A woman's world, I realized during the last one week is an extremely complex one-so I thought I should start this blog with my thoughts on this.
Our female world has unwritten rules with boundries that are defined by the roles we play. It is surprising that I had never realized this earlier! I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that I had been brought up very differently from other women- my father brought both me and my sister up as human beings and not as girls (though my mother did try her best to shape us to fit into the female world better). A career in a non traditional sector like development, gave me an opportunity to analyze the lives of other women purely from an academic point of view looking for windows of opportunity for interventions to improve their lives.
But it was not until I got maried that I realized that I am very much part of this world - especially when I play the role of a daughter-in- law.
As a daughter- in- law from another community I found myself in a situation where I had to tread carefully ( to put it mildly). My mother-in- law after the inital hiccups had accepted me with open arms. Women as we know are the gatekeepers to the family relationships defining by their behaviour who is " in" and who is "out" I recall now that this acceptance from my mother in law -a senior woman of the family was the first step in my acceptance into the world of the women of my husband's family and community.
She used to take me with her for all social events introducing me as her younger daughter-in- law. I think the message that she was giving out was " She is now part of our family even though she does not belong to our religion. If you disrespect her you disrespect me". No one from her family, during her life time dared to be rude to me. She guided me through the social intricacies of the world of women in her community where I learnt who was to be called "Ammachi" and who was to be addressed as "Kochamma". She taught me the customs and traditions of her community and helped me fit in. I on my part decided to keep my "controversial" opinions to myself because I did not want to tip this fine balance that she had established.
I saw this world change breifly, after her death last week at her funeral. Without her beside me, I experienced for the first time in fifteen years a feeling of exclusion. I had to literally fight for my rights as a former care giver of the dead person to bathe and dress her body for the last time! I also realized that few people from my in laws family were offering their condolences to me- Did they not think that a daughter in law may actually grow to love her mother in law through fifteen years of living in the same home? But as it was pointed out to me by one of my friends - we women are defined by our associations - whose wife, whose daugther etc. In a woman's world, it is not enough to be a man's wife- you require certification from another woman to be accepted.
For those few hours when my home was without its rightful mistress- the women of the family were not ready to transfer powers of control to me ( though I was the operations manager right through the years of my marriage). They decided to order the shamiana, tea. snacks and even decided where it should be served and in which vessels
But as they say " The Queen is dead- long live the Queen". There is always one matriarch to replace another in a family. I found a subtle change in the situation when my mother - in - law's younger sister arrived on the scene. I saw the way in which she quietly took on the mantle of her older sister. Women of the family began defering to her for her opinion .
I appreciate the way she quickly perceived my exclusion and reached out to include me in the activities at home. The situation further improved in my favour when my mother-in-law's friends started coming in and each of those dear old ladies reached out to me demonstrating in every way that they accepted and acknowledged me completely as a member of the family and of their community. So now I found that the same women who had excluded me asked me " Do you want the phone number of the caterer?" " Do you have a bigger vessel for the rice?" It was quite interesting to see this change! I almost sensed my mother in law smiling from wherever she was at that point- I also sensed a feeling of achievement in her sister who realized that she had been accepted and acknowledged as the matriarch !
Post funeral I have been reflecting- is all this so important to me? I think it is -because families are all about acceptances and inclusions. In Indian families women play an important role in keeping this going. We need to bend the rules of our world a little and include more women into the inner circle- that is what keeps female fraternity going. Elders play an important role in this but we younger women can appreciate this more and stop being threatened by each other. Threat perceptions do not build solidarity. Acceptances and inclusions do...!!!