(This appeared as a version of my Aunty Feminist column in Youth Ki Awaaz in October 2016)
T asks: I am 27, and am planning to
have an arranged marriage. Tinder, OKC, Aisle etc, failed to find a
match for me so I have never been in a relationship. Could you point
out the sexist things men do in a relationship and how to resolve it?
Also, what can I do to empower my future spouse?
These are both excellent questions,
and I congratulate you on wanting to be more informed before you make
these hugely important decisions. So many people don't. It's
basically the equivalent of reading the user manual before you begin.
I think this is a good first step to
answer the second part of
your question. What can I do to empower my future
spouse—you do what you've just
done. You ask. You make it known that you are going through
life as her partner and companion, not
her boss or her jailer. If she's feeling like she hasn't got what she
needs from you, in terms of support, you need to foster an
environment in your home where she's okay asking. And you're okay
asking too! This is not a one-way street: marriage is about two
people (and only two people, not four or five or twenty, like Indian
extended families seem to believe!) having each other's backs. Those
are the best relationships I've seen.
also need to live by that millennial phrase (which the New York Times
called “narcissistic” but still good advice) “you do you.”
Let your wife be herself. Allow for a relationship with no
judgements, and safe spaces to talk about yourselves. It is possible
to have a relationship with no judgements at all, and that will
happen once you are both secure enough to speak your minds freely.
for the first part of your question, it got me thinking. Women object
to sexist remarks primarily when they can be avoided. Like, for
example, I'm having a fight with a male colleague and I tell him his
work is not up to standard and he really let me down by missing this
deadline. And instead of responding with either a justification or a
critique of my work (“well, your deadlines haven't been that great
either!”) he says, “Why are you being so emotional?” That
derails the whole conversation because it brings it from a
conversation about work to a conversation about how I'm feeling and
how I'm reacting, which is really not the point in question here.
That automatically puts the woman on the back foot. Similarly in a
relationship, when you're having a fight with your male partner and
he puts your entire fight down to the fact that you might be on your
period. A) Women can get mad without hormones being involved. B)
Someone being on their period is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card for
the other person.
you are with someone—whether man or woman—you need to think of
them as a whole person and not just a supporting character in a play
you're the star of. This may seem pretty obvious, but you'd be
surprised how easy it is to forget. That person you're bringing down
has a whole play going on that's just about her, and so on and so
forth. So when you say something guaranteed to slice at her sense of
self, her ego, little paper cuts guaranteed to bring her down, take a
moment to remember that you,
a supporting character in her
play, have just turned her plot into one about how a man was
determined to believe that all her flaws were because she was female.
thing to bear in mind before you embark upon marriage is the very
essential and often overlooked conversation about gender roles. Who
does what? What do you expect and what does she? Honestly, if you're
both arguing about cooking, either take turns or hire someone to help
out. Or put aside a large chunk of your monthly budget on home
delivery. If you think the laundry should be done once a week and the
beds made every day, do these things yourself or offer to take turns.
Similarly with the stuff that's important to her. This may seem like
a small step, but it's leading up to bigger ones: dividing child care
and elder care fairly and responsibly.
you know what, dear T? I think even though you've never been in a
relationship before, that you'll do great. Because you're not afraid
to ask difficult questions, and I hope, you're not afraid to hear the
answers as well. And that's really most of what it takes.
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