MY MOTHER IS a cost accountant. Only the third woman in all of India to get a certificate of practice when she received one, and the first in the Western India zone. She gave her last costing exam while working full time at the age of 28 and then finally deigned to marry my father, her boyfriend of nine years, who had been waiting patiently for her to complete her desired education. At the age of 24, I was done with two Master’s degrees and accepted to a Ph.D. program scheduled to start a few months after my 25th birthday. Thrilled to gain admission to the Social Science program of the #1 School of Public Administration in the United States, I called home to share the news. Happiness and pride flowed through the phone wires. Followed closely by this statement: But if you study so much, you won’t find a boy to get married to.
Maybe I am exceptionally jaded now, and five years later, not much surprises me anymore. But back then, that one line stunned me. Rendered me unable to speak (and anybody who knows me knows what a feat that is!) and hurt me infinitely more than any departmental letter of regret would have. I love my mother. Immensely. So this is not a parent-bashing post. But to come from my mother, my educated, learned, aware and fiercely independent female parent who wanted to start med school after becoming an accountant (and was screamed down by both my grandmothers) has been a lesson hard to forget. A lesson in how deeply ingrained certain societal and biological responsibilities are, no matter how much we believe we are beyond them. A lesson that taught me that no matter what my education or career accomplishments, at the end of the day, I’d still be judged a failure or success based on my marital status. A lesson that taught me that for all our fabulous talk about progressive thinking, deep down we still believe that a woman must only marry, at best, her intellectual/academic equal, or better still, someone a couple of notches above her.
I kid you not. I have lost count of the number of times I have been cautioned that men’s fragile egos cannot completely embrace a woman if her independent mind tags along. That I should reserve opinion on controversial issues because it’s all very well to be articulate, but men get threatened. The bottom line being: no man wants a woman who doesn’t make him feel like Rambo. If it means trashing that Ph.D., so be it. And a woman isn’t supposed to resent it either. Gracious acquiescence, my darlings, is the phrase. Of course, now that I’ve gone and ranted to the world and her husband about it, I can already see that last glimmer of testosterone receding into the distance.
Sigh. And then they sing no woman no cry.