Notice how people excuse men saying, Boys are boys, but will turn heaven and hell if the woman is to do a mistake? That is patriarchy.
A friend asked me to write about patriarchy. You know, the usual goings-at patriarchy since it is a bane. So I was trying to remember the instances in which I have undoubtedly felt a part of such practices, instances where I have given in to keep people around me happy, despite being disapproving of the same. I’d blame it on my recently acquired ‘selectively social’ lifestyle, but I couldn’t recollect any example that could be called everyday patriarchal practices. Obviously, who’d think of happy occasions to have anything related to unpleasantness? After all, as daughters, sisters, wives or mothers, we are all loved by our men and doted on.
Since the last one-year-and-half has mostly been about being married and getting into the new role of a wife and an in-law, I succumbed to those books of my recent past. Invariably, a funny incident sprang up in my mind. It was my juron, the ritual in which the groom’s family bestows gifts of clothes and jewellery to the bride-to-be. The songs of parting with my maternal allegiance had already been sung and I had shed my tears when someone suggested that I should be giving away sweets to the kids playing around. I thought it was to keep my mind off the bride’s sorrow, and smiled away to every little girl who came to take the sweet until an old lady pointed out that none of the boy kids had turned up! “Go, call the boys. At least one of them has to be fed,” she said. I found it funny since kids are kids after all, until I realised later, its deeper intent. The sweet-giving was an underlying connotation of motherhood. Of course, I couldn’t miss out the boys. What kind of an Indian ritual would it be, if it didn’t assert that the bride would beget the family heir? I laughed myself to sleep that night, though tired and exhausted.
I didn’t take it too seriously. It was typical Indianness. Then I came across many others. They’re all considerably beautiful ways of Indian wife-dom, but essentially you can read between all the lines. From touching the groom’s feet during the wedding, since he’s the lord of the family (aka provider, protector, pro-everything!), to the almost oath-taking at the groom’s kitchen that you can manage food on the table no matter what, to serving him breakfast of sweet cream/curd and cereal (maybe because your duty is to be sweet) and then again, being blessed by him — a whole of lot pati-parmeshwarisms hanging about, you see! To top it all, someone jokingly even told me later that they’d forgotten another ritual during the first breakfast. I was supposed to eat from the same plate after he had left!
And that wasn’t the end. The bride and groom are to be in separate rooms till some puja has been done to bless their conjugal status and till then the bride is to sleep on the floor. That the bed, gifted by her own father, might lie next to her in the same room, is to be of no consequence, until the groom has mounted it. The groom, on the other hand, can party with his friends and sleep wherever he likes, as long as it is not in the bride’s room. So when the day comes for the couple to finally ‘be together’, the bride has to wash the groom’s feet and help him up the nuptial bed, after which she has to do a small prayer before she takes her place on his ‘left’ side (maybe because He is supposedly always ‘right’). ROFL!
Now when I look at it, I wonder how many such caretaking lessons my groom had to get. It was unspoken because since he is marrying me, it is understood that he is capable of it anyway. Which, again in a funny way, somehow doesn’t apply to me. People tend to believe that I have to be told to be accepting and giving. Nobody tells him, surprisingly. While his childhood chowkidar congratulates me, a complete stranger, asking me to keep him well; I cannot for heaven’s sake, recollect any instance when he has been told by my folks that I need to be kept happy too. It is taken as common understanding that I have to be happy in whatever circumstances I am in. No qualms about it now, because, thank heavens, my husband understands my stand, but I still don’t understand why tradition has to be so man-pleasing.
Then of course, in a few months of marriage, you’d be asked the perennial question – any plans (snigger!)? And these questions will later lead to – When are you planning kids? Is something medically wrong with you? Don’t you want to have kids? Are you taking protection? Contraceptives are bad things, etc. Nobody asks the man these questions. As if the kid is going to crawl out of me on its own – without the dad’s intervention! Oh yes, then there’s the solution too if you have a problem – IVF! What if we don’t want to have kids right away? What if we want to have some couple time before getting into the mess of changing diapers and losing sleep? Phew!
See how it weighs. See how you have to answer because you’re a woman. And somehow these answers never stop. From answering your parents where you were if you were late, to whom you were talking to, to this… And what I hate the most is when women themselves tell me, with pride or passiveness god knows what, that women are meant to give and sacrifice – for all the generations. That She will somehow go into oblivion for the sake of her family – filial, in law or the womb’s bloodline. And that’s supposed to be her virtue? Patriarchy may sound like a phallic ideology you can point a finger at. But many times, we (women) are unknowingly part of it, rather happy and smug about it, oblivious that the three fingers had been pointing at us all the time! It is in fact, most often, women, who make these rules and abide by them and later hand it down the generations.
So when someone tells me she wants a registered marriage and a party later, I thank god. There’s at least someone who’s beginning to change the rules of the book. Yes, she’d miss out on the hullaballoo of a wedding ceremony but what good is it, if it undermines her all the way without her knowledge?
Of course, people would say I am incriminating culture. Culture – now that is getting all dubious for me!