I am my own woman

We were newlyweds at the Lucknow airport checking in for our flight to New Delhi, onwards to San Francisco — we had been assigned seats a couple of rows away from each other, so we requested to be seated together. The agent refused. “You don’t have the same last names,” he said.

Wait. What?

I was still wearing the traditional new bride jewelry (the red and white bangles being the most distinct give-away) and despite repeated attempts at clarifying we were husband and wife and I had opted to retain my maiden name, he wouldn’t budge. Finally he called his supervisor. I, in turn, called my dad, who had come to see us off, to vouch for our matrimonial status.

After half an hour of back and forth, we finally got adjoining seats.

It was bizarre.

Two years later we made our first trip back as a married couple. During the last leg of the flight, the attendant asked my husband what he wanted to drink. He said, “Coke” and the attendant moved on. I turned to my husband and asked, “What about me?” He gave me a blank look and shrugged. I shouted “excuse me” a couple of times, but apparently it didn’t register. A couple of minutes later, the attendant got my husband and me the same drink.

I don’t drink Coke. So, I said to him — “I didn’t ask for this. In fact, you never asked me what I wanted!” He immediately shot back, “He is your husband. I assumed you’d drink the same thing as him!”

(Needless to say, we’re never flying Air India again.)

And I was treated like this during our entire stay — we were in Rajasthan for a week and the auto-drivers wouldn’t negotiate with me … they would only talk to my husband. The locals we engaged with would see through me. Some even gave me the look that said loud and clear “Shut up!”

I felt suffocated. And offended. Here in my own country, I had no voice. And I realized that all these years, I had only been my father’s daughter. When he “gave me away” on my wedding day, I became my husband’s wife.

That was all there was. My identity as an individual was determined by whom I belonged to.

For 21 years, my parents had sheltered me from the sexist attitudes of the relatively small town we lived in. The two times I stepped out of the house (once to do a year-long computer course and the second time for my job), I lived in the metros — Delhi and Bombay seemed to treat independent, working women with a tad more respect. Or so I felt in my limited experiences.

But having been exposed to life in the States where I was known for my work, respected for my professionalism, and recognized as “bright young asset” to my team, gender aside, going back in that environment made me realize how good women have it here. Here I have my own identity, my own place, my own voice. Decisions aren’t made for me and people acknowledge me as an individual.

I am valued for who I am, not the family I come from or the guy I married.

And heck, why do I have to be the only one to “belong”? Just as my husband married me, I married him. So, he “owns” me as much me as I own him.

And my name is a big part of my identity, just as his is for him.

I don’t necessarily claim to be a feminist, but it feels demeaning to me to be discounted just because by accident of birth I happen to be a female. I, too, have a place in this world. My place. My status. My identity.

I take pride in being a spirited individual and want to be recognized such. So what if I am a woman?

Share

P.S. I thank my parents and my husband — the former for raising me to be a self-respecting person and the latter for bolstering my confidence.

Submitted as a non competitive entry for Indus Ladies International Women’s Day blog contest.


Advertisements

26 Comments

Filed under Personal

26 responses to “I am my own woman

  1. It is sad to know that your voice was sealed in such incidents. Your husband seemed to represent his as well as your thoughts, which is really unfair…

    Never in the history of India, were men and women treated equally. Be it the Vedic period or the British rule, there has always been gender inequality.

    Our mentality towards women depends on how we are conditioned. A person who has studied in a boys school will grow up to be a gentleman who respects women with dignity. In your experiences, be it the air-hostess or the auto-drivers, they must have been taught to treat women like that. It is not their fault. The fault lies in the traditional and conventional attitude towards women that we are following since ancient times…

    Developing a modern outlook and rational thinking is the only solution to gender bias and prejudice.

    • Actually my husband sought not to represent my voice, but in most cases it was assumed he would. I think each and every person needs to take responsibility for their thoughts and actions — blaming it on society and upbringing does no good when you’re at the stage in life when you can think critically for yourself. Then, again, how many people think for themselves…it’s a tough problem, like many others, and will take time to change. At least some of us are taking a stand and hopefully this is the message we’ll pass on to future generations — just the way we don’t view/validate the gender gap like our parents’ generation, they will take it a step further.
      Thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  2. I dont believe in this identity crisis by changing the name…surnames are changed for the sake of a homogenous patriarchial society, but your first name remains the same….I am what i am because of my accomplishments and what I DO..not because of my surname…..instead of picking inconsequential things, its better to excel in big things…everybody respects Indira gandhi, Kiran bedi, nobody bothers about their surnames.

