I remember the time right after I got married to TS. I was always made to feel like the “Mrs.”, you know, the one of lesser consequence in the relationship. People would ask questions that pertained to the two of us and always look at TS for confirmation. They would send us wedding cards and greeting cards and what not and always address it to “Mrs. & Mr. TS”. I also remember people asking me in the time that followed my marriage if I planned to work. I had quit my job and reloacted for TS’s career. He works in an industry that has very little presence in India. So the best option was for me to pack up and move to where he was. And since I got here at the wrong time, it was practically impossible for me to find a job. I spent almost a year and a half sitting at home before I managed to find gainful employment. And something I noticed in this interval is that people somehow didn’t seem to be too worried about me not having a job. Except for TS and my family, almost everyone else behaved like it was something that was natural and expected of me and not something out of the ordinary. I had some people making sarcastic comments about me being at home. I even had a classmate who commented on it being my “duty” to stay at home and take care of my husband and that was what women had been doing for centuries. I was shocked at how someone who was as educated and seemingly sensible as him could make such a comment. I don’t know if he meant that as a joke (I never bothered to find out), but suffice to say that I haven’t spoken to him since.
It was a good break for me, taking that time off. I had been battling a lot of health issues, and it was time for me to just relax and eat right and improve my health. And since I had joined work right out of college, everyone told me I had earned this break. And yeah, I did enjoy it. I read a lot of books and blogs, ate well, slept a lot, set up home, travelled a bit, learnt how to cook, learnt to get around on my own and manage my house and what not. But I am one of those peole who always want to have their days chock full of stuff. Yes, I complain and crib about how busy I am and how I don’t have time for anything but if I’m faced with a long period of doing absolutely nothing, I would wither and die. And while I was enjoying my break, I was also job hunting on the side. And becasue of the kind of reactions I got from people, it almost became a battle I had to win, to prove to these people that I was capable of finding a job. I don’t know what made me feel that way. Perhaps it was the way I was relegated to feeling like TS’s shadow or of being made out like the less important one in the relationship or maybe it was the fact that my parents had drilled it into my head long ago to be always independent. I was tired of just being Mrs. TS. I hated it when people just refused to acknowledge that I had interests and likes and dislikes and that my world was more than just TS. I remember checking the post one day and in the middle of some wedding cards and such that had Mrs. and Mr. TS on it as usual, I found this envelope addressed to Moonbeam, in my Dad’s handwriting. And my Dad had not put TS’s name as my surname either.(Any surprise that he’s still my hero?) It was the highlight of my day. It made me feel normal, made me feel like myself again. Like I was my own person, that I had an individuality and an identity that went beyond being someone’s wife. And then I thought of all these women who are labelled- housewives or homemakers and the kind of stereotyping they face.
I know it becasue I have seen people typecasting my Mom and I had it done to me too. Its almost like the minute we women get married, we cease to be individuals. Suddenly its the husband’s opinion that counts and not yours. I think even working women face it to a large extent. You might be a financial wizard but you go to a party and you’ll most certainly have people asking your husband who doesn’t know the first thing about finance about good investments. I have faced a lot of it. People staring right through me, not acknowledging my presence, not even bothering to ask my name and thinking that my brain can only process the most mundane of things. Many a time I have wanted to stand up and yell at the top of my lungs that I’m not a bimbo, I have brains and I know how to use them. I have likes and dislikes and opinions on everything. Anyways, coming back to the point, I have always seen people underestimating my Mom because she was a homemaker. Most people don’t even make the effort to get to know her better. My Mom had a very sheltered upbringing, she had never even set foot outside her hometown till she got married to my Dad and the very first place she lived in after her marriage, was Kolkata. Miles away from home, among people who didnt know her language and didn’t know English either, Mom managed. She thrived. She learnt to speak Bengali, learnt to cook (Mom had never cooked a meal in her life before her wedding), learnt to manage home. My Dad worked with a bank, which meant frequent transfers, Mom had to live in Assam and almost all of the North Eastern states. She almost got a job, but decided not to take it up because by then she was pregnant with me and her having a job would mean two people’s careers and transfers and aspirations to contend with. So, she voluntarily decided to stay at home. She managed without Dad and with a newborn baby to take care of, amidst political instability and curfews with noone to help her out. She managed when I was rellay sick and the nearest hospital was miles away. She managed when she was pregnant with my sister and my Granpa (Dad’s father), passed away. She’s always managed.
SInce the day they got married, my Dad has never had to worry about a single bill not being paid on time, he has never had to worry about our school fees, PTA meetings, annual day functions, grocery shopping, paying tax- nothing. Mom takes care of the finances at home better than Dad, who is a banker. She knows how much money there is in each account, how much was paid for various things, she knows the price of all essential commodities, she knows the stock prices, she knows how much is left to be paid on the credit card, she knows when the car has to go in for servicing, she knows the political situation in any country around the world, she knows when the latest book by her favourite author is being released. And in spite of sitting at home,Mom has always made time for her interests- cooking, baking, embroidery, crocheting, gardening, reading- there’s nothing she has given up. She’s travelled on her own, she goes out with her friends when she feels like it, she shops on her own, she visits the library and most recently she pretty much single handedly took care of my Grandpa who was suffering from cancer. It was only during his last days when he couldn’t even sit up in bed that she needed someone to help her out. She pretty much managed my wedding planning all on her own. My Dad made an appearance just a week before my wedding. 🙂
What I’m trying to say is, being a homemaker doesn’t make you any less of a person. It doesn’t mean you are not ambitious. it doesn’t mean you have no aspirations and no love for life, it doesn’t mean you have no intellect, it doesn’t mean you are boring and your life revolves around just your family, it doesn’t mean that you are your significant other’s shadow, it doesn’t mean you are just the Mrs. It’s so much more than that. Its being every bit of an individual as the Mr., having opinions and ideas and dreams and likes and dislikes. It means pursuing them with as much enthusiasm as the man, it means making your own choices and being proud of it. And if staying at home and not working is a woman’s choice, I think everyone should respect her for it and not treat her as someone not worthy of respect. After all, even feminism is all about giving women the freedom of choice. Right?