Of virtual sisterhood and a secret Chinese script

Kavs left a comment on last week’s mommy post:

[…]we are a sisterhood, aren’t we? 🙂 can’t tell you how much all these stories from my virtual “sisters” have helped.[…]

A little tidbit suddenly came to mind. Did know about the NĂĽshu_script?

Source: Wikipedia

It’s a script for writing Chinese but it’s only known to women. Interesting, isn’t it? I found an article from The Guardian about the script. Here’s an excerpt:

After having their feet bound at around the age of seven, girls in Jiangyong County in Hunan province would live indoors – first in the “women’s chamber” of their own homes, and later in the homes of their husband’s family. To ease their isolation and offer support in their pain, girls from the same village were brought together as “sworn sisters” until their weddings. But a more serious relationship, almost akin to marriage and expected to last for life, could be arranged between two girls by a matchmaker, with a formal contract, if the pair shared enough of the same “characters” (being born on the same day, for example). In See’s book she writes: “A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose — to have sons.”

We expect more from our marriages today and we do get a whole lot more. It’s also finally politically incorrect to say #DespiteBeingAWoman. But there’s still a clear split between “real” problems and “women’s” problems. Men, even husbands, are not expected to listen to or take women’s problems seriously. In fact, those who are interested are thought much less of.

The need for a female confidant hasn’t diminished in any way. We still need someone who understands the baggage we carry and the problems we face almost everyday just because we’re women. We may not need a secret script but given how “shameful” some confessions are, we do need relative anonymity and virtual sisterhoods.

I find it a little sad sometimes that I can’t talk about some things without the cursory, “Oh, more feminist/girly stuff” dismissals. Why can’t things be feminist or girly and why shouldn’t more men be interested in what they might never feel or experience?

SMBC expresses this sentiment much better…

Source: smbc comics 3764

Dulhan hi Dahej hai or Indian Men and Blackstone’s Ratio

Have you heard this slogan? “Dulhan hi dahej hai” (The bride is the dowry). Living south of the Vindhyas has its disadvantages and I only came across this on IHM’s blog today. What does this vague and virtuous sounding statement actually mean? It means the man’s family is still entitled to dowry but instead of assets like a gaadi or air conditioner, they’re getting an investment which yields increasing returns over its lifespan.

Have you read R. K. Narayan’s story “Annamalai”? It’s a collection of vignettes about the author’s long time servant. One of them describes a dispute Annamalai and his brother have with the local money lender* over a lamb born to the sheep they pledged with him. The sheep gives birth while it’s in the custody of the money lender and both parties stake a claim on the offspring. You did not pledge a pregnant sheep, says the money lender. You are not entitled to anything the sheep produces contends Annamalai. The sheep, obviously, has no say in the matter because, well, it is a sheep. You know precisely where I’m headed with this train of thought, no? Nonetheless, that’s the beauty of blogging. You can be as redundant as you wish**.

If the dulhan is dahej does it mean the family who accepts her gets what she produces too? Or does it mean the family should be satisfied that a ghar ki lakshmi (better known in our country as free domestic help) has made her entrance and not expect more? Well, duh! The whole idea of dahej is that people get money they haven’t earned. What difference does it make whether it was the dulhan’s family or the dulhan herself who earned it? The woman’s “new” family is completely entitled to all earnings.

We are to hand over our paychecks to our husbands to manage and be grateful that we are allowed to work at all. The woman who wrote to IHM said she didn’t want to part with her money. So she packed her bags and went back to her parents only to have her father and uncles assure her MIL they’ll “send her back”. Her birth family have, presumably, fulfilled all their duties towards her by getting her married. Staying married is now her problem. If she has issues with her MIL she needs to work them out without her parents’ support because they’re not her family anymore.

The husband doesn’t even appear anywhere in the letter. He begins by asking his wife to save all her earnings. He then gradually demands she turn over half to his mother. Finally, just as things start to get uncomfortable, he fades into the background once the abuse intensifies.Men’s Rights Activists (the very term creeps me out) paint him as the ultimate victim – caught between wife and mother while the reality is that he’s the ultimate enabler. These are not “women’s issues” (whatever those are). They’re deep rooted issues pertaining to a warped sense of entitlement enabled by patriarchy. The husband not only feels entitled to tell his wife what to do with her earnings, he decides he has the right to stay out of uncomfortable situations even at the expense of his own wife (remember those marriage vows, dude?) being abused before his own eyes.

I used to have a t-shirt that said “99% of politicians give the rest a bad name”. That’s exactly what all these upholders of patriarchy do as well. They give the few truly decent people out there a bad name. They enable the Leslie Udwin’s of the world to walk in with their self-righteousness and turn Indian Men into a capitalized italicized term. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”, Blackstone said. Yet the innocent do suffer. It makes my blood boil.

There is no conclusion to this piece of writing because I’ve tried all sorts of endings over the years. I’ve been hopeful, cynical, objective, academic, prescriptive, emotional, sarcastic, and even indulgent. It doesn’t ever seem to matter. But it does. Every post I write does matter because I know someone reads it. Bit by bit, post by post, word by word, line by line, comment by comment, women step out of the shadows. Not here in particular but somewhere out there they do, They come out and say, “I thought I was all alone.” All these letters bloggers like IHM get, they’re all the same story worded in a thousand different ways. It’s hard to to be patient. It’s hard to be optimistic but then I remember, each story is a real person.


* My memory of the details is a bit vague. Note to self: update the post if I ever find the book and re-read the story 🙂

** And repeat yourself. And say the same thing in twenty different ways.

Feminism and choice

Are homemaking and motherhood futile occupations? The answer is, obviously, a big fat “No”. l don’t value homemaking despite being a feminist. l value it because I’m a feminist. One of the main ways patriarchy has sought to demean women is by demeaning their primary (traditional) occupation of homemaking. This method seems to have succeeded to the point where even women who work to oppose patriarchy believe that women continuing to pursue traditionally feminine pursuits amounts to somehow making disempowering and/or inferior choices. I have two main issues with this.

Firstly, homemaking is not easy. Neither is it without value. A home is a place of comfort. It’s where we want to go to recharge. To sleep. Sometimes even to hide. Comfort comes from order, predictability, stability and a feeling of being taken care of. When I put away the laundry every night, I’m not just doing chores. I’m making the room more inviting. When The Hero clears the table, he does the same. When we wake up in the middle of the night and there’s a water bottle on the nightstand, it’s comforting. The acts are small but the consequences are far reaching. To keep a family nourished and comforted doesn’t happen without foresight, planning and effort.

Raising children isn’t easy either. There are only three types of providers of childcare. Parents, family members and external help. Each option comes with pros and cons but it’s delusional to think they’re interchangeable. All the self-righteous individuals who say “breast milk can be expressed and left” clearly don’t realize that a) breastfeeding is more than just feeding and b) not all moms can pump and not all babies take bottles. Raising kids is hard work. It’s not about diapers and burps. It’s about engaging them physically, intellectually and emotionally. Giving them values and helping them grow up to be balanced human beings. Some kids thrive with multiple care-givers. Others do better with one. A parent who chooses to be with their child is not doing any worse than the person with a fancy job title.

The second reason I think it’s wrong to judge someone else’s choices is pretty simple. Who are we to judge? There’s dignity in any task and what’s not right for me is not absolutely wrong. It’s about fit.

When we judge individual choices we miss the bigger picture. We forget to question the reason behind the choice. Are we responding to decades of conditioning? Are we trying to live up to some unrealistic superwoman superperson ideal? Or are we finally free to make our own choices?

As a feminist I’m more worried about women around me having the right to choose. It’s none of my business how they exercise this right.