There was an almost inconsequential piece of news I had come across a few months back about Will Smith allowing his daughter to choose the kind of haircut or hair coloring she wanted. I had then lightly dismissed this piece of news as yet another attempt of the media to completely dissect the lives of celebrities to produce ‘box-office material’ as aptly put forth by Rupert Murdoch.
Though I had dismissed the article then having more burdensome issues on my mind I do think of the subtle hints the action of Will Smith conveyed to the Indian Society in general. Though I might generalize here the opinions stated are of numerous daughters and daughter-in-laws I know. With the simple act of allowing his daughter to choose what she wanted with her hair, Will Smith ensured that his daughter will never depend on anyone for decisions and most importantly for acceptance.
It has almost become a trend in Indian society to condition girls into becoming subdued and obedient by which I mean to obey every (mind you every little) instruction of their parents. Any daughter who dared to defy would be immediately branded the arrogant, out of hand daughter by the society aunties. A simple thing as a hair cut would turn into an epic battle between the conservative parents and change desiring daughter. The usual argument would go something like this:
Mother: You keep cutting your hair like and one day you will not be left with any hair on your head and no one will marry you.
Daughter: Everyone is cutting their hair. They still have hair despite the changing hairstyles and yes they got married too.
Mother: Don’t you dare backchat. I must talk to your father about your arrogance and disobedience.
This cycle of acceptance once set into the daughters mind continues into her married life. So, basically as a girl progresses into adulthood acceptance takes various forms. First it begins by being accepted as the dutiful daughter by your immediate family. Aunts and Uncles praise you about your obedience which is then transferred onto the peer circle and finally into acceptance by the In-laws.
This vicious cycle is what spells doom in the lives of most of the Indian daughter-in-laws. A need to be accepted in the new house and in the new family drives them to accept anything and everything that their In-laws dole out, starting with complete loss of self respect to complete subjugation. In a few months time everything that a girl would have worked in her life is essentially wiped out and she is left measuring spices in the kitchen and seeking the approval of the MIL even to add a teaspoon of salt into the curry.
The cycle of acceptance is further glorified in the countless Hindi serials on the idiot box where the women are nothing but martyrs and the in-laws will admonish her for one silly mistake for months but praise her for one second even if she has saved the family from potential doom.
There was a time when I thought that a certain amount of this cycle of acceptance had to be accepted to maintain peace (no not in my parent’s house but in my in-law’s house) only to realize that I had compromised with much more than required. One inch soon became a mile and my in-laws stooped to the level of trying to even control what went on behind my bedroom doors to even deciding when my husband would do what with me and how I should react. Needless to say, that this was wholeheartedly supported by my husband.
Nine months into it I called it a day and once and for all decided that in any relationship where one person is expected to change beyond measure the relationship is doomed from the very beginning be it between a parent and a child, husband and wife or the daughter-in-law and in-laws.