Do we ever wonder what is the cost of obedience that women pay? Right from a young age, girls are told to obey instructions and norms that are commonplace in their family and society. Once married, the burden only multiplies, because expectations from a bahu are very different from those families have from a beti. Though one of the key qualities that every family desires in their daughters and daughters-in-law alike is that of obedience. They must oblige the wishes of their family, live according to what they deem appropriate, no matter if it dehumanises them. The cost that women and girls pay to be perceived as obedient is often a compromise on their self-respect.
So prone are women to swallowing their pride that there doesn’t seem anything wrong about it now. In fact, it becomes an extraordinary event, when a woman puts her foot down and demands that she gets to have her way. Often this behaviour is seen as an act of disrespect by orthodox elders.
For those brought up in typical Indian households, we know the many times our moms and aunts have been reproached for toeing a line. For resisting orders and flaunting norms. Raise your voice, cross your elders and you are told to “go back to the kitchen”. Have things changed much? While women may no longer be told to stick to kitchen duties in many homes, do they have the agency to put their self-respect first and wishes of others around them second?
Families often fail to ignore the extent to which women can go, to appease the society and their loved ones. We think it is our job to respect others, and if obedience means being shut up in an argument, or to just stay mum when openly degraded for not being “worldly” or intelligent” then so be it.
A woman’s fight for her self-respect isn’t often a broad-stroked one such as fight for education, marrying the person she loves, or being able to work even after being married and having children. They fight on a day-to-day basis on seemingly smaller issues that override their agency over their mind and body bit by bit. The way you talk, the way you eat, the way you do a certain chore, everything is open to scrutiny by one and all. Women are used to of being told that their way of doing a certain thing is incorrect, or that they don’t know how to be a good wife/daughter-in-law, etc., or when their skills and knowledge in a supposed area of their expertise is made fun of openly. What hurts a woman isn’t this criticism, but the fact that she is expected to never fight back and take a stand for herself.
Every woman has the right to preserve her self-respect. She must not see herself as a pushover, whose will and voice can be erased by outdated dictates like putting the demands of her husband or family above her own wishes. Yes, adjustment is a big part of matrimony and family life. But adjustments happen both ways. Besides, to simply expect a person to never take a stand for themselves just because of their gendered position in the household is unfair.
To see a woman’s act to defend her self-respect as dissent shows why the very idea of co-relating obedience to “ideal” behaviour was only set into place to preserve the hierarchies in our society on the basis of gender, age and relationships.
The change has begun. We are more accepting of women’s demands for right to education, to have safe spaces within their homes where their gender doesn’t render them susceptible to abuse or exploitation. But women are told to feel grateful for these progressive changes, and thus to overlook minor strikes on their self-respect. That needs to change as well.
Right to equality demands that women be treated equal to men in all aspects across relationship dynamics. Which means every woman has the right to preserve her self-respect and take a stand for herself. It could be for something as trivial as a dining-room discussion on politics, or the kind of clothes she likes to wear, or what she wants from her relationship. The society needs to stop seeing this as disrespectful, because all that there is to it, is one person simply demanding respect and agency that they deserve.
The views expressed are the author’s own.