[First published in Women’s Web]
When an actress described women as “lazy” because they choose not to have careers and insist on only considering prospective grooms who earn a lot, many jumped to her defence.
Many men (and women) shared stories about how “choosy” women have now become.
One wrote in a now-deleted post that when they were looking for a bride for her brother, the eligible women all laid down impossible conditions — they wanted the groom to be not more than 3 years older than them, to earn at least 50k per month, and to agree to live in an independent flat.
Another shared the story of how a woman called off her engagement when she found out that her US-based fiancé had lost his job. Both seemed to believe that a woman does not have the right to lay down minimum expectations from a prospective groom, and that setting expectations makes her greedy and lazy.
What about the unrealistic expectations from brides, huh?
Leave aside the fact that men have always had unrealistic expectations from their brides (all matrimonial advertisements want tall, fair, cultured and homely brides), what is wrong with a woman refusing to marry a man who cannot maintain the standard of living she is used to, especially since it is likely that her family will be investing a substantial amount in setting up her household?
“If she is used to so much luxury, she should earn enough to support herself. Why should she be a parasite and expect her husband to earn for her”, was the argument put forth.
‘Our daughters-in-law don’t work’, what career?
What they chose to ignore was the fact that our patriarchal system discourages women from having a career.
Take my friend Avani***, for example. Avani was a school topper who did particularly well in Science and Maths and dreamt of becoming a lady doctor. Since her conservative family didn’t allow her to sit for the pre-medical examinations, she enrolled for a degree in Economics. Her family wanted to get her married off after graduation, but she resisted and started her Masters.
Since she had two younger sisters, her family was after her to get married. Finally, she gave in to the pressure and agreed to get married. Her husband’s family allowed her to complete her post-graduation, but there was no question of her going out to work.
The women in their family “didn’t work”, and they were not going to let Avani break the tradition.
Avani’s case is not unique. Millions of Avanis have gone to good schools and colleges and done well academically, but are not permitted to work. Women who are “allowed” to work consider themselves fortunate, but the word “allowed” itself shows that they do nto have agency- their freedom to work depends on the whims of the husband (/his family) and can be withdrawn anytime.
Can a woman who is brought up knowing that she will not be permitted to work outside the home after marriage be called “lazy” because she does not intend to have a career?
How can a woman who has been actively discouraged from getting professional qualifications to be expected to support herself?
A fancy designation in father-in-law’s firm, but no real work!
Then there is another friend, Barkha. Barkha had been the head girl at school, and nobody was surprised when she got admission into one of India’s foremost law colleges. Varun was a year senior to her, and they fell in love and decided to get married.
Varun’s father had his own law firm and was quite excited about welcoming yet another lawyer into the family. Two months before their marriage, Barkha quit her job to concentrate on pulling off her perfect destination wedding.
When she returned from her honeymoon, her father-in-law offered her a position in his law firm, which she accepted. She had a fancy designation, and was invited to attend all the prestigious meetings, but Barkha soon realized that she was being kept out of the serious assignments.
Just when she was thinking of applying to other firms, she found out she was pregnant. She is now the mother of three, and realizes that she might never get to practice law.
There are many young women like Barkha whose professional aspirations get sidelined after marriage. It may not always be as dramatic as this. It might just be a case of women not being able to balance a highly demanding job with the pressures of motherhood and being forced to drop out.
Forced to drop her career because she had to become her in-laws’ primary caregiver
Unlike Avani and Barkha, Chandini was reasonably well-established in her career before marriage. Initially, her in-laws stayed in another city, and marriage didn’t change her lifestyle much. However, after her father-in-law had a stroke, her parents-in-law moved into Chandini’s home.
Suddenly, Chandini was thrust into the role of primary caregiver. Her in-laws called her for every minor emergency, and she was expected to drop everything and rush home. She was not able to take it for too long, and quit her high pressure job to become an independent consultant.
Though Chandini is not unhappy with her pipeline of work, she often thinks about how much better it would have been had she remained in her old job.
Not every Chandini is forced to lower her professional ambitions because of the demands of caregiving. Some Chandinis do so because, in the absence of adequate spousal support, childrearing can be a full-time job.
In a society where the entire emotional burden of housekeeping, caregiving and childrearing is with the women, it is extremely hard for women to continue to balance those needs with the demands of a full-time job. Millions of Chandinis either compromise or get burnt out (or both).
Daman could be the younger sister of Avani, Barkha or Chandini. When growing up, her elder sister is her role model. Daman sees Avani, Barkha and Chandini stand out in technicolour against the grey women in Daman’s family.
She wants to be someone in her own right, as Avani, Barka and Chandini are.
However, before her eyes, the colours gradually start fading. Avani, Barkha and Chandini all have had their individuality stripped away, and become indistinguishable from the other women in the family.
It is being called practical, not lazy!
Daman soon realizes that are no matter what her talents and ambitions, society will eventually reduce her to being someone’s daughter-in-law, wife or mother. If that is her future, why not make the best of it, she decides.
When Daman insists on her prospective groom earning enough to keep her in luxury, she is not being “lazy”. She is just being practical.
If she chooses not to have a professional career, it is not because of laziness; it is because she knows that her family will not allow her to treat a job as anything more than a hobby.
It is a society that forces women into not considering a career for themselves. This is not an optimal situation since it prevents 50% of humanity from achieving their full potential.
However, this situation can only be redressed by changing attitudes and beliefs. It is only when men and women take joint responsibility for housekeeping, caregiving and childrearing that we will have an equitable society where everyone can achieve their full potential.
*** Avani, Barkha, Chandini and Daman are all composite characters. Yet we might see ourselves in some of them, but none of them is based exclusively on a living person known to me.
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