I arrived in Kerala on January 3rd and it is already the February 3rd. In the United States, today is National Wear Red for Women Day and Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday. I think someone should sneak him over here. He would not have to hide from the sunshine and he is already used to the attention. Best part for Phil is that no one will ask him if he is married or where his kids are. Since I have been here, people want to know where I work and where my husband and children are. It is annoying, but it is the prevailing construct to categorize family, friends, and strangers. I get it. Frankly, I expected more comments about my weight but it seems with the advent of processed or fast food in India, more people are larger.
Apparently, being overweight is not as bad as being unmarried. Of course, there have been people who asked me why I was not married. The unspoken message is that I look older (read this as past marriageable age) and should be married especially since my younger siblings are married and have children. Naturally, they have this information because they know my parents have two other children and three grandchildren. The American in me wants to tell them to mind their own business, but since my actions reflect on my parents, I must behave. So, I take a breath and say jovially that I am not interested in getting married. They give me a funny look since I am spouting heresy. Maybe I am a heretic here, but if I had a family, I would not be spending January to June just to learn four languages, travel, and do disaster preparedness research in India. I would be busy raising my family.
Consequently, I ignore a great deal here. However, Kerala, my home state, feels like the capital of displays of casual patriarchy, racism, and sexism, so I can only wonder about the other states in India. Many of the men here act like we are less than them because we had the misfortune to be born women. They are often dismissive or condescending as if my poor brain could not handle kind or respectful words. I understand how women must live here, so I am learning to swallow my disgust at the blatant disrespect shown to me as a female. I guess the language barrier is a good thing. If someone makes a remark that I find sexist or racist, I can act like I did not understand. This doesn’t always work, but hey, this brown girl has to use what she has available. As I explore more of India, I am sure I will encounter more of this behavior, but that will not stop my adventures. Hope you will stay with me.
3 thoughts on “30 Days in…Holy Patriarchy”
It is amazing how we, as women, have to adjust to cultural expectations when we travel outside of the United States.
Well captured Leena. You may find gender based discrimination to a much lesser extent in some metros (mumbai, chennai etc) and places like Goa, but unfortunately the rest of the country is still rife with twisted, gender-biased, patriarchal views and actions
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Thanks Giju! I’m leaving for a trip up north next week, so let’s hope you are right.