I’ve grown accustomed to hearing queries regarding my marital status. As I approach the end of my twenties, they’re now coming at me thick and fast. Thankfully, most of them are directed at my parents, and almost always at social gatherings, like the ‘happy’ nuptials of so-and-so’s kids, where I’m not usually in attendance. Now, talk of marriage at weddings isn’t exactly heresy, but what gets my goat is how and to whom questions of matrimony are usually addressed. In my experience the target audience for the really serious queries is usually women. So, as the parents of two daughters, my mum and dad don’t bat an eyelid when they hear the predictable, dripping with worry – “are the girls married?” query. Similarly, my aunt and uncle, as the parents of two sons, don’t register surprise when they’re asked: “what are the boys doing?”
Having participated in, and been privy to, a number of infuriating conversations of this kind, I’m forced to consider whether these are benign questions springing from genuine concern over how ‘settled’ the women we know are or if we’re simply programmed to think of matrimony as naturally occurring on a woman’s life-trajectory. Having said that, it’s equally pertinent to question the assumption that all men of a certain age must naturally be gainfully employed. And to what end? Personal achievement, undoubtedly, but perhaps, also to buy into the convention of the ‘man of the house,’ a successful specimen of the male species, capable of ‘supporting’ his wife and kids.
The subtext of these gendered conversations, in my opinion, is the maintenance of archaic stereotypes, the kinds that limit possibility not only for women, but men too. It prevents us from accepting that a man can be a better care provider to a child than its mother, or that a woman who chooses not to have children is not a freak of nature, but someone who finds happiness in other avenues. It encourages women to think of marriage as a foregone conclusion in their lives; it prompts men to think of the workplace as their domain. It spurs us to dismiss men outside the paradigms of accepted masculinity as ‘under-achievers’ and deem women within parameters of standard femininity as ‘fulfilled.’
I guess what I’m wondering is how much of my own life is dictated by an unconscious acceptance of gender norms? Have I, by relying financially on my parents in between jobs and during my ‘figuring-it-out’ phases, used my gender as indemnity against raised eyebrows or was my counting on them simply the outcome of a healthy parent-child relationship? What I am certain of is this: my male friends, who’ve chosen to quit steady jobs and have relied on either their parents or their partners for financial sustenance while mulling their next step, have had their masculinity questioned on many an occasion, almost always when they weren’t looking. On the contrary, the femininity of my lady friends, married or otherwise, has only been ratified by their decision to quit full-time work, their intentions barely ever questioned. I also know this: I know just one stay-at-home dad, and I’ll run out of fingers counting the number of moms who’ve found ‘encouragement’ in their decision to eschew employment.
In lieu of my own fluctuating emotions toward matrimony/mommyhood and ‘gainful’ employment alike, I can only hope to come across a nice fellow who’d find my predicaments but natural and not evidence of how I’m worthy of neither.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2014