For centuries, I was judged for things I had no control over — the colour of my skin, my height, and my beauty. There was but one goal of my life, set by others — to find a husband and build a family. And so, I spent decades emulating my mother: toiling in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning for the entire family.
And then, one day, as I passed a school, I realized how much I wanted to learn, to educate myself. Straining my eyes as I looked at my brother’s textbooks in the flickering light of a candle, I realized my passion, my desire for learning. But oh, the amount of resistance I faced! From primary to high school, from college to university — it took me years of fighting and turmoil to convince society to allow me to pursue education. And even when I did, I was rarely encouraged. More often than not, I was ridiculed, made to feel bad about my stubbornness to go against society’s norms.
As time passed, things got a little easier. My higher education wasn’t looked down upon as much anymore. But with higher education came the desire to build a career. With it, the resistance resurfaced, stronger than ever. In fact, in many families, the kind of job and timings I could work were dictated to me. Often, I was told I could work only 2 years as I’d have to get married by a certain age to whoever my parents and extended family chose.
Marriage. It was here that I struggled the most. Despite the new-found mindsets, I was expected to fit into traditional roles. Cooking, cleaning and looking after children were my sole responsibilities. I couldn’t pursue a passion, work, or even have time for myself. I wasn’t allowed to do that. Yet, I didn’t give up. I kept fighting for freedom — the real freedom. For equal rights. And finally, there came a time when I was ‘allowed’ to work full-time. The sad bit? Managing home, kitchen, and kids was still largely my domain. I swell with pride to see some progress, albeit at snail’s pace, on this front as the lines dividing traditional gender roles have started to blur. But it’s not easy. It never was. I am still expected to give up my career to live in another city where the man I married under an arranged marriage works, wake up early to please my in-laws, or stay at home to look after the kids because I must be a good bahu, if not a good beti.
As I wrote once in my post, Confessions of an Independent Woman, while the definition of a ‘woman‘ underwent an immense transformation and I was taught to be more independent, we, as a society, forgot to teach our men to be less dependent (on women – in terms of cooking, household chores, kids). The end result? I am constantly caught between two conflicting worlds, always trying to live up to contrasting expectations — those of my parents, my spouse, my in-laws, and my colleagues. Often, my society as well. And hence ensues a constant struggle to prove my worth as a woman at every step — at work, at home, and in the whole wide world.
As I juggle all the different roles in my life, I am constantly looking over my shoulder, trying to prove myself.
I live in a world where I need a no-objection certificate from my father or husband to fly to certain countries. A world where I am constantly asked “when are you planning to get married?” or “what about kids?”. A world where, the moment something goes wrong in my family, I am told it is because I was “too focused” on my career. A world where I have to change my last name (and often, my first) after marriage. A world where dowry and domestic abuse are still part and parcel of the many lives I live in many parts of the world.
This is the woman that the world wants to see.
This is how society wants me to be.
But The Woman that I Am is strong, confident and bold — not because I had it easy. But because I chose to fight through it all. Because I chose to break the shackles of society. I’ve come a long way. But there’s still a long way to go.
Disclaimer: This isn’t my story, rather it is the story of women over the years.