  3. MANSI, MANSI MANSI – I repeat your name again and again and honor the individual you are. I bow to your courage to honor yourself and take to heart your strength. How blind we are to the cultural and social discrimination that fails to acknowledge the individual, the human, the person. Thank you!

  4. I didn’t know that this sort of discrimination still exsist on earth. But I guess this makes you a stronger person!

  5. hey mansi.. i do not intend to hijack your blog πŸ™‚ it is just that i could not stop to reply to some comments posted here.. sorry for jumping my guns, i just could not wait.

  6. I’m sorry that there is still this kind of discrimination in the world today. It truly is a bit sad. My daughter had a unique answer to the married name. Her & her husband chose a new last name so neither took the others name & they began their life anew!!

    Hugs,

    Bill

  7. Priya

    This, like all other of your posts, is so anti-Indian. Like all wannabe NRIs, you are so desperate to impress your american friends and get rid of your indian roots that you would stoop to any level. Scared Americans like criticizing their competitors, and you provide them fodder.
    Shame on you – you are a smear on LMGC.
    Like most others of your breed, you avoid talking about racism in the US and how it affects immigrants, how an average american marriage lasts less than a year (the only reason urs has survived is because you both are indians), how most Americans (including Presidents) cheat on their partners, how they have no family values and culture. Things you received because of your upbringing in India. You are a perfect example of “Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghat ka”

    • Oops, there has been sure shot communication gap!

      “This, like all other of your posts, is so anti-Indian.”
      Nothing anti-indian in talking about illogical customs of our Indian culture. If you see any logic, do let us know.

      “Like most others of your breed, you avoid talking about racism in the US and how it affects immigrants,”
      This note is loosely about status of women in Indian context. Racism and immigration issues here in America have nothing to do with this.

      “how an average american marriage lasts less than a year”
      its actually about 7 years, but that is not relevant here because this little note is only about Indian way of treating women and not about American way of treating marriage.

      “how they have no family values and culture.”
      This is untrue. i have been here for so many years, and i have met so many American families and their values are as nice as our Indian family values. Please do not typecast what you see in Hollywood movies to an average American family. it so not true.

      I am sure that the pride and glory of LMGC would be restored in due course of time πŸ™‚

    • Hi Priya,

      Thanks for your perspective on the issue. Although I don’t appreciate your personal attack I respect your right to free speech. I write on this blog based on personal experience and in my experiences, Americans (most of whom are immigrants) have the same strong sense of values and culture as Indians do. Also, I don’t write to impress anyone — this blog is a place for my self expression. Period. You probably have a different set of personal experiences and see “truth” through your viewing lens. You’re certainly entitled to that. Just as I am entitled to my point of view.
      Thanks for visiting.

  8. hmm , this is the way it is throughout the world , the metros might be somewhat better but there is still a difference in treatment ?

    The world should have been unisexual ..

    In All nice post .. πŸ™‚

    I didn’t liked the kind of disclaimer in the end about your parents and husband as it is self evident from the post and kind of doubts the intelligence of the readers πŸ™‚ .. ( just a suggestion , pls dont mind )

  9. “(Needless to say, we’re never flying Air India again.)”

    I am assuming you tried to realize Air India and related authorities of their insensitive and offending behavior, but of no success.

  10. Tulika

    Mansi, I’m glad you wrote this one. It really echoes what thousands of women in India (at least) go through all the time and most, do NOT stop to challenge it even once. But, a few thinking (and fiercely independent) ones like us would like to fight for our rights, if you may call them so.
    As a college girl, I remember discussing with my friends how I hated this change of name thing post marriage, and had aired my views on how I’d like to retain my maiden name. But as destiny would have it, I got married soon after and obviously, didn’t get to keep my maiden name(I became Tulika ‘Banerji’ from ‘Chatterji’). I had a traditional Bengali wedding where names aren’t officially changed but assumed to have changed automatically. A good friend, oblivious to my situation, sent me a congratulatory card by post to my marital home addressed as Tulika C Banerji (since I had been keen on something like that, which I thought was subtle….that’s what I assumed pre marriage!)……and all hell broke loose! My father in law scoffed and fumed at the faux pas and I dared not repeat my so called mistake till date! But today, after a good 9 years have gone by, may be I’ve taken my changed name in my stride…but its definitely just not about one’s name, but the attitude Indian society has towards their women…even today…that really sucks! Believe me, I’m still fighting….

