Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Simply Clueless or Sneaky and Underhanded

I don't buy into the concept of a "simple" wife. The way I hear that word used here it is meant as a compliment to describe a woman who doesn't know much. Many men are looking for a "simple" wife who'll obey their every command and not ask question. I find the use of this term offensive and insulting to women everywhere. I also don't think it fits most of the Indian women I know.

This past week or so I've run across some examples that I think show just how wrong this label is. One in my life, and some in others lives. My relationship with my MIL is rapidly deteriorating due to her behavior and this latest incident has me wondering if it's even going to be salvageable in the future.

One of the very first things I learned about the culture here is that things touching the floor/ground are considered dirty. Let me elaborate. Feet shouldn't be touched by just anyone for any reason because they are often dirty. When greeting guests I was told to touch knees except for certain particular elders. If something fell on the floor, like food, napkins, etc. you left it there and didn't pick it up. Now, I have to admit I've broken that rule. I clean the room, I'm not leaving trash on the floor, etc. It is rare I drop anything anyway but I do still pick things up off my bedroom floor. There were exceptions. For example, it's okay to throw dirty laundry on the floor and pick it up to take it out for the wash the next morning. The reasoning is it's dirty, so is the floor so it's not a huge compromise. Dirty dishes can be set on the floor in a wash bin and that sort of thing.

I hope I'm painting an understandable picture for you. This avoidance of things touching the floor is more serious than we would take things in the US. In the US we have a sort of joke about the 3 second rule for things touching the floor and it's not taboo to pick up things you drop because no one would expect you to leave your mess behind for someone else and if you're the one cleaning the house you usually don't want to leave something there to be cleaned later.

I learned all this back in early 2009. Now, over the last year of living here it's been emphasized to MIL several times (and occasionally yelled) that she has to wash every dish with soap so I don't get sick. She has a bad habit of rinsing knives and cutting boards with just water and putting them away. This is one nasty habit a lot of Gori's complain about and it seems to be fairly common in Indian culture for women to do this. My MIL has fired our dish maid for doing the same thing and swears she can wash dishes better than the maid. Still, we find her doing this same thing. So maybe she can wash better but she chooses not to.

Well, hubby just yelled at his mother about 6 days ago over the dirty dish issue. Since then, we've thrown dirty knives out of the kitchen twice. So obviously we all agree that dirt and food don't mix. Now back to my point. In the last 14 month I have been living here I have not once seen anyone pick anything up off the floor except dirty laundry and the dish bin while on the way to the wash. The things that fall on the floor are left for the maid to clean up when she comes. While I don't see everything that goes on here, I do see quite a bit and I know the floor is definitely considered unclean.

So last night I was heating up some food and when it got done I got it out of the oven and got two spoons from the drawer. Upon leaving the kitchen I dropped one and then went back for another. I left the kitchen and went to the refrigerator and got out a drink and when I turned around MIL picked up the dirty spoon and came over and tried to put it directly into my food. I moved my food away from her saying "nahi" and she tried to chase me. FIL started yelling at her about picking the spoon up off the floor and I left the room.

I know damn well this is not "simple" or clueless behavior. I've seen her disregard her own spoons that have fallen on the floor and get new ones. This act, to me, was blatant disregard for my health and disrespect aimed directly at me. This is also just one in a long string of events that have been occurring. I haven't been feeling well lately and have spent the majority of the last week locked in my room avoiding interaction with everyone in the family except hubby. I noticed, he too has been locking the door in the evenings (which is like a cue for his mother not to come in).

One other example that is weighing on my mind this week is a story I've heard from at least 15 other gori's and 4 Indians. These gori's husbands come from a very diverse background - some villagers, some from Tier 1 cities, some from tourist towns, some Indian upper class, some Indian middle class, some business owners, some NRI's. Their MIL's will make snide remarks aimed directly at causing trouble in the marriage. In many cases the MIL is blatantly trying to assert her authority as the supreme woman in the Indian husbands life. In other cases the MIL is causing tension to keep the son from becoming too close to the DIL.

These comments are used as a form of verbal abuse to gain control over a situation on some occasions. In others, they are a means of keeping the son attached. I have one friend whose MIL is actively trying to pit husband and wife against each other, telling the son how bad foreign wives are and the DIL how bad her son is. MIL's advantage? Her son proclaims her superiority (even taking back compliments he's given his wife to please MIL) and this DIL is feeling forced and backed into a corner to comply with their demands. At first this DIL genuinely thought MIL was trying to be helpful and so MIL maintained her sense of superiority. As soon as DIL realized what MIL was really doing and stopped confiding in her, MIL started making slanted comments in front of the DIL giving the son reason to believe he should end the marriage.

