The whole “own family” business

There seems to be an underlying assumption in everyone’s mind that once a woman gets married she belongs to her new and “real” family. She is expected to take on the customs of the family she is married into. She is expected to change her dialect to match theirs, change her style of sari-wearing to match theirs. She’s expected to treat her husband’s parents “as her own” and his entire family as “her own”. She is expected to match her thinking with theirs. She is expected to align interests with those of her “real” family. She is expected to think from the perspective of everyone else. She is expected to assimilate into their culture and just generally take on a new identity. She might be the recipient of nothing but love and kindness or of nothing but selfishness and inconsideration or of some combination thereof but she is still expected to bow down and change because this is her new reality.

Why is this?

This question is not about me. It’s about every Indian woman who is told that his parents are now her parents and her responsibility. It’s about every Indian woman whose parents feel ashamed to be gifted something with their daughter’s salary while her husband’s parents feel proud to be gifted something with his. This question is about every girl who ever grows up being taught that while she might be able to behave a certain way before getting married, she should not expect the same thing after marriage.

Why is an Indian woman’s identity tied to her marriage? Why must a husband’s family be so important? Why should they matter at all to the wife? Surely a person’s parents are important to him but why must they be equally important to her? Why should she be expected to give them the same importance she gives to her own parents?

Even if I were to buy into this logic of familial peace and harmony, I have an urgently pressing question. Why should the woman, and only she, ever compromise? Why doesn’t it ever happen that the entire family shakes down into a new equilibrium? How many members of her “new” family ever seek to understand her thoughts, her feelings, her point of view, her hopes, her fears, her dreams, her aspirations, and her likes and dislikes? Yet how well is she expected to know all of theirs? How well is she expected to know who eats rasam and who prefers sambar? How quickly is she expected to establish a relationship with every leaf and nut on the family tree? How often is she expected to be kind, gracious, patient, and hospitable? How often is she reprimanded for not repressing her true feelings?

When does she ever get a chance to be herself? When does anyone stop to understand what she really needs?

These questions are, of course, rhetorical in the current context. We live in a strongly patriarchal and hierarchical society. One where women are inferior to men and the older are superior to the younger. Our society doesn’t make room for individuality or feelings. We are more interested in preserving social constructs designed to benefit older males. Indian families are not about democracy, they are dictatorships – or more charitably, empires. Formidable tyrants are not to be rebelled against; they are to be won over. Brides do not elope; they must be obtain at least consent. Doesn’t Indian cinema teach us at least this much?

I don’t understand this concept of automatic power just like the Government of India gives out automatic promotions to bureaucrats. Crossed the age of sixty? Congratulations! You have moved to the highest power level you will be eligible for in this lifetime. Female getting married? Welcome to the bottom of the hierarchy. You may move up a notch once you have given birth to a child (preferably a boy) and another woman has married into this family after you.

I can imagine a lot of people nodding along silently as they read this. At the same time, I can imagine a decent number of others who might be wondering why I have to be contrary as a matter or principle. Given that nuclear families are the norm, why can’t a woman just pretend and get it over with? Surely it doesn’t hurt to pretend once in a while?

I beg to differ. Pretension is worse than friction in my opinion because pretension operates on the assumption that someone else’s feelings are more important than yours. It indicates that someone else is right for wanting to control your life and your choices. Pretending to agree or pretending to not be hurt or dismissing hurt because it was not intended but just arrogantly inflicted through a lack of empathy are worse than a failed or miserable relationship because pretension adds power to the balance. One side of the relationship goes about either blissfully unaware or keenly aware but much more powerful because someone else is exerting the effort to pretend and not upset the balance. How can one side of any relationship be so important? How can only one side be so important?

I can imagine a second argument against being vocal about voicing displeasure. Surely it’s important to consider whether hurt was intended before offense is taken? Surely there is such a thing as being too sensitive? To this I reply, surely there is such a thing as extreme insensitivity which prevents one from ever taking a hint? Surely it is easier to not speak than to not be hurt? Isn’t your argument by it’s very nature perverse? If someone were to make a racist statement, would it be acceptable to ask the injured party to grow a thicker skin? Yet growing a thicker skin is what women are expected to do day in and day out with no consideration ever given for their point of view or their feelings!

To conclude, prevailing social standards of Indian marriages are inherently unfair because no such change is expected of men. Certainly the enlightened few attempt to respect the woman’s parents but the “new family” is embraced by the woman alone.


Inspired by a lot of recent posts on blogs I follow

One Reply to “The whole “own family” business”

  1. Dont tell me. How do we propogate it? I realized blogs are not the right forum- not everybody reads it and guess what? Even those ‘highly educated’ boys/girls who read it are the same category who bows their head to get their daughters married.

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