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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Friday, February 25, 2011


Mrs. BBBB is at it again with fascinating, thought-provoking posts. Jubeee at My USA Life has also been talking about feminism.

I have a different relationship with feminism, I think. Despite growing up in the 1980s in America, I did not get the same post-70s messages of equality.

I used to be against feminism.

I was taught, and fully believed, that feminists and women who fought against social expectations of them were pathetic, lonely, overly masculine, and would bring only misery to themselves.

I followed the rules. I was a good girl, ready to be quiet and submissive. I saw that as a spiritual practice. I was taught that if I was a good girl, I would get the things I wanted in life: a husband and children and spiritual enlightenment.

Yet here I am, turning 29 in April and I don't have those things. I did everything right and I still somehow became an independent woman, living on my own, with no family. But, as horrified as younger me would be by my life, I like it. I'm happy with my choices. And grateful to have choices, which I came to realize is what feminism is all about.

It hit me hard to realize that the women who end up alone, who don't marry and don't have families, are not always there by choice. It isn't necessarily because they were too focused on a career and let life pass them by or whatever other lies women tell to make themselves feel better about the sad realities around us. Some women want a husband and a family and don't get it. And it's not their fault. There's nothing they should have been doing differently. That is a harsh and difficult idea to swallow. As a society we like to come up with reasons why they ended up that way so that we can avoid those things and be okay. It's how we get kept in line, too. We hear, if you are a good girl and follow the rules, you get satisfaction and fulfillment. If you are fill-in-the-blank-with-any-non-society-approved-personality-trait you will be miserable and alone. So, you better behave yourself.

I bought into that and I worked really hard at being the good girl. I didn't work on a career, I planned to marry and be a stay at home wife. So, here I am almost thirty and I don't have a career or a family, I have nothing but my dog and my soul-searching (which are certainly not bad things to have!)

You will see the words "I was taught" a lot in this post. I'm beginning to understand some of my upbringing as brainwashing.

I wonder if I would still be the way I am now if I had been married off young. They say that if women go unmarried too long they become stubborn, strong-willed and difficult. And I am those things! I wonder if I had married at 18 as planned if my stronger personality still would have shown up and asserted itself at some point. I'm thinking that's why young marriages fail so often. Because becoming strong-willed and stubborn isn't just for single girls, I think it happens to young married girls too just as part of getting older.

I am no longer in touch with the people who taught me these things and I don't know whether the things I think I want are really my wants or what I was told to want. I was taught that women's experience of the divine is through their husbands. Their husbands are their gurus, their husbands are worshiped as their Lord. This was the best kind of woman, she who devoted herself selflessly to her husband with no thought of herself. Like Yajnavalkya's wife Maitreyi, who followed him into a life of poverty to find spiritual wealth.

Selfless service, humility, lack of vanity, silence, lack of opinion. Those were valued qualities in my world. It turns out that I am too big a personality to fit in that box. I always thought I was fitting in the box and I couldn't understand why I was so unhappy.

I wonder if any one of us actually fits into the submissive, good girl box. Some of us have no choice. I'm lucky that I do have choice, even when those close to me say that I should sacrifice personal fulfillment for a socially acceptable match, even when people I trust still say that is the path to spiritual joy. "People do it all the time. What do you think arranged marriage is? It's learning to live with what you've got, not desire more." Stop wanting more, be happy with what we give you.

A strong personality is emerging in me. This is why I go back and forth so much and feel so torn. I have not fully grown into the new person I am discovering within myself.

There's part of me that wants to be patted on the head and praised for being a good girl. But the fact is, no matter how hard I tried to be that girl when I was growing up, I never did it well enough. There was always something I was criticized for, there were no pats on the head, there were only comparisons to other girls who were better than me.

Another personality is showing up as the brainwashing wears off and I think this strong-willed, irreverent, dark-humored person is the real me.