That's just one story but I've heard plenty of others where the MIL is actively trying to get rid of the DIL or potential DIL. They throw out excuses about mixing caste or culture being difficult (which isn't always untrue) or making comments about how the girl is not as good as she (MIL) is and wouldn't comply with all of their slave regulations. In most instances, the DIL wins but not without a lot of struggle and heartache and in some cases these comments and accusations go on for years after the marriage. Most of these DIL's are forced to live with the MIL and deal with the struggle on a daily basis.

I will never believe that these MIL's are "simple" and don't know what they are doing (which is what I'm told is happening). I see how intelligent my MIL is when it comes to matters of the house. I also see how she handles issues that arise in the family and I'm 100% sure in my circumstances she's not "simple" with this issue at all. I'm also quite certain that any woman would be well aware of the effects of damaging comments. They may not consciously think about what they are saying the first time (because anyone is capable of speaking before thinking) but when they continue to do it, it's because they have realized the reaction and found it favorable or beneficial to them in some way, even if the outcome is sick and twisted.


  1. you are spot on. but inaccurate on the side of underestimation. it is not just gori DILs suffering, but all the DILs. 

    all the hurt and suppression that the woman (MIL) is forced to undergo in her marriage has to come out somewhere. for most women, the only way out is when her son gets married and some other "underling" enters the house. incidentally, it is not just the DILs getting short shrift, but all the "underlings", which includes all maids, servants, helpers, etc ... and this shows just what a DIL is seen by the MIL.

  2. I would think Indian DIL's have it worse. After all, they have far more expectations on them than I do. Not only that but due to their own upbringing are trained not to resist or to work things out as if these things are somehow deserved or their fault. It's really sad.

    You always give me good info. What's your honest opinion about this dirty spoon thing? Am I making too much of it?

  3. since i not know much about it, I would reserve my judgement about it for the time being. but it is certainly a reason for caution coz i have seen many innocent sounding things which turn out to have sinister intents (but are not so harmful as the doer lacks real knowledge to carry out such vendettas). 

    and you are right that most indian families suck big time. they load unnatural expectation which are accompanied by unreasonable emotional blackmails. some say india was the fount of civilization ... they should say "WAS" with all capitals. 

    indian families will not stop being putrid till india learns to respect women.

  4. I know my MIL treats any ladies Junior to her like crap, my two SILs had to go through the same type of humiliating crap I went through, one of them is married to the eldest son and live in the family home and is the most traditional of her 3 DILs and even she said our MIL is a bitter difficult woman, if not borderline sadistic at time :(
    So yeah I guess it's a vicious circle, the MIL suffered being insulted her whole life, waiting to be in a position of power and use it as an outlet for her pent up frustration by lashing at people she percieve as under her.

  5. I don't think the spoon thing was innocent, and that is disturbing :(
    I always keep remembering the book the devil wears prada (book, not movie) where there is mention of the "Runway paranoid turnaroud" I found out that there is a similar syndrome going around in Indian families, no matter how crass and pathetic the MIL's behaviour might be, and a person rightfully complain behind her back to someone else in the family, they will immediately find a way to justify it or lessen the issue. My two SIL and I are all treated with equal harshness or have been at one point or another, the one who doesn;t live with her dread visitis just like I do, and yet even though we have one thing in common (sadistic treatment inflicted by MIL) we are reluctant both to point out the flaw, and when we talk to one another about it it always end up with something like "Yeah but she has been suffering all her life, she probably didn't mean to be so mean" or something around the same line.
    And the "She is a simple wife" you describe, pretty much fits the bill for a paranoid turnaround behaviour.

    In my family even DH and hs two brothers have given up trying to reason with their mom, that's how bad it has gotten :(

  6. Very good point. Indian society does need to learn to respect women more. You're probably right. It wasn't sinister but wasn't right. I'm always on watch though so if things keep going, I'll have my answers.

  7. I've made some of those same excuses. "She's sweet in some ways but..." So maybe that is what is happening here. It's just sad. You would think that since they're taught to do no harm, they wouldn't spend so much time doing so much harm.

  8. OMG!! I cant believe how you cope up with this mess. The best thing for you would be to have a seperate home with your husband only. I hope you get out of this ASAP 

  9. I'm not coping well lol. Each day is a struggle. Thankfully I will be leaving on vacation soon and I won't be coming back permanently.