By Unsanskari Stree
I recall a conversation a few decades ago when I had just got married and had taken a trip back home. We were meeting a few friends for tea when I had casually mentioned the desire to take up a part-time job. Pat came a reply that I was lucky my husband ‘allowed’ me to do so.
I myself was guilty of this tacit acceptance of boundaries. Boundaries set by my family, my husband, and many others around me. I wasn’t even aware that, as a fully functioning adult, I had legal and social rights. The rights I lived by, the graces I felt I was ‘allowed’, were attributed to the generosity of my husband, his family or mine.
It took me many years to realize that I was a free and independent entity, and many more to free the shackles of my mind. As I grew older, I realized that the most important thing missing from my relationship was respect.
I realize now that, as an ordinary Indian girl, I was never seen as more than a commodity, something to be delivered with hymen intact, from parents to husband. There was no effort to encourage individuality, because that would have upset the status quo. Over the years, the one thing that undermined and unravelled my marriage was not domestic violence, or another woman.
It was a simple lack of respect.
It wasn’t that there was no love in my marriage; there was, as well as a certain amount of companionship. But there was no respect for me as an individual beyond the bounds of marriage. It wasn’t just me. I often watched qualified professional women run around husbands and in-laws, absolutely terrified of putting a wrong foot forward in the house.
It was as if you could be a nuclear scientist, but your real validation came from how well you ran your home.
A man in our social circle, once asked me, if my work involved ‘naari kalyan’, and I asked him why he would ask that when he knew I worked in public relations, not women’s empowerment. It was astounding to see 20 years of professionalism and an extremely technical field placed into some strident feminazi social service just because I work in an all-women office.
Disrespecting women is easy, because no one remembers that they are adults with equal rights.
Being loved or respected by your husband and family is considered ‘fortunate’, as if basic human rights are ‘granted’ upon wives, while the same condition doesn’t apply to husbands. I realize that for many women of my generation, those in their 30s and 40s, self-actualisation has been a very long journey, with some (not all) linked to growing financial independence.
It’s sad that it takes earning our own money to be allowed basic respect in this world, but currently, that is the only currency that works.
Unsanskari Stree is in her early forties, will only mingle with the right sorts, and regards her dating life with some amusement.
Photo credit: Ornella Binni on Unsplash. First published in the October 2018 issue of eShe magazine