Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mother India -- In Defence of All Doormats

The older I get, the more I feel that there was something to our tradition of bringing up women to be doormats. It certainly made them more reconciled to their lot. Before you jump out of your chairs and starting hollering at me to tell me how feminism has made your life better and more fulfilling, consider this:

Way back a couple of generations ago, women grew up being taught and quietly accepting, that men knew more about 'the world', that they were best off managing the household, that men just did certain things that women had to accept (like dirtying a sink and never consider swirling a little water around after they finished using it, or cleaning up after they cooked -- hey, them cooking was a big deal in the first place) and you get the idea. If you chat with your grandmothers and great aunts, you will know the kind of training they were given. And they ended up being happy and fulfilling wives and mothers. They learnt to keep house, to cook, clean, mend and hold together; when there were domestic quarrels, they knew it was up to them to restore peace and soothe all the wounded egos. Basically, they knew their place. (Yeah, it makes me grin to type that, but it's true, for all that.)

There were exceptions, of course. There was my mother's paternal grandmother who had to be regularly scolded for having her nose forever in a book, and neglecting her household of husband and four sons. There was my own maternal grandmother who chose not to make up a quarrel between her eldest son and her husband, and thus lost her eldest and most beloved child. And I know there were plenty of women who were not content in this rigid world of accepting, always accepting whatever fate threw at you. But they all had a very strong training to fall back upon. In times of stress, whether they liked it or not, they knew within themselves, in a kind of faith I do not have and was never taught, that such and such things were to be done by women, and such and such were to be accepted, and that it was always for them to give, keep giving. Children were meant to tease, to irritate, to wound and trouble -- and mothers were taught, oh way before they were mothers at all, to be patient, to above all show a patience that they may not have felt, but that they had to show regardless.

Now why do I think this system had its merits? Well, because perhaps, if I had been a product of those times, I might have been more content. As things go, any given time of the day (unless I'm asleep, of course) I usually find some other way things could have been, and obviously, that other way would have made me happier. For instance, back when I was in uni and partying and working hard and studying from time to time, I was basically quite lonely most of the time, and longed for a home and a family of my own. And now that I have both, I can't wait to get away from them every now and then! And then, probably the earliest thing I learnt in my married life was that two can be lonely together as effectively as one alone.

I might have been awed that V helps out in the house at all, and be grateful for what he does (because he certainly wasn't brought up to it). But being a product of my times I mostly wonder why on earth I have to ask him to help and defiantly declare that a child needs parenting rather than mothering and that fathers have as much call to clean potty and wake up nights as any mother. Actually, given that I have to get up early for the maid and stay awake while she is here if I want to get my stuff done, I think I should be absolved from night-watches altogether. Also, don't forget the early morning feed which effectively wakes me about an hour before the maid, even.

I might, given my grandmothers' training, have argued less, and been less demanding and therefore, an easier person to live with (if not so stimulating). And I may have been more patient and careful with a Bhablet than is my wont. I would have known how to cook for an army by now (well, I'll be 25 in a couple of days) and would have been able to sew and embroider like a pro. I will gloss over my cooking skills (although let us not forget that I did post recipes here once) and say that my sewing and embroidering are both rusty, to put it charitably.

Yes, they were doormats, and they were brought up to be that way. And I've been brought up to think that being a doormat is, how shall I put it? Wrong? But nonetheless, I have an uneasy feeling they were in general more contented than I am or ever will be.


SM said...

"But I help out in at home all the time, don't I ?
"yes, you do! But why does that sound like you are doing me a favor?"
Regular conversation at the SM household.
I think my MIL was definetely more content doing all the house chores and getting all the bills paid and raising 2 kids while the FIL was out on work related travel most of the. While I grumble/yell/complain/cry/blow my fuse when Prashant helps me/stays up nights/does most of the bill settling work AND travels extensively on work. In most of our arguments I end up accusing Prashant of wanting me to be doormat where as the truth is that I secretly that I would have been happier if I actually was one. Go figure!
Great post.

dipali said...

Great post. Unfortunately, post the seventies, women have changed so much more rapidly than men in their thinking, outlook and expectations of equality. Men seem to be stuck in a time warp, where they may politely carry out a used dinner plate to the sink, but would never dream of stacking the other stuff in the sink so that it doesn't slide off. Centuries of patriarchy probably can't be erased in a couple of generations. 'Doormatness' may seem appealing to you just now, but it will and does go against the grain, given that each of us is a product of the times we live in. Maybe you can give The Bhablet a truly egalitarian world view!