By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Hello everyone! Let’s jump right in.
I am 27, and am planning to have an arranged marriage. Tinder, OKC, Aisle etc, failed to find a match for me so I have never been in a relationship. Could you point out the sexist things men do in a relationship and how to resolve it? Also, what can I do to empower my future spouse?
These are both excellent questions, and I congratulate you on wanting to be more informed before you make these hugely important decisions. So many people don’t. It’s basically the equivalent of reading the user manual before you begin.
I think this is a good first step to answer the second part of your question. What can I do to empower my future spouse — you do what you’ve just done. You ask. You make it known that you are going through life as their partner and companion, not boss or jailer. If she’s feeling like she hasn’t got what she needs from you, in terms of support, you need to foster an environment in your home where she’s okay asking. And you’re okay asking too! This is not a one-way street: marriage is about two people (and only two people, not four or five or 20, like Indian extended families seem to believe!) having each other’s backs. Those are the best relationships I’ve seen.
You also need to live by that millennial phrase (which the New York Times called “narcissistic” but still good advice) “you do you”. Let your wife be herself. Allow for a relationship with no judgements, and safe spaces to talk about yourselves. It is possible to have a relationship with no judgements at all, and that will happen once you are both secure enough to speak your minds freely.
As for the first part of your question, it got me thinking. Women object to sexist remarks primarily when they can be avoided. Like, for example, I’m having a fight with a male colleague and I tell him his work is not up to standard and he really let me down by missing this deadline. And instead of responding with either a justification or a critique of my work (“well, your deadlines haven’t been that great either!”) he says, “Why are you being so emotional?” That derails the whole conversation because it brings it from a conversation about work to a conversation about how I’m feeling and how I’m reacting, which is really not the point in question here. That automatically puts the woman on the back foot. Similarly in a relationship, when you’re having a fight with your male partner and he puts your entire fight down to the fact that you might be on your period. A) Women can get mad without hormones being involved. B) Someone being on their period is not a Get Out Of Jail Free card for the other person.
When you are with someone — whether man or woman — you need to think of them as a whole person and not just a supporting character in a play you’re the star of. This may seem pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. That person you’re bringing down has a whole play going on that’s just about her, and so on and so forth. So when you say something guaranteed to slice at her sense of self, her ego, little paper cuts guaranteed to bring her down, take a moment to remember that you, a supporting character in her play, have just turned her plot into one about how a man was determined to believe that all her flaws were because she was female.
Another thing to bear in mind before you embark upon marriage is the very essential and often overlooked conversation about gender roles. Who does what? What do you expect and what does she? Honestly, if you’re both arguing about cooking, either take turns or hire someone to help out. Or put aside a large chunk of your monthly budget on home delivery. If you think the laundry should be done once a week and the beds made every day, do these things yourself or offer to take turns. Similarly with the stuff that’s important to her. This may seem like a small step, but it’s leading up to bigger ones: dividing child care and elder care fairly and responsibly.
But you know what, dear T? I think even though you’ve never been in a relationship before, you’ll do great. Because you’re not afraid to ask difficult questions, and I hope, you’re not afraid to hear the answers as well. And that’s really most of what it takes.
Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.