I've fought it all my life because I thought I should be the other one. "Should" doesn't have a place in my life any more. Everything is about what is, not what should be. Yet I don't fully know what that looks like. I am still a people-pleaser, especially with the people who were a strong presence in my childhood. I can't snap my fingers and make that go away.


  1. "Everything is about what is, not what it should be."

    And I think that's one of the wisest things I've ever heard. Mostly because "should" gets you thinking about things out of your control, and that leads to unhappiness.

    "Could," on the other hand, is a good word to keep, because it gets you thinking about possibilities.

    A very fine distinction, but it sounds like you have a handle on it.

  2. Hindus view marriage as a "duty". And it is the "duty" of the couple to not let the marriage fail. They do this my foregoing "ego" and "emotions" because it is taught that these are just "maya"(illusions).

    "Maya" is always "temporary". Hence, "love" is not thought to be the significant ingredient for a successful marriage. In fact, "love" is a "temporary" illusion.

    These are easier being said than done. During arranged marriage discussions, an ideal couple is thought to consist of two opposites. One silent and the other hyper. There are too many distractions in this material world. Now, love has become a preliminary requirement. Happiness has become the constant pursuit and ego has become the base for separation.

    In the 21st century, failed marriages are less abhorred than before. Hence, the stakes have been lowered also. Both sexes have raised a stronger argument that life is short and it should be lived it to its fullest.

    Hinduism views women to sustain continuity. I think that's BS in current times. Even in the ramayana, sita spent her whole life performing the duty of a righteous women and a wife. She had to prove her virginity. She had to walk on fire to please her own husband. She had to prove to ram that she didn't commit infidelity. She had to prove him that he was the father of her twins. She was banished into the forests while she was pregnant. She had to raise her twin sons as a single mother. She had to unite her sons with their father even though that man had thrown her into the forests.

    In the end, she appreciates herself to have had performed her duties. But she also reveals that she has never been happy in her entire life because of those duties. Then she finally commits suicide saying that she has had enough of this cruel world. That is how the life of a righteous women comes to an end in the ramayana.

    The moral of the story is that a women might not lead a happy life if she pursues "duty" aka dharma. Hence, it is also said that upholding dharma is not everyone's cup of tea.

  3. I hope I can uphold dharma without so much suffering! I'm not really sure what my dharma is.

    Back when I was trying to be all ego-less and self-sacrificing, they couldn't find a guy willing to marry me! :(

  4. No normal person can uphold dharma all the time. You do what's possible. Else you will have to start living a segregated life to do that. People like that are cowards. They probably hurt their families or are not able to put food on their table. That must be why they abandon their wives and children and head into the mountains looking for nirvana, smoke ganja all day and perform silly acts of endurance with their body parts.

    Dharma is not a fixed set of rules but freely interpretable. Sense of dharma changes from person to person, region to region. The sense of dharma for indians is defined as per the basis of the societal structure and ethics acceptable in india. Similarly, dharma in US/UK etc would be based as per the societal norms of those regions.

    No one is going to award you a noble peace prize for being self-sacrificing and ego-less nor is it going to overwhelm any one of the million or so gods(to appear before you) up there somewhere in deep space. Emotional attyachar(blackmail) is the deadliest assault weapon a women has at her disposal; do not mind what people say. hehehe It is what makes a man, a man and a women, a women. Men will be men no matter what. If a women waives away her only weapon then she will become a pushover.

  5. I can't speak to religion on this one but I do know that there is a lot to be said about waiting for marriage. Those who get married earlier have a higher divorce rate in the US, I think those of us who will be married in our 30s have done a lot of growing us people, alone. That might make us more difficult but it can also help that when we finally marry, our partner will married the fully grown person, not the person who might grow apart from them.

    At any rate, being almost 29 and not married is not a life sentence, you have many years ahead of you and I wouldn't count love out of your life.

  6. On behalf of feminists everywhere: welcome to the fold!