Redefining Wifehood

Jyoti Shekar

There are many expectations attached to being a wife in Indian society. She needs to cook well, clean well, be artistic, be enterprising, earn well and yes, be submissive. Submissive? You ask. And I say, yes. Whether directly or indirectly, we are all made to follow traditions. We may like to do so, but only because we are conditioned to like it.

Else, if I like my sindoor so much, why did I not wear it as a single woman?

Decking up

Most traditional families feel that it is important for a woman to wear marriage symbols (suhag chinh) like mangalsutra, sindoor, bindi etc. because she is the Lakshmi of the house and needs to dress up accordingly for the well-being of not only the husband, but the entire family. Well, many women don’t mind the marriage symbols, but the point is that it has to be their choice. At least some of us feel that it is a gender oppressive practice. Further, there doesn’t seem to be any logic to this added responsibility of dressing up, except for reminding the woman every second of the day that she is married and laden with heavy responsibilities.

Feeding the family

Even today, in many households it is very common to hear from your elders – ‘what will you do at you in-laws’ house if you cannot cook/get up early/control your temper/generally be servile. Untitled1One of the main expectations from a woman is that she should know how to cook. Sorry, I mean she should know how to cook well enough to give Sanjeev Kapoor a complex. Well, sure, because the way to your husband’s heart is through his tummy. But mind you, she is not supposed to look fat because her husband might stray, despite her having reached out to his heart through the stomach channel.

Oh, what an irony!

Hunger pangs vs love pangs

Another traditional expectation is Karva Chauth! There are some husbands who get angry on that day and refused to feed their wives in the evening as is required by custom or they are too busy to do so. What is the point in the whole thing then, when the person for whom you are doing it not only expects it out of you, but cannot even spare the time or the temper to be grateful?

Love is about mutual respect and trust. It works best when it is both ways. When someone is in love, they go out of their way to ensure that their loved one has a full stomach and is not in want for anything, gender irrespective.

Following any religious practice should be left to personal choice. So please question what you are doing. Do it only out of love and faith.

Suffrage at home

Even today, most Indian households do not accept a woman’s decision making power, except to decide what to cook for dinner and what linen to use at home. But like voting rights for the nation, women also have voting rights at home. If not given, they need to take it. Participating in the decisions of the house not only help women to feel equal but also gives them experience of handling things on their own. Also, in any matter, the perspective of each individual stakeholder is important for the best outcome. But in most families, men take over the financial and more important decisions of the household, leaving women to deal with the mundane. This is not empowering at all, and when women are faced with the need to decide something, they are at a loss. So, do take part in all household decisions.

Home is where the heart is       

Somewhere we lose sight of what is important. A free and happy family member who is kind, friendly and caring, or a bahu (daughter in law) who is obedient and burdened with unreasonable expectations of catering to the family?

This raises another question which we rarely think about. As humans, we all love power, especially over other people. We are proud of the fact that our husbands listen to us, our wives are obedient, our fathers are indulgent etc. This is good as long as there is give and take in the relationship. As soon as it becomes one-sided, what we end up doing is mere formality. There is no genuine respect underneath. Which one would you prefer – formality or genuine respect? I, for one, firmly believe that a house becomes a home when everyone in it is comfortable. Not necessarily happy all the time, but comfortable enough to relax. Every person deserves a safe haven. That’s what home is. If we are constantly worried about what other people think of us or trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of us all the time, then it is a workplace and not home. Then that person needs to find a home somewhere!!

At the end of the day, the most important thing in a marriage is that the couple is happy with each other, and not what third parties (parents or otherwise) perceive that a happy marriage should contain. As long as we are clear about that, we will never let anyone come inside the boundary of privacy we have created for ourselves.


*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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