It’s no secret that we live in a patriarchal society. Ask a young woman in her 20s – jackpot if she’s single – and she’ll tell you. She has to confront and combat a million instances of patriarchy just to get to the end of the day. Because a woman with an independent existence and decision-making agency is a hard pill to swallow for the desi aunties and uncles around us. We’re never enough – always too fat, too thin, too talkative, too quiet, our clothes and habits under scrutiny all the time. And when we question these unfair terms we are expected to live by, we’re seen as troublemakers intent on maligning the sanskaars of Indian culture with habits too “bold” or voices too “loud”.

These are everyday events in the life of women, like me and you, who know what they want for themselves. Unfortunately, it comes with boxes and labels of all sorts – loose, bad, sluts, characterless – all of which demeans our identity as individuals and women. Since it’s a common malady, we asked a bunch of 20-somethings about the whackiest things they have been told by relatives and elders that made them go WTF!

1. “Your skin has become darker, no? Kaali ho gayi ho.

Trust your relatives and aunties to notice even the slightest changes in your skin colour as if their lives depended on it. Seriously, who needs shade cards when we have these people around?

2. “22? Now toh your time to get married is coming closer.”

The sheer glee elders experience in reminding you of the fact that you’re getting older and counting days to your marriage remains unsurpassed by anything else. ‘What did you say? You don’t want to get married? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the noise of your baraat I’m visualising in my head.’

3. “Looking at how much money you spend, your husband is going to have a hard time.”

This, even when you’re spending your own hard-earned money on some well-earned goodies for yourself. Thanks, but no thanks aunty. If I ever have a husband, he can keep his money in a bank for all I care. I’m financially independent.

4. “You study abroad? Haath se nikal gayi ladki.

Haath se nahi aunty, India se nikal gayi. 

5. “Have you gained weight? Thoda kum karo, then you’ll look prettier.”

Find me a woman who hasn’t received this narrow-minded remark where beauty standards are defined in terms of weight scales and ideal bodies. You won’t be able to, because it is just that common.

6. “Don’t lose so much weight also, you’re looking unhealthy.”

Oh lord. Make up your minds!

7. “Why do you want to do Masters? Shaadi karke aish karo ghar pe.

For some of us, the ultimate aish lies in acquiring degrees, higher education, and knowledge. For you aunty, it may lie in leading a relaxed life at home. But hey, you don’t see us judging you for it, do you? To each her own.

9. “Feminism is just tamasha. How many more rights do you need? Sab kuch toh hai.

This is a common refrain heard on family WhatsApp groups, where forwarded messages about select women achieving big landmarks are expected to explain away the centuries of patriarchy we have been subjected to. Because logic is just tamasha. 

8. “Beta hide your drink with a napkin in front of men.”

This is some new-age feminist mutation where women are allowed to drink in gatherings, but only when men aren’t around. But don’t worry. If you see a man eyeing your glass, cover it with a napkin, and your whisky will turn to Coke.

10. “You’re a girl toh you’ll have wine I guess? Not whisky?”

I wonder where this perception of wine being a woman’s drink comes from. Is it the wine glass that incidentally resembles female curves? Is it the low alcohol content in wine? Or is it simply just male insecurity?

11. “So much hair on your arms! Waxing nahi karwati?

It has taken us women a long time to get comfortable with our bodies, and we’re now at a stage where we are accepting them with love, hair or no hair. (And sometimes we’re just lazy to shave our arms, so please don’t nag.)

12. “Boy cut kyun rakha hai? Grow your hair out nice and long.”

Wait, you like less hair on my arms, but more hair on my head? In PM Modi’s words, “hypocrisy ki bhi seema hoti hai.

13. “Itna zyada backless? A saree blouse should not look so indecent.”

Offer to take whoever tells you this to the tailor with you the next time you’re getting a blouse made, so they can correspond the length of the blouse’s back with their desired level of sanskaar and mark it for you.

14. “What do you know about politics? Go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich.”

Right, and you’re running the country from this drawing room, yeah? YOU go make me a sandwich this time.

15. “Only all girls going out at night? You can’t go, it’s too unsafe.”

If there are people I trust with all my life, it’s my girl gang that is at this point practically trained in the craft of looking out for me no matter what. They’re the Shera to my Salman Khan.

16. “You’re going out with boys at night? You can’t go, it’s too unsafe.”

Um… should I just go alone then?

17. “Your red lipstick looks too slutty. Should have used a lighter shade.”

Just confirming that first point about the shade card.

18. “20 years old and roti banana nahi aata?”

There are millions of other things that I don’t know how to do at 20. I don’t know how to deep-sea dive, or how to milk a cow, or how to find a vaccine for coronavirus. Why are you singling out roti-making?

19. “What do you mean you’re sexually active? Characterless woman.”

