Rajdeep Sardesai got a heavy dose of ‘Neruppu da!’ when he asked Sania Mirza a question most women are asked every other day of their life: when was she planning to become a mother and settle down? Not if, when. Because motherhood is not a choice, it’s simply what a woman does. And motherhood is when you are ‘settled’ and ‘settled’ is when you retire. Quit, take the backseat, give up. To Sardesai’s credit, he apologized and admitted that he’d never have asked a male athlete the same question. But I’m not in a mood to forgive because really, how many times do we have to keep writing about this and repeating ourselves for you to get it? I feel like a trick parrot in the circus.
Just two days ago, Jennifer Aniston wrote eloquently about the media’s obsession with her uterus: “This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time... but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”
Aniston might be a Hollywood actor, far away on another continent, but it hits so close home, this absurd obsession with when you are getting married and when you are going to reproduce. As if that’s all we’re all here for and everything else we’re doing in the meantime is akin to eating masala peanuts on the beach. Time-pass.
I’m aware that men, too, are subjected to the pressure of getting married in our society. And yes, everyone wants boys to take up professional courses that will ensure that they earn six figure salaries to keep their families happy. While women are stuck in the role of the ‘nurturer’, men are stuck in the role of the ‘provider’. Patriarchy sucks. For all of us. I acknowledge this but I’m not wrong when I say that it sucks a lot more for women. We have that wonderful organ, the uterus, which is really a time-bomb that’s activated the second you come out of someone else’s uterus. If you’re to go by conventional wisdom anyway. Sania Mirza is 29 already! Only six more years to go before she hits the dreaded 35! Is she aware of this at all?!
The word ‘bachelor’ brings the image of a happy, care-free, possibly high, person trekking up the Himalayas with his buddies or living with his dog in adorably messy conditions. Think ‘spinster’ and you’ll probably need Valium to beat off the depression. An unmarried woman in the family, no matter how accomplished or self-sufficient she is, is like a plane waiting to take off. Every now and then, enraged and concerned people want an update on the ‘status’. Till she gets married, she hasn’t gone anywhere, any place that really matters. Her parents, who are left with the task of guarding her reputation and chastity, are met with glances of commiseration wherever they go…till they stop going anywhere because they don’t want to answer the same question over and over again. They have failed to do ‘kanyadhaan’, their most sacred responsibility as the parents of a girl.
Marriage is still seen as the inevitable destiny of the girl child and everything else that happens in between birth and this grant event is of much lesser consequence. Or rather, shouldn’t interfere with the grand event. Women who want to enter a PhD program are routinely advised to think about how old they will be by the time they pass out – too old and too qualified certainly to ‘catch’ a suitable boy? And oh lord, what about all the eggs you’re losing in the meantime? You are required to calculate forwards and backwards, the years required to find a man and make a baby with him before it’s ‘too late’. And we’re talking here of economically sound families that are supportive of the girl’s education…forget about the vast majority, mired in poverty, that has to make a choice between paying for a girl’s wedding and sending her to school/college.
Even in seemingly liberal families, the girl child and her ambitions are evaluated on the basis of what her future husband’s family will have to say about the whole thing. Will they approve of my daughter being a full-time Bharatanatyam dancer? Will they like the fact that she’s in a performing art that requires her body to be on display for all to see? It doesn’t matter that you don’t even know who this future husband is going to be!
After marriage, comes motherhood. It is, of course, the whole point of marriage. Because why else would two people get together other than to make several copies of themselves? If a woman chooses not to become a mother or is unable to become one, she’s like a plane that has taken off but has unfortunately been hijacked. Everyone has an opinion about what should be done. Diplomacy, threats, deals, negotiations – it all happens. Being a celebrity doesn’t mean you escape it. In fact, you are scrutinized even more as women like Sania, Aishwarya Rai and many more will attest. Their success and fame are secondary to the ultimate prize that all women are supposed to covet – a baby at their breast. And they say we don’t need feminism any more.
Here’s a woman with a fatwa on her head, photographers waiting to catch her skirt fly in the air, haters writing her career off every time she loses, ‘nationalists’ pining to send her to Pakistan, and she has made it to World No.1. She is married, she is stylish, she is playing, she’s winning, and she’s unsettling a large number of people who cannot fathom it. Thank you, Sania. For the slamming you do on court and off it.
Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.