Divorce is a word that is not uttered easily among friends and family. It is a taboo. The idea of a married woman wanting to end a relationship that isn’t working in her favour is just not acceptable. Society continues to worship women who have the perseverance and dedication to continue bad relationships.
She must resemble a sacrificial goat. The one who just bleats when wronged. Expressing her dislike or opinion loudly is best unheard. She must be talented enough to find peace in being unseen. The more snugly she fits into the box society carves for her, the greater is her value and praise. Unmarried young impressionable girls are taught to ‘adjust’ in the new home. Thus, so many women unknowingly continue to ‘adjust’ leaving aside their self-respect and voice.
A long relationship coming to an end is not an easy closure to deal with. This is especially true, in a social construct where a woman’s worth is based on her parent's ability to get her ‘settled’ with the right family. This means, a man with a sound financial background. In this situation, leaving her married home is unimaginable.
Also, there are finances and many joint arrangements that a couple takes upon themselves at the start of the relationship. Women are mostly in the dark about financial decisions, which creates further dependence and insecurity, especially if she happens to be not working. According to the NCFE Financial Literacy and Inclusion Survey 2019, only 21% of female respondents were financially literate. While the overall financial literacy in India was measured at 27%. So getting divorced is not just hard but impossible.
One must take into account that it is difficult for both the man and the woman to end a life that they had once started with hopes and dreams. But it is often the woman who starts feeling lesser about herself and the choices she made, till she finds herself back again. Most times, she can’t put a context to her being, without her husband and her children. It is even more saddening that other women around her, including close family and friends, discourage a split. The words heard are - ‘better to be with him than to be alone.’
Divorced women are many times not included in family get-togethers in a conservative society. She is made to feel like a pariah. Even the social friends that a couple makes over the years are forced to choose between the two people. The scale is always tilting towards the man.
Speaking to Myra Sharma, a software engineer based out of Delhi said, “I felt like death when my 25 years of marriage fell apart, everyone told me to be mum about the divorce. The underlying tone was that I must live in shame because it didn’t work out.”
As one delves further into the subject, one realises that men mostly suffer from the financial arrangement of giving alimony or fees for the child and the non-working wife. In many cases, the woman is harassed and is thought of as being of no value. She surely gets the wrong end of the stick to hold.
Between fairness and self-respect, getting the divorce transaction deal rigged in her favour is a tough walk for a woman. Demanding the basic necessities from the responsibilities that were carved out in the initial days of the arrangement between the couple, is forgotten over the years of conflict and anger.
Men find it embarrassing to be divorced. For them, it is more about being seen as a failure. But the acceptance and the ability to reboot again is not as difficult as it is for a woman.
Women face mental trauma and a lack of social inclusion. She struggles to find her foot back again in the world she once belonged to, with a power that only married women silently still hold on to even today.
If a woman manages to get enough money through the divorce. Most around her, including her women friends, paint her to be a sly, cunning bitch who is not lauded for taking a stand but looked down for being aggressive in securing her future.
Alimony has been widely publicised and decided among all the powerful couples. Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce was globally discussed. But the memes that circulated on social media were mainly about how Melinda managed a good deal out of the breakup.
Johnny Depp kept the world up waiting for the verdict. Amber Heard was murdered by the public trial. So a woman becomes more frightened of the smear campaign that she has to face if she chooses to walk away from her husband.
Many powerful men hate wives who question the power dynamics.
Such men in their relationships with the world are used to the adulation. They are adored for their success and their ability to smooth talk. Their success is always based on monetary growth. It is about who climbed the ladder the quickest.
It’s like the mouse chasing the cheese. The one who gets the biggest part is the KING in this dystopian, dysfunctional system. Their wives are viewed as being the accessory they are seen with. This is also a status that women find difficult to give up.
When a woman decides to divorce a successful man. She has to constantly battle self-doubt. As the world lauds the man for being a great colleague, friend and an exceptional boss. More often than not, successful men expect the women they associate with closely to dumb themselves down and be the sponge who will always soak in the indiscrimination and remain blind as a bat to their indiscretions, financial and sexual. In such equations, divorce becomes tougher and more publicly speculated. The woman is frightened to tell her truth to the world who never gets to know her without the identity of her spouse.
Only recently the divorce rates have doubled up in India, with the awareness levels of human rights, fair treatment and other factors also rising. But India still has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world of around 1%.
This isn’t something we are proud of. This is because it is the deep-rooted patriarchal system and chains of domination that will take years for women to be absolved of.
Some women choose to be blind to the wrongdoings meted out to them because they have responsibilities towards their children and family members. Surviving this is no mean feat.
Many women remain mum, soaking in the subjugation. This needs courage that a man is not only incapable of but can’t fathom ever in his entire lifetime.
Many women don’t ever muster the courage to speak up and continue. Judging them is easy, but one must remember that society doesn’t allow them to live an independent life.
Name has been changed to protect identity.
Mohua Chinappa is an author and a podcaster of a show called The Mohua Show.