“It is not the hand that rocks the cradle that rules the world; it is the woman that holds the keys to the kingdom”—Shannon L. Alder
A matrimonial agent questions a typical Pakistani wannabe mother-in-law (Mrs. X) wanting to arrange her son’s marriage: “So, you are looking for a girl to marry your son? What kind of a bride do you exactly have in mind?”
The usual response is of course, she must be beautiful (implying fair), slim (zero size), tall (at least 5’ 5”), highly educated (preferably doctor or MBA from a renowned institution, but be a stay-home wife), with the added twist that she should be young, in any case, much younger than her son.
The value system of our society has undergone significant transformations among which, stress on appearances and sham notions have gained priority over genuineness of character. People will go out of their way to display falsehood just to keep pace with their better-off relatives and friends, sometimes at a heavy price. In recent years, the rate of divorce has rapidly increased, a malady which should not be ignored, especially in our milieu where it is still considered a stigma for both men and women and even families of both sides. The principal reasons out of many others is the erosion of the quality of astuteness required to cement relations in a family that in most of the cases is the prime responsibility of the woman. If she is fraught with her own egocentricity and cares only for her own emotions overlooking others, it would be difficult to smoothly sail through life in a set-up that is different from her parents’ home.
Colleges and universities are filled with girls fresh from schools eagerly pursuing a degree. Some have set ambitions and goals with respect to their careers and future lives and carefully select subjects which they study enthusiastically. They are focused and pay attention to every aspect of their education in order to excel in their chosen professional fields. Since they have marked a specific target their inclination towards achieving it surpasses their family’s insistence on getting married and settling down immediately after attaining basic qualification. These are women who move on to becoming professionals and career persons and may at some time in the future get married and bear children just like their stay-home sisters. These ladies are not the topic of this discussion but the ones who spend years studying to become doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, journalists and just when they are prepared to take off in their professions, are married off as soon as ‘good’ proposals come along.
Coming to proposals, Mrs. X is now again in the picture. The agent informs her of such and such girl with the requisite attributes, who has recently ‘completed’ her education. Excitedly, Mrs. X makes her way to the girl’s house to be served a lavish lay-out of snacks and after making a geographical survey of the prospective bride asks her mother if the girl is also adept in household chores, like cooking, baking, etc. Promptly the mother responds with how could she as she was busy studying. This means that although the girl’s mother knew that her daughter would be constrained to remain confined to her home no matter whatever degree she has, she never bothered to teach her anything to do with managing her home, insinuating that a professional degree is likely to attract better proposals compared to mastering domestic chores. In other words, being a professional housewife has no significance and may not be good enough qualification to get a reasonably placed husband. Therefore the only option left is to put the girls through a tedious professional educational grill leaving them with no time to grasp some household skills and when they attain their degree, marry them off to spend their remaining lives to “surgically operate” meat and vegetables in the kitchen.
There seems some fundamental error in figuring out what exactly needs to be done in life. Many girls start off by an enthusiastic mission of becoming a professional and pursuing a career but are forced to succumb to the demand of their in-laws of abandoning their ambitions. This means that either they are not committed to their cause or that they are already aware about their prospect of not being able to continue as working professionals. In either case, it is unfair on their part to deprive a more resolute candidate of the seat of learning. The only advantage they have is that if for some reason, they find themselves in unfortunate circumstances, they have something to fall back on though in some cases this may fail where their knowledge has become stale or out-dated.
The question here is not that girls should not be professionally skilled but the need to strike a balance is essential. Mothers must revisit the way they raise their children—both boys and girls. First of all, anything that bloats their egos should be totally discarded. This, however, does not mean that they are made to feel inferior. A proper blend of humility and respect for themselves is highly important. Besides, appearances albeit important, ought not to be made the prime purpose of life. Boys should be taught to honour women, be independent and not rely only on their moms, sisters or wives to do things for them. Basic requirements of cooking, cleaning and sewing should also be learnt without attributing them as jobs meant only for females. If women can drive, labour in the field and work in office and do all sorts of ‘masculine’ chores, then why should men feel hesitant to do ‘women’ related work?
Likewise, girls should also be trained to revere elders, feel no shame in doing housework or taking care of their children no matter what their official status or extent of education. Washing their car or sweeping the kitchen floor is not going to lower their credentials or performing these menial tasks will not put a stain on their professional degree. Caring for the home is important for every sane man and woman as it helps to bind the family and improve mutual relationships. A callous husband or wife is more likely to be responsible for a broken marriage.
Last but not the least, women like our Mrs. X also need to knock some sense in their minds. In the first place, girls are not items on the shelves of a supermarket which they can pick and choose at their will. They are not models of perfection as they themselves are not; and making unrealistic demands that they never could meet, is the most illogical thing one can imagine. Stress should be laid on values, good character and maturity rather than on traits which are superficial and temporary. Instead of thrusting their own choice, a sensible approach would be to give preference to what their sons and daughters want for their life partner and for whom Abhijit Naskar has aptly advised: “Do not seek for the best partner, but seek for the person who makes you a better version of yourself.” Boys should also abstain from boasting about their wives’ professional educational credentials especially in the event when they forbid them to work after marriage.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)