Have we married you off to such a man that you have to worry about savings and monthly expenses? This is how a family member retorted when I told him how COVID-19 has been a source of financial stress for me. I was dumbstruck. How does one even respond to such a comment, from a family member, that too by someone you are fond of. Patriarchy is like an onion, you peel each layer away painstakingly, thinking you have finally won this battle, only to realise that you have many more layers to peel off, and that too with a vision that is blurry from the previous struggles.
This wasn’t the first time though when I got criticised by family members and acquaintances for trying to strike a conversation about healthy finances. Turns out that if you are a married woman who earns less than half of what your spouse does, then your career is just a “hobby” and your paycheck is “pocket-money” or your allowance to splurge on shopping!
Why are you worried about a slump in the job market? Why are you asking about savings and investment plans? Why are you even so driven about your work, shouldn’t your family be your top priority? These are some of the questions that every married Indian woman, who is not the primary or an equal earner in her family, has to face now and then. Our careers are not only seen less seriously, but the cost of our achievements is also scrutinised in-depth.
Got a promotion or raise at work, that is fine, but do you really need to work for eight hours every day? The scale that society uses to judge the careers of married women is always tipped against them, because they are stacked against our gendered responsibilities and that of our partners. So when a married woman says out loud that she is worried about her job and financial security, it reflects poorly on her partner. The society sees him as a poor breadwinner, who is not doing a thorough job in “keeping” his wife and providing for her. How is this stereotyping of roles in a marriage fair to anyone?
Should a man be belittled, if his wife has career aspirations? Must a woman shut up on conversations around job security, finances and money, because society will focus more on her husband’s incapability to provide for her, instead of her capability to earn? Must the burden of securing a family’s future solely fall on the shoulders of the man of the house?
Our society needs to stop trivialising careers of married women, on grounds that work shouldn’t be their priority or that they don’t earn much. Besides, it is not as if an earning woman spends all her money on herself. She feels responsible for her family too, and wants to contribute to their financial health in her capacity. That is what makes her inquisitive about investments, that is why she worries about the slump in the job market and saving money.
For centuries men and women have suffered at the hands of such stereotypical norms, giving up their dreams and desires to fit in better, or to be seen as successful or functional members of society. Enabling women to have flourishing careers and be financially savvy will in turn enables men to follow their passion, rather than succumbing to social pressure that reduces their ambitions to just churning out paychecks. Life and marriages would be much easier if this burden of stereotypes was lifted off the shoulders of married couples. If only...
The views expressed are the author's own.