It was a film that took fourteen years to get made, and perhaps that was because it was called The Wife, joked Glenn Close at the Golden Globes yesterday as she accepted her award. But the wry humour apart, her speech was one that was from the heart and touched every single woman who was at the celebration as well as all the women, the wives, who watched on from around the world as the event was televised. There were a couple of teary eyes as well, as the merciless cameras zoomed into the audience. We saw Michelle Yeoh crying, we saw Caitriona Balfe crying. And yes, we had a tear or two in our eyes as well.

What was it that she said that so touched everyone who heard her speech yesterday? It was nothing radical, it was a simple anecdote of how her own mother at 80 had said she felt she hadn’t accomplished anything for herself. She had sublimated her entire life to her husband and his career. In the movie, Close’s character, Joan Castleman questions her life choices, feeling she had dedicated all her time and energy to the needs of her husband and his career. Her character, a long-suffering wife of a Nobel winning author, finds she has achieved nothing of her own in the forty years she has devoted to the marriage. Close drew parallels with the character she had essayed and what her mother had told her, a married woman spends most of her life being a ‘wife’ and somewhere in being a wife, she loses out on being a person in her own right.

Her character, a long-suffering wife of a Nobel winning author, finds she has achieved nothing of her own in the forty years she has devoted to the marriage.

While this has been the norm down the centuries, given how women have only recently in the past couple of centuries formally entered the workforce, not much has changed today even with women in boardrooms and becoming powerful across the corporate and the political circuits.

Close drew parallels with the character she had essayed and what her mother had told her, a married woman spends most of her life being a ‘wife’ and somewhere in being a wife, she loses out on being a person in her own right.

Close said, “To play a character who is so internal, I’m thinking of my mom who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life. In her 80s she said to me, ‘I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything.’ And it was so not right. And I feel like what I’ve learned from this whole experience is, women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us.”

“We have our children, we have our husbands if we’re lucky enough, and our partners. But we have to find personal fulfilment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, ‘I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.’”

The “I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that” is something most girls and wives have to battle against constantly. To stand up and shine in a world that has constantly told women that their only job is to be nurturers and carers and to sublimated their ambitions and intelligence to that of their men, spouses or partners and then to channel all their energies into being mothers and wives, is not just an act of immense bravery but an act of unmitigated defiance. It gets women labelled selfish, bad mothers, bad wives, terrible homemakers. Women continue being judged on how well their homes sparkle, and the whiteness of their children’s clothes, as well as the tiffin boxes their kids carry to school. Tell me about it, I’ve heard a few snide remarks about the jam sandwiches I regularly packed in one of the two tiffin boxes I gave the offspring, and I have never been as glad as when I realised recently that I’d probably packed the last tiffin box of his school life given he sits for his board exams shortly.

The “I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that” is something most girls and wives have to battle against constantly.

Last year, a research scholar at JNU committed suicide. The reason for her to take her own life? Her in-laws were compelling her to give up her research and her studies to come back to do the housework. She was a brilliant student and scheduled to complete her thesis a month later for her doctorate. All that had been negated in the face of her in-laws demands that she stop all her studies and come to live in the marital home in order to do the household chores.

The bottom line is this, no matter how highly qualified a woman gets to be she will always be deemed inadequate as a wife if she does not do the household chores or manage the house, if she does have enough help. That is presumed as her only calling, pandering to the husband’s career and relocations, putting her own career and needs on the back burner as well as downplaying her own capabilities in order not to outshine her husband.

No matter how highly qualified a woman gets to be she will always be deemed inadequate as a wife if she does not do the household chores or manage the house, if she does have enough help.

Hers is a familiar story. How many women can only get to their work after they’ve completed all the household chores and the caregiving that is their lot? Noted author Kiran Desai would only write in the hours her children were at school, and dreaded when they were home all day for their annual vacation because then her writing would take a backseat. There are so many well qualified, capable women who have resigned themselves to being trailing spouses as their husbands rise in their careers, and got transferred across the country. The man’s career is perceived as being the more important one, and the woman’s career must be subservient to his, and convenient for him. This leads to not only an inequality in the financial power within the marriage, but also a continual resentment within the woman which festers through her life, and perhaps only finds voice, like Glenn Close’s mother did, right at the fag end of her years.

The man’s career is perceived as being the more important one, and the woman’s career must be subservient to his, and convenient for him.

How must a woman constantly negate herself in order to fit into the box that society labels as “The Good Wife” and what are the battles she must fight in order to make her own space in a world that seeks to erase her. How does she fight the battles in her own mind that tell her she is a bad wife, a bad mother if she confesses to ever wanting more than playing second fiddle all her life? And most importantly, how does she tell herself that her personal fulfillment is as important and vital as that of her husband’s and that she deserves to follow her dreams.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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