Monday, October 29, 2007

Women, marriage and compromise

Yesterday, I was going through Ms. Bansal's blog, and I came across this post on Chak De India. I know it's a bit late to write on this movie, especially as I have already written on it once. But, the temptation was irresistible. What caught my attention was not so much the post itself but a comment to the post. This comment, made by someone called Madan, presumably a man, sums up the overall attitude towards women. He says,
"In addition most men are pretty balanced in their outlook towards life,career and family and seem to have no problem juggling them irrespective of their maritial status. But all we hear from the female is constant crib about how society is somehow denying them their rightful place? Strange considering the fact most women marry UP and not DOWN. Men unfortunately don't have the luxury of moving up the social ladder thru marriage." (click here for full post)
He goes on to claim that men and women are given equal opportunities but the equality of result cannot be guaranteed. Equal opportunities? Really? What about the woman who is forced to drop out of school because the education of her brother is more important and the family cannot afford to educate them both? What about the woman who is married off at 18 and has 3 children by the time she is 23? And what about the millions of Indian women who work as house-maids because they face harassment and humiliation if they choose to do anything else? Does Madan and others like him have answer to why women are paid only half as much as men in the construction industry when they work just as hard? India may be on the path to economic development, but the hard truth is that women have to be twice as good as men in their careers to be considered as equals. A woman taking a few months off as maternity leave is seen as a liability to a company rather than as an investment.

Secondly, Madan claims that most women marry up in an attempt to move up the social ladder. Ever stopped to think why women prefer a man who earns better than she does? The reason is simple. Very few men can take it if their wives are more successful in their careers than they are. A woman chooses a man who earns better than her to avoid the ego clashes that will inevitably occur. There are other, more practical reasons for this. It is inevitably the woman who quits her job, or downsizes her career as Bansal puts it, to take care of the kids. In this scenario, it would only make more sense if the husband earned better so that the family remains financially stable even after the loss of the woman's income. Of course, if men are willing to be stay-at-home dads, there would be no reason for women to marry up.

As for the claim that men don't have the luxury of moving up the social ladder through marriage, nothing could be farther from the truth. Why do men ask for dowry? Because they think it's culturally correct? No. It is because they know they are simply incapable of acquiring the money through their own hard work. It it obviously easier to ask your father-in-law for a car or a flat than to work towards buying one yourself. If this is not moving up the social ladder through marriage, then what is? As if this is not enough, another reader says,
"In fact , the woman survives on the money brought by the husband if she is not working. Everything comes for a price. If the woman is not working , she has to repay by serving her husband in lieu of the food and material comforts he provides her."
What the hell? A woman repays her husband by serving him food and cleaning up after him? If it is business, then what about the free sex the husband gets on demand? Is that business too? A price to pay for staying at home and eating out of the husband's earnings? If all this is true, then I don't think we are talking about a family at all. We are talking about a profit-making corporation where there is no free lunch. And the job of a wife is simply that: a job. And, like all jobs, the employer can be changed. This is an extremely cynical world view and has no place in our lives. I do not say this citing Indian culture or society. I say this because as human beings, we all need a place to call home. A place where every action, or lack of it, will not be measured in monetary terms. I can only hope that this viewpoint is the exception rather than the rule. Otherwise, we will have to rethink our existence as human beings.


Zero said...

The number of things that you find "inevitable" makes me wonder if your assessement is reductionist, even though it's truthful on the whole (if one may generalise); as in, asserting that men will be men (*) and women will be women no matter what. Do you mean to say you want this inevitability to change?

If so, how? While I'm with you when it comes to (the lack of) gender equality in general, let me play the devil's advocate and ask back: Why don't women "marry down," (personally, I don't find the usage of "up" and "down" appropriate) upsize their career and politely refuse to quit their jobs as their family will anyway be very much economically dependent on their job?

Society is a giant that forever looms over every individual and he or she invariably conforms to it at some point or the other. This act of conformance can't be held against them. But, at the same time, who shoul "mend these defects?" The proverbial society? Which constitutes of nothing but these men and women.

I hope you see this as a sincere question and not as "a defence of men." I witness gender inequalities just like you do, and "the whole scheme of things" at times frustrates me too. Except that I don't have any "change" (for the lack of a better word) to offer or advocate.

* -- I for one don't mind earning less than my wife at all.

I said...

"What about the woman who is forced to drop out of school because the education of her brother is more important and the family cannot afford to educate them both?"

That is a survival mechanism and the percieved best utilization of scarce resources/investment. It is not a statement against girls/ women.

Norms in society and culture are often a product of centuries of evolution and conditioning. It is well beyond you, me and quick lunch rationalism to fathom reasons or consequences of social ways.

Society (not in a rhetorical sense)is like Archie's old jalopy. Tighten a bolt there, another nut falls somewhere else. Conformism deters from removing one too many nuts lest we do not know how to put them back.