage – which all the theoreticians might say that we must ignore but it isn’t so easy to. As yours truly, one of the biggest spouter of all things feminist from the age of six has experienced first hand.
2) The gender roles that have been ingrained in us since childhood and the underpinnings of patriarchy that linger even as you strive to make an equal marriage.
With relation to 1) – it’s easy to discount how corroding these traditions and expectations can get. But it completely throws one of guard especially when you have come from a more liberal background. You want to be a nice person, to be liked by your future husband’s family and for there to be peace. However, when planning a wedding things get nasty pretty quickly.
I again have to qualify that by Indian standards I did not go through half of it. I refused to even be asked to pay a dowry. I refused to pay for the whole wedding – or even half of it since I had agreed to have it in V’s town and very few of my guests would be around. To be fair, V’s parents were cool about this. But there were all the traditions that they wanted to follow and when I was reluctant to do them, they were insisted upon being ‘the boy’s side’. So in all the planning – except my dress and my bridesmaids – it was like ‘the boy’s side’ was paramount. The tone became increasingly bossy… Moreover, even the younger generation that had made very feminist choices for themselves turned out to be regressive when it came to me. V was supportive only in the last instance – his take was that on the smaller stuff just give in and this was something I tried to do but was not entirely comfortably with and it’s left a bad taste in my mouth and soured my relations with my in-laws.
V’s parents are from an older school of thought and by their standards I’m sure they felt they compromised a lot. I’m just surprised that they produced someone like V and their daughters though I can also seem some of the old ways lingering in them despite themselves.
After marriage too there are the expectations which intrude on our lives even though we live so far away from family – why I do not cook, when am I going to have a baby etc. I shudder to think what it would be like living nearby. Visits to India are always stressful because I have to spend time with V’s family and I have realised I can never actually be myself. There is an expectation that as a girl I should ‘help’ though help how I cannot imagine because I don’t cook (!!) and a maid does everything else. But I have realised I have to pretend to help and that gets very irritating. Conversely, there are no such pressures on V from my family nor were there during the wedding.
In response to nevermind’s suggestion that one just goes ahead and does what one wants – it’s faintly ludicrous to put it so casually. After all these are our parents and we would rather not sever all ties. That’s pretty counterproductive. Yes, if V’s parents made very unrealistic demands it may have come to that but in this case it didn’t – as I said, for their generation, they were probably ok. It’s just that I expect better. Not enough has changed.
2) Again I’d like to say that V and I split the work quite evenly. He cooks and I clean and most of the time it’s ok. It’s just that I get the feeling that at the back of V’s mind he would rather try to get away with less work because in any other marriage he wouldn’t have to do anything. Like when he cooks, it used to be that he would leave all the dishes around like a master chef and feel quite smug that he had done this contribution. However, that has recently been rectified and as it stands we actually have a pretty equitable distribution of housework all things considered.
However, there are specific instances where V slips up and I see him using the upper hand that comes only with being male. I have learned to harden my heart and fight like a cat. I have begun to think that men are always slightly selfish (due to being treated like semi-gods by their parents) and so don’t actually see the other point of view. Regardless it has to be nipped in the bud and this can only happen if you have fertile ground – where the man is at least somewhere in the 20th C and not stuck in the 19th as most Indian men seem to be. V is the former but I find the process of having to fight for justice upsetting because I think that by now, I shoudn’t have to and I certainly didn’t expect to have to.
I realise that I have it much much better than most Indian women. In fact, this whole discussion is pretty much theoretical. What I am trying to say is that I’m just surprised that these things haven’t already been resolves say a decade ago. In short, I want it all.