Sex before marriage? Haw! But it’s not just relatives who say this. Gynaecologists often morally police women during their check-ups, frowning at those who say they engage in consensual sex. We’re literally shelling out money to tell them this, why do they even have a problem?

20. “Don’t play too many sports, your hymen should remain intact till marriage.”

Because hymen aurat ka gehna hota hai. (Well, sharam and hymen both.)

21. “Your bra strap is showing. Push it inside.”

Okay, first of all, bras are among the most expensive pieces of clothing we wear. Secondly, we’re expected to spend a bomb on it and then hide it like it doesn’t exist? No thanks, my cute bra strap deserves to feel seen by the world.

22. “Your boobs are too big. Wear loose clothes so they don’t show.”

By that logic, everything that doesn’t show doesn’t exist, right? Great, looks like we’ve found a way to deal with COVID-19.

23. “Don’t laugh so loud, we’re out in public.”

Maintaining this facade of women as demure beings who shouldn’t talk, laugh, or basically draw attention in any way in public is what has held back women for decades now.

24. “Why are you wearing a kurta? You look like a prude.”

It so happens that I have the privilege of a wide wardrobe that lends me choices ranging from kurtas to crop tops that I have bought and will wear. And I know you’ll judge me for either, so why should I care? (That rhymed.)

25. “Good girls don’t smoke.”

No, repeat after me: healthy humans don’t smoke.

26. “Skirt pehnogi toh you will be catcalled only, what else did you expect?”

What about the girl who came after me wearing a salwar-kameez who was covered top to bottom but was also catcalled as I was? Should she have also “expected” it?

27. “Beta, why aren’t you accepting my follow request on Instagram?”

Oh aunty, where do I begin? Isn’t your nose already too deep into my business for you to be stalking every single picture I upload on Instagram?

28. “You want period leaves and equal pay both? What a hypocrite!”

What’s an easy way to tell people that office spaces have been essentially designed according to men’s physical needs, and that they must accommodate women’s needs into it without drawing a false correlation to equal pay, which is a wholly different issue?

29. “Why do you want to get an apartment of your own? Live with us.”

Parents, understand this. Some houseplants can survive indoors, while some need the outdoors to live, breathe, stretch their tendrils as wide as they like. That doesn’t mean you’ll love either of them any more or less, right?

30. “Don’t tell people you were harassed. Ghar ki izzat ka kya hoga?

I’m willing to sacrifice your misplaced izzat in a second if it translates into more harassers behind bars and a stronger #MeToo movement.

31. “Beta, virgin toh ho na?”

Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter?

32. “Your boss made a pass at you? That’s the price of working in all-male offices, suck it up.”

The only price for a woman to be working in an all-male environment should be the salary she is getting for her work, as her colleagues are. Remaining silent when harassed wasn’t on the job profile, and neither should it be. Call it out.

33. “You should be thankful your parents are allowing you to work. Itna udo mat.”

The fact that I have to be thankful to someone who has to still “allow” me to work reminds me of the disadvantage my gender is at, and is so humbling that it automatically prevents any chances of me flying. Thank you, dear relative, for cutting my wings off.

34. “Go bring water for the guests, your brother won’t be able to get it.”

I wonder how men have managed to sustain themselves all these centuries through evolution if even something as essential (and easy, might I add) as fetching water is supposed to be enough to dent their privileged egos. Next time, tell your brother to get the water to increase his chances of evolutionary survival.

35. “If you post pictures in revealing clothes online, you’ll obviously get dirty messages.”

Elders, even if I don’t post pictures in “revealing” clothes online, the ones who are bent on making it dirty have Photoshop editing tools at their disposal. They won’t lose time in trading my sweatshirt for a bikini if they wished to.

36. “Beta, har opinion voice karna zaroori hai? Chup rehna seekho.

Aunty, if being middle-class has taught me anything it’s that it is a must to use every single possession I own down to the last drop of its monetary value. So you best believe if I have a voice with opinions, I will use it to its full worth.

37. “Hide your tattoo, it makes you look vulgar.”

For a country that is obsessed with flashing henna tattoos on the most visible parts of the body, from forearms to legs, people sure do hate ink tattoos for some wild reason.

38. “Why do you have muscles? It makes you look so manly.”

Get this, there is no one way to look “beautiful”. Every single body standard you know of is absolutely false, arbitrary, and unfair. Your muscles know this, because they don’t know or see gender before popping up after you work to build them.

39. “You post too many pictures with that boy. *whispers* Is he your boyfriend?”

Not every boy I post a picture with is a boyfriend. Sure, he is a boy friend. Also, why we whispering fam?

40. “You post too many pictures with that girl. *whispers inaudibly* Are you a lesbian?”

Aunty… bye.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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