Once upon a time long ago I used to be married to a man who loved to say– ‘I am not interested in your career, after all I gain nothing from it’. The comment alluded to two separate stands he had. One, he had a very (misplaced?) masculine pride in his ability to support his family. He would not generally take money from me for the general household expenses. Of course he would accept loans of large sums from me to help with buying a car or house. But he very carefully termed them ‘loans’. Two, he hated me working professionally.
He hated the fact that having a career put demands on my time, all of which he owned. He hated that I had to work in the outer external world with, horror of all horrors, MEN. He hated it when I had to travel for work. He hated it when I used to get phone calls from office out of office hours. He hated it when I tried to talk to him about my day at the office. He hated it right in the beginning of our relationship when, as an engineering student, I was applying for jobs on campus. He hated it when I said I wanted to do further studies.
Initially I had thought his opinions were so cute. Naive, silly me! I rationalised his unquestionably boorish behaviour, thinking ‘Oh poor dear! He cannot bear to be without me for even a second and does not want to share me with anyone or anything’. And so as a girlfriend and later wife, I tried my best to relegate my career to the very outer fringes of my life and make him feel like the king of my universe. I did not stop working completely however I did stop mentioning anything about it at home. I refused all assignments that would have required even short term travel on my part. Instead I accompanied him whenever he chose to relocate for the sake of his career. I abandoned all ideas of further studies, took long leaves of absence from work, quit promising jobs at the wrong times and did all I could to commit professional hara-kiri.
Many moons later, I finally woke up to the fact that my husband was nothing more than a grown-up version of the playground bully. He loved stamping his authority on everyone and getting them to dance to his tune but underneath he was just a very insecure human being. He had no other way of making himself feel big other than belittling me and my career. He wanted me to be dependent on him as that made feel like a man.
Finally when that relationship floundered, I fell back on my career to support myself. By that time, I had already done what seemed like irrevocable damage to it and there were so many things that could not be undone. However thankfully I had never stopped working completely and after quite a bit of effort, was able to revive my professional life to a state where I could support myself in relative comfort.
My story, I have now come to realise, is nothing unique. There are millions of bullies walking this earth in the guise of husbands – especially Indian husbands. They pride themselves in stomping out any independent streak that their wives have and in relegating them to the status of mere chattels. Most women, like me, put up with it and brainwash themselves into thinking that their husbands are right and that they need to give up their work and personal space for the sake of their families.
My ex used to say ‘Oh, I admire Indra Nooyi (current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo). I just don’t want me wife to be like her.’ Men, that is so wrong! Please learn to let go of narrow mindedness and embrace the fact that your significant other is a living breathing intelligent being who can shine both in the bedroom and the boardroom. If you let her, she will make you and your family proud and that will not make you inferior in any way.
Women – there are things you need to do as well. Do not let a man walk all over your dreams and aspirations. Know that a true man does not need to clip your wings, rather he will let you fly unfettered and he will help and support you as you will help and support him. That mutual respect should be the cornerstone of every marriage and will ultimately benefit our children, our families and the society at large.