Some of my best childhood memories include me swimming under water in my uncle’s pool, have the water squish all semblance of coherent thought out of my ears, feel the water everywhere and see my breath come out in bubbles. I would pretend that those bubbles were the language I invented, each articulating one particular thought. I’d get comfortable and then, predictably come up gasping for air, feeling bad that there were no bubbles to escape into above the water. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of those bubbles again; only these GrownUp bubbles of mine can whisk me away anywhere (Don’t judge. I can’t control what I dream. Ask Freud, he’d agree too). But it was only last week, I actually felt the need for such bubbles, out of pure “flight” response.
Last week, I went to another seminar — I should just stop attending seminars. The biggest pile of gunk seems to be churned out of them — this time it was the professors who made me want to hammer my ears shut. Generally, after seminars or any other event that asks post-event mingling, I switch my LadyBrain to autopilot, paste the obligatory subtle smile on and leave as soon as the hand hits ‘polite-mingling-over’ on the watch of ForcedEtiquette. Only this time, I wanted to speak to this one professor I liked, so I loitered around. While waiting for my turn to speak to him, I didn’t tune out of the conversation, but was actually listening. In retrospect, that was my first mistake. Someone he knew was asking about his wife and kids, when he said, “Oh, Sheila is still just a housewife” followed by a round of laughter. One one level, I felt horrified that I’d thought of him as somewhat sane, but mostly, all I could do was not burst a BloodVessel as I seethed. And to think he was a self-proclaimed FeministMan. Oh the jokes keep on coming!
Instead of walking away, I talked to him; pointing out (in my usual UnSubtle manner) that what he said was condescending, especially when it was implied that ‘Sheila’ was a housewife by choice. And then he managed to actually flaunt some more privilege by saying something along the lines of, “We’re both educated. People like us don’t waste our degrees. It’s silly to waste all that knowledge away. Can you believe she is a feminist?”. Cue my Medusa face here. I opened my mouth to ask him since when did feminism and motherhood or feminism and being a housewife become mutually exclusive. If so, my LadyBrain completely hazed over that period. I wanted to say so many things, but then, he just didn’t care. Clearly, valuing women’s choices isn’t something that occurs to this ‘FeministDude’ (where his version of feminism can be loosely defined as “On your knees, NOW). Sadly, other professors — most of them women — found that funny too.
It’s sickening that there are indeed many people in academia that think a housewife is devoid of all radicalism, is apolitical and a thoroughly static figure, crafted to eternally please. In fact, there is a long running slur joke against housewives in our culture. These housewives — who apparently choose to be ‘ignorant’ and ‘housewife-y’ are called as ‘Maniben’ (s). Politely translated, it stands for a bumbling, simple idiot who is more dedicated to material things in life (women need to SHOP more than they need to breathe!) rather than engaging in any form of activity that will require them to think of anything beyond what to cook for dinner. This ‘maniben’ is typically boxed as a “proud, privileged woman who wants nothing more than to just show off her money and ignorance”. There are many jokes about her putting on an ‘English’ accent while speaking incorrectly or perhaps she crumbles into pieces if she misses her daily soaps. Speaking of which, many Indian soaps use this ‘maniben’ as a character who provides comic relief. Of course watching a silly, ignorant woman fumble is funny. But I digress.
What really rankles this LadyBrain is how this ‘ignoramus housewife’ is a societal construct more than it is ‘natural’ as it is assumed to be. Let’s say if I wasn’t allowed to study, was told from the moment I could understand things that whatever I would do, I wouldn’t match up to a Dude, that my education was unnecessary, that I would find inherent joy in being a wife and a mother; I’d be one of those housewives too. In fact, what is wrong with that? Who can dictate that housewives are devoid of independent thought, of liberal thinking, of lacking any sort of intelligence, JUST BECAUSE YOU NEVER LET THEM BE ANYTHING ELSE! I’m not implying that being a housewife is a choice in India. It surely isn’t in more than 60% of the houses I know of. The point is, if a man stayed home, raised his children and perhaps accomplished the UnThinkable (gasp!) even cooked food, no one calls him effeminate. Instead every one will coo “Awww” and secretly hope that one day, even their husbands will fetch their own cups of tea. On one hand, the DudeCouncil raises an army of SubservientLadies every year — so that all the DudelyDudes get their quota of supposedly spineless servants wives — and on the other hand they berate “housewives” for being just that. Talk about re-channeling Marie Antoinette!
And when a ‘LiberatedWoman’ (Indian code for educated) chooses to remain home, the ‘EnlightenedOnes’ frown at her for not using her intelligence. Suddenly, all that she is and represents is the degrees hanging on the proverbial wall, devoid of the independent choice to do whatever she wants to do with her life. She is to be pitied, to be concerned for. “Poor thing, wasting her life away at home” or “Sometimes even education cannot break the mind’s iron walls of stupidity“, such words one hears before someone swiftly changes the conversation. A feminist — the freaking god to zie’s mind — can’t possibly waste zie’s time speaking about such a deplorable object, someone who will never see the light. Also, when the serious task of ‘spreading the seed of knowledge’ rests on us Radical beings, We the Great Freaking Feminists, we won’t stop to ponder that just maybe, her staying at home is a CHOICE, that she decided for herself and she is quite happy. Or the fact that she is sending out sensitive, smart, ‘liberated’ children out in the world completely passes us by. Just like Ayn Rand and common sense.
Can you blame me for wanting to escape into a bubble when I hear this? If anyone asks for me, I’ll be at the deep end of the pool, comfortable in a language where these slurs don’t exist.