Sometime last week, I went to Klang for saree shopping. My friends and I were admiring and exclaiming over gorgeous pieces of cotton sarees. Jokingly, we sighed and told the assistant if only we could afford all the sarees. She definitely understood our dilemma and instantly provided a solution, “You girls need to find a rich boyfriend/husband”. It felt like an insult.
Few days later, I was watching a talk show which discussed the demands of women in a marriage. In a nutshell, it was evident that the role of a breadwinner was cast on men. These narratives are not new, it has been perpetuated since men settled down and started working on land. Prior to this period, women were providers too. They gathered half of the food that was needed for consumption. With change in the lifestyle, men worked the land because it required manual labour and women took care of homes. As lands prospered, so did the dominance of men. Men explored, gained knowledge and excelled. However, majority of women were left behind to support the ambitions of men in their lives. Then education happened, feminism took off. Women pursued their education, went to work and few even became leaders in their fields. Even with all that progress, we are not able to shake off the stereotype that women are supposed to be good at homemaking skills and men as primary breadwinners.
We live in a time where many women are on equal footing with men in terms of education, opportunities and financial independence. Sadly, we still stick by the same standards that our forefathers did when choosing a partner. We still prescribe to the same yardsticks in choosing a partner instead of going by emotional compatibility. In the Indian community, marriage is viewed as a major achievement, especially for a woman. There is a pressure to marry because society thinks it is ‘the right time’. Parents consider marrying off a girl as a paramount task. Parents still protect the virtue of their unmarried daughters by curtailing their choices in terms of dressing, behavior and movement to ensure she remain desirable for the marriage market. Men also suffer from this pressure but this does not affect their lifestyle much.
The irony is that we live in a time where women are at their peak, but instead of striving for equality in partnerships, we are holding on to age-old conditioning. Marriages/partnerships are perfectly fine. Love and relationships are hardly the enemy here. It is only wrong when gender stereotypes are enforced in shaping the role of men and women in relationships.
This simply means that men should not expect women to enter a relationship and automatically assume the role which is traditionally associated to women, like cooking, cleaning and maintaining a home. Women on the other hand also have to stop expecting their partners to play the role of a provider. These tasks are not gender-specific, so within a relationship, the parties can iron out what works best based on their dynamics. The purpose of a relationship should be an emotional one, it should not be one that is utilitarian. As long as it remains as a functional one, people would get into it expecting the other party to fulfill their material/physical needs.
Women have a huge role to play here, especially educated women. We need to stop encouraging the idea that men are our providers/protectors. We need to voice out when stereotypes are thrown upon us. We need to stop allowing our ambitions to revolve around marriage and family. Now, there is nothing wrong in making that choice but not when that decision is due to conditioning that enforces gender stereotypes. It is empowering when educated women recognise that their potential can extend beyond their home. That recognition is empowering, even when she has to stay at home as she will be equipped with the confidence that she is capable taking care of herself and her dependents. Empowerment is also when women enter marriages for emotional reasons and not for financial/physical security. When that happens, the institution of marriage may possibly begin with an equal footing.
As women, it is important that we take responsibility of our own empowerment, especially women who are educated. We have to be willing to imagine dreams that are bigger than what society projects on us. We need more women to come out and reach higher, so that we could inspire women who are less privileged to fight battles that we no longer have.