    • As usual, things are easier said than done. But i would still say it: reclaim your name asap. It is not about name. It is about the society and its ways. This particular way has a big symbolic and psychological significance.

      A great man based on his acts went to say that, be the change that you want to see in the world. If you want women of the next generation not to face things you faced, then God is not going to appear in year 2012 and change it for us. You get the clue. Else, we can all talk big words to vent our hidden frustrations for whatever reasons and for whatever duration.

      • Tulika

        Vikas,

        Thanks a ton for caring to respond. Can’t deny your words, they’re very true. As they say, time is a big healer…I’d rather fight for other things more important right now, than my name. But of course, I’ve learnt the hard way that its best to fight for your right, than give them up easily. Thanks again! πŸ™‚

    • I faced the same reaction, Tulika, when I sent a Holi gift to my inlaws’ house the year after we got married. It went with the sender’s name: Mansi Bhatia. I was asked if I didn’t want to be “part of the family” — my only response was, I am as much a part of this family as you want me to be. The name is my identity and if I am uncomfortable giving it up, it doesn’t mean I am less of a wife or less of a daughter -in-law. I am as committed to this union as anyone who changes their name. That’s where the discussion ended. They understood that it didn’t matter what last name I chose to keep, what mattered was my respect for them and theirs for me. It’s all about having a discussion about things that really matter and doing away with customs that eat away at your “self.”

  11. I must say that I have never had to experience any type of treatment similar to that and would certainly feel the same shock that you described as well.

    It certainly made me stop and think about something that I and many others take for granted.

    I too would not consider myself a “feminist” but think that simple respect and consideration and acknowledgment as an individual are not too much to ask for.

  12. Rohit

    India, as a society, is just a few decades behind the west in exercising equal rights for women. Id like to believe that at least the trend is in the right direction and what you see in the metros is percolating through the rest of the country. Slowly, but surely.. Thats no consolation for people who still suffer through it but its good “hopey-changy stuff”, to quote a famous female political figure.

    But its interesting that giving up maiden names is something that has continued in the west too. So I wonder if name being a big-part-of-my-identity is just not the case for many women ? Or is it just that some old traditions never get challenged ?

    • “Slowly, but surely..” it is too too slow in India, slow enough to be considered as not moving at all.. for sure it is not percolating to Kanpur city, let alone any other village in the greater Kanpur region. I do not hesitate in saying that what we see in metros is an artificial setup. Even an average male in a metro thinks and behaves like any other city or village in India. A girl may have more opportunities and securities in a metro city, but that does not mean in any way that the status of whole women-kind has been lifted up there, let alone the 95% of women who do not live in metros.

      And about the West: agreed that it is ahead of the East, but not in a way that can matter. it is still coming to terms with the fact that women may be as good as men. A woman is still not socially acceptable for the role of President. In a country like America, women still draw 75 cents for every dollar made by men! Please do not forget, the declaration of independence of the greatest nation only declares ” ..that all men are created equal, ..”. no mention of women πŸ™‚ now even if they meant men to be as person or human in that statement, it is the omission of role and existence of women at our subconscious level that is the root of the problem.

  13. Wow. I’m amazed by and grateful for your post. I honestly had no idea that you could expect that sort of treatment on an international airline flight. And, of course, I’m glad you made a point of highlighting the absurdity of someone assuming you wanted a Coke because your husband did.

    That line, “Just as my husband married me, I married him,” pretty much says it all. It’s a mutual commitment and a shared responsibility. In some ways, you lead. In some ways, he leads. But in all ways, individual responsibilities to take the lead are balanced by the fact that you’re on the same team.

    The next step is to get those Air India folks to read your post! πŸ™‚

  14. howwelivenow

    Reading this reminded me of a couple of experiences I had as a Western woman travelling in Muslim countries so I can identify with the experience of being regarded as ‘belonging to someone’ or worse, a whore (when travelling with a boyfriend not a husband). I wondered why you wouldn’t necessarily view yourself as a feminist since your views on this matter are so strong and passionately put.

    • I don’t believe in labels. If I subscribe to being a feminist it means I’m immediately slotted as one who believes in such and such. Which isn’t entirely true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s