Bahus and Damaads: The most commonly uttered word during any debate around feminism, people may think it is just a ‘way’ to back up their argument, but it is important to understand it isn’t just a ‘way’ but something that is deeply seated in society.
Have you ever noticed a sudden change in the vibe of your house when your uncles or supposedly the ‘damaads’ of the house have to visit? From cleaning to cooking special dishes everything is taken care of and the event seems like some sort of festival. Have you ever wondered why is it this way, and why your aunt or the bahus of the treated way differently.
Small actions like making the son-in-law eat first might seem harmless and an act of courtesy which has always been taught and propagated which never left the room to reflect upon it or perhaps to problematise it, but this small action has larger consequences and emerges from an even larger social issue. When they say patriarchy starts at home, this is how it takes shape.
As a kid, I remember during the family reunions, my father and uncles sitting and discussing something very random and on the other hand my mother and aunts were either busy in the kitchen or taking care of kids or some household chore, I could hear a distant voice, ‘arey paani to pila do zara’.
Whenever sitting down to eat the motive was to feed the gents first while they sat comfortably in the air-conditioned room while all the women worked in the kitchen sweat-soaked. As kids, we were made to serve food and I very clearly remember my aunt constantly nagging me to do things ‘properly’, any mistake was an invitation to criticism.
This is a very typical scene in any Indian household, but it shouldn’t be normalised because of its easy existence of typicality because that ease of existence comes from the internalised patriarchy. Growing up I started realising the differentiation between the binary spaces of men and women, while that air-conditioned room was a male space the kitchen was a female space, and this irked me, why are we supposed to behave in a certain manner around men, why do they deserve such importance, why me dropping a piece of onion was a big deal, why couldn’t my mother or aunts eat first.
This segregation of male and female spaces in a household is a way to understand how we are classically conditioned to fit into the gender roles and understand the ‘bahu’ ‘damaad’ trope, while my aunts and mother were trained to be the bahu and they functioned auxiliary to the men, and where my uncles and father were entitled with the authority of being the ‘damaads’ made them to nothing. Another layer to understand was the role my aunty played while telling me to work properly that notion of patriarchy isn’t just propagated by men but women too as they have been subjected to it over the time that it becomes ‘normal’ for them to pipe it further.
As SheThePeople posed the similar question of differentiation on Instagram, we received a manifold of opinions and answers from various users.
Many of the comments had an underlying pattern and stated a very similar concern, that “they don’t treat their daughters similar to their sons” which draws our attention towards gender-based discrimination since a young age. Girls and boys go through an upbringing that is poles apart, on one hand, boys are encouraged to just be on the other hand every movement of a girl is under scrutiny. The gap between the two genders further culminates into the gap between the roles they are assigned.
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As son-in-law men are provided with unsolicited authority which makes them entitled and bahu who is considered to be an outsider, one because she comes from a different family and second because she a woman, she is expected to work and submit herself to the family.
Another notion that was common between various comments was putting forward the reason of difference based on men being the breadwinner of the family and women is consort to them, which brings forth another concern i.e economic independence for women. Just as Virginia Woolf says, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” highlights the need for economic independence and personal space for a woman to exist. Subjugating women in the first place and then treating them unequally due to their economic dependence on the husband is the epitome of gaslighting while trapping her in an unbreakable cycle.
Further one use commented regarding why women give a hard time to each other despite going through the same pain, which is a genuine question but again the answer is patriarchy. The aim of a patriarchal society is to break the notion of sisterhood, the powerlessness of a woman in the societal structure confirms her dependence on the men around her which in turn makes her farther from other women. This gap further evokes jealousy and mistrust and gives rise to the idea that women cant exist together, my question is, if they are never given a chance to exist together how will they know what female solidarity is? Pitching women against women.
Lastly, a comment from one user that wraps it all up was, “if a husband keeps their daughter happy it is fine but if a son keeps his wife happy that is problematic.” This reflects the stark double standards when it comes to treating a woman, the moment point of view changes the society also changes its lens to view a woman. Feminism of convenience isn’t feminism.