Being a woman is not easy in any part of the world. With its traditional society and orthodox culture, women in India have a harder time than women in other parts of the world. To be a woman is to constantly make adjustments in your personal and professional life. Their female identity has given them designated roles beyond their biological role of a birth giver. They become caretakers of their home, their children, their parents, their in-laws, and their husbands. Many of them carry out this unpaid labor alongside a full-time job- what feminists have termed the double-burden. Here’s a list of ten more things women have to put up with daily.
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Men are the go-to labor on the fields, and having sons means cheaper labor. The complications arose when infanticide became a criminal offense and finding out the gender of the child before its birth was forbidden. Unwanted girls mean unnecessary hassle and who gets blamed for this hassle in Indian households? Why the women, of course! What punishment do they receive for their ‘sin’ of being born a girl? Little to no education. While the son is everyone’s ‘aankho ka tara’ (apple of everyone’s eye), the daughter is considered a burden on the family’s wealth. Although times have changed and the law required education for girls as much as boys, girls are only given as much education as required by law while boys get all the attention both in school and at home. 59% of the literate women in India have been at primary education level or lower. Although the literacy rate has gone up over the last few years, the number has not improved enough to improve the status of women.
Comparisons happen in every family specifically amongst siblings, but none more so than in an Indian family. That number increases tenfold if there is both a son and a daughter in the family. Indian women are subject to ‘tumhare Bhai ko Dekho and ‘bhaiya see Kuch seekho’ more times than they can count (for the uneducated woman, this is quite true). Families turn a blind eye to complaints about the male members of their family but feel they have been ruined by the misgivings of the female members.
The bad behavior of men is often ignored, but sometimes even when acknowledged is justified on the basis that ‘men will be men’. This degree of normalcy surrounding the disrespectful nature of Indian men towards women needs to be stopped, however with women themselves normalizing misogyny, it seems our country still has miles to.
The second you hit puberty, God forbid it remains a secret. From your ‘Ghar ke paas rahne vaali aunty’ to all your mother’s friends from her ‘kitty party’, everyone knows you are now a WOMAN. Your biological cycle has made it to the front page of the neighborhood gossip column. The kitchen in your home where you could sneak in to grab a midnight snack has now become out of bounds for you for five days of the month. The space you could enter to say a quick prayer before a maths test has an invisible wall preventing you from entering it when it’s ‘that time of the month’.
If you think it’s just your family who will treat you differently, you are very wrong. Your male friends (and even some of your female friends) start treating you differently. Dare you stand up for yourself, get defensive or lose your temper, you’ll be asked ‘Are you PMSing?’ or ‘is it that time of the month?’
Speaking of male friends, do not let word get out that you have any. You may bring ‘shame to your family. Unfortunately, our country has not reached the point where women and men can be ‘just friends’ and have people believe that. ‘Don’t talk to boys’ is a phrase most Indian women heard every day before their being of marriageable age.
You spend every day at home reminded of the fact that you are incapable of finding a husband because a. the ratio of tea leaves to milk in your chai is not correct, or your rotis are not perfectly round. Every day you are unmarried is one more day for you to prepare yourself for married life. You have a higher chance of finding a rishta with an MBA in your pocket, but do not even think about using that MBA to get a good job.
The beauty standards in India are outrageous, where women are always ‘too tall’, ‘too dark’, or ‘not feminine enough. While the rest of the world progresses, the consumers in India still believe that to be fair is to be beautiful. The practice of using whitening creams and bathing in milk are not simply practiced in the country but are thriving even in well-educated homes. After all, if you are not perfect, how will you ever find yourself a husband?
Now that you are of marriageable age, it is not just time to talk to boys, but to promise your life to one of them and have babies with them. It’ll likely be someone you don’t love, preferably someone your parents choose, probably someone you’ve never met. The day you turn 24 it becomes all about finding a ‘suitable husband’. If you are hesitant and unsure about the person your parents have chosen, ‘adjust karlena’. If your parents are ‘cool’ and they let you get into a relationship with the man of your dreams (few have come to terms with the fact that there may be a ‘woman of your dreams), every Facetime with them becomes ‘beta, don’t you want to settle down now?’
If you’ve finally given in to your parent’s pressure to get married, you’ll have to start calling strangers ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. Your parents and those strangers will immediately put ‘become grandparents’ next on their to-do list. It is up to you to make their dreams come true and handle the pressure they will put on you to become a mother. ‘And how could you possibly be a good mother and a good employee? It’s best to give up your job (if you were allowed to have one in the first place) and start a family. After all, you married a rich man!’
Why spend your days working on something you are passionate about when you can sit at home caring for your children? Albeit a lot of women stay-at-home out of choice and for them I have the utmost respect. It seems a little unfair to spend your life looking after your children, making round rotis, and completing the household chores when it isn’t your choice. If you do continue to work, you’ll likely still be doing taking care of the house, but at least you have something that is all yours and something you want to do.
Say you’re happily married with a beautiful family and you have everything you could have ever hoped for except the job of your dreams. You’re ‘allowed’ to work, yet no matter what you do, you just cannot go up the corporate ladder. That’s because of a little something called a gender bias- in hiring and in pay. Institutions and companies prefer not to hire someone who could require paid maternity leave or someone who could complain that they were being harassed by another member of staff. Another issue that women face in the workplace is the gender pay gap. While it is necessary by law to pay all people equal pay for equal work, in reality, it does not happen often.
Before Shaadi, short dresses are an absolute no-no because ‘what will people say?’. Wearing strapless is allowed, on occasion (also measured on the parent’s coolness scale). Post-shaadi dress code= dress like an aunty. Indian men can parade around shirtless without a problem. But if you’re an Indian woman, be prepared to show no skin-not by your own choice.
The rape culture in India has normalized and excused the behavior of men. It has been perpetuated through misogynistic language, objectification of women’s bodies, and sexually explicit jokes. The primary example of rape culture is blaming the victim, and/or scrutinizing their appearance and outfit. Many Indian women feel obligated to ‘cover up’ to avoid being judged by men and women, and for fear that they will ‘excite’ a man. They do not want to be told that they ‘asked for it to happen to them and often feel safer when they show less skin, both mentally and physically.
Indian parents believe ‘Don’t teach your son not to look. Teach your daughter how to not be looked at. Catcalling, sexual harassment, and worse unfortunately begin even before one hits puberty and lasts all their life. The problem is never that a man has sexualized you, it’s that you have let him sexualize you. Indian women are taught ‘it’s your fault.
So what is a woman taught to do if they happen to be the victim of catcalling and a sight for male strangers on the road? To ignore. Or to call out to their brother. Indian women still go through being disrespected every day of the year, no matter where they go, what they do, or what they wear (although patriarchal society in India believes otherwise). Women are taught that the only way a man will ‘back off is out of fear for another man.
From ‘Come home early because you’re too young to stay out late’, it becomes ‘come home early cause it’s not safe’, to finally ‘don’t go out without your husband because… what will people say?’ Restrictions on where and with whom young women go out to have reached a stage where some do not even realize how unfair their situation is.
The voices of women are rarely heard, and when heard ridiculed and ignored. Despite what would like to believe about the progress India has made in terms of how women are treated, the streets of India are still not safe, the women of India are still not respected, and the men of India will always get the benefit of the doubt. To make the systemic change necessary to empower Indian women, the implementation of equal rights and laws, and compulsory education must improve. Education of not just women on their rights, but men on how they treat women is essential to modernize the mindset of Indians. It is time to give women more choices, respect their choices, and for everyone to take the responsibility to protect each other.