Opening that window and breaking free!

The churning of the society during the defining decades of the 60s and 70s produced not just the economic classes but also created distinct groups of women in the middle and upper ends of the social spectrum. These groups were formed as a result of the lessons that the events and experiences threw up, from which they learnt, learnt wrongly or didn’t learn at all. (Read the first and second parts of the series Feminism and the Gen X woman here and here)

Our generation was good at opening windows if the doors were closed, finding and widening chinks if the windows were closed too — even learning to live and thrive in a vacuum! All one needed to do was look hard enough, or rather want to look hard enough and make a positive change for oneself if not for the society no matter what the circumstances.

We had tasted freedom and didn’t want to give it up for anything. But we were not about to revolt either. And so we perfected the art of ‘standing on the inside while sitting on the outside’, if sitting was what was expected of us. And no one could make us sit on the inside no matter what they did! And therein lay our strength. We made adjustments, external compromises, used diplomacy, showed displeasure but slowly but steadily inched our way out of the straitjacket that we had been put into. Of course there were others who were overwhelmed or too dispirited to join us.

The best part was that people for whom we were sitting knew of our silent defiance and that gave us the edge and the power to inch little closer to what we wanted. So when I was given an ultimatum by my mother that I could go to college if I was prepared to study in the only women’s college or not at all, you know what option I took. So, even though I couldn’t get the subjects I wanted to study, I decided that I would later find a way to do it. Right then my priority was to get into college, any college and study whatever subject was offered there.

Before going into the groups themselves, a word about the lessons: While we all were exposed to largely similar experiences, we each processed the lessons differently.

It was at college that my lessons began, both of the academic and of the life kind. It was also a sort of indoctrination in the reverse. When my mother insisted on sending me to a women’s college, she didn’t know it was notorious – even without a single boy on its rolls. I remember the senior girls lining the terrace and letting out wolf whistles at the students of the engineering college who passed our college. As they madly cycled away from range, there used to be a victorious shout and laughter. Rooting for women power and emancipation, I should have been happy that the boys were getting back in kind what they had given the girls for ages. But I was not. It upset me that while most of us were trying to make something out of what we little were getting, there were such others who were indulging in frivolous activities.

Lesson 1: We achieved nothing by becoming the very men that we were trying to equal or better.

From thinking that holding a job was a sign of liberation and progress, I came to realise that it was not. The first one to disappoint me was the telephone operator neighbour. She made her sisters and mother to fetch and carry for her, as she sat polishing her nails near the window or batting her eyelids at the young men on the street. It was not as if the job was strenuous or demanding.

Lesson 2: Like the college girls in the earlier example, these women were also trying to be men – by acting as if the deserved special treatment because they brought home the pay packet.

Bureaucracy and the government departments like Railways, the Posts and Telecom and other such jobs remained just that – jobs, which gave them perks while demanding so little in return. There were/are countless number of women in these jobs who prefer passing up managerial posts even when they came their way by way of promotions and transfers.

While some families found this an unnecessary stress on the women given the disproportionate remuneration and therefore didn’t allow their daughters/daughters-in-law to work, others wanted them to — whether they were exploitative parents or in-laws. This group, unlike the earlier one had to bear the double burden of home and office and many of them did not even get to enjoy their earnings, having to sometimes beg even for their bus fare!

Lesson 3: While I most certainly didn’t want to be like the first group, I didn’t fancy being like the second either. These were the victims and I learnt that it was important to be assertive.  

Of course there were also hard core career women, who were surprisingly not role models. This could have been because career as an option for women had not arisen yet in society, save for teachers, doctors and nurses. And there were the role models: Kiran Bedi, a champion tennis player and the first woman IPS Officer, Ela Bhat, the champion of women labourers, Mrinal Gore, the social activist, collectors and advocates. These women were the pioneers who battled sexist attitudes and faced other hurdles, going on to lay the foundation for future generations of women.

Lesson 5: It is not easy to be a pioneer, the price can be very high sometimesBut it was exhilarating to be one!

I learnt a lot more lessons, but to enumerate them all would require an entire tome. Others must have learnt different things. Since they were life lessons, we only had practicals where we had to prove ourselves worthy of the society, and these broad categories emerged out of the ‘ exams’:

Avenging angels:

These obviously had learnt that it was their right to correct things giving tit for tat. They must have been put down by their parents while growing up or by in-laws after marriage. They stewed and waited for the time when they could get even with their in-laws and gave it right back when latter were old and infirm. Others of this group took it out on their daughters-in-law. ‘If I suffered, why shouldn’t she?’ thus perpetuating a cycle that gave generations of mothers-in-law a bad name even when they didn’t belong to this group. These AAs didn’t realise that two wrongs can never make a right especially when the victims were innocent girls who had nothing to do with their suffering. Unfortunately this is the only group that we hear about today because it is so easy to stereotype the women of Gen X into this slot and hang them conveniently!

The Martyrs:

These understood part of the lessons and thought that by doing everything their mothers and mothers-in-law did in a more liberal manner, they would set things right in the society. They were unfair to themselves while young and are continuing to be the victims in their middle and old age, not just of the older, but of the younger generation too. They work themselves to the bones for the family without complaints and are fawning and overprotective of their children. Their reasoning? ‘We were overworked by our mothers/mothers-in-law and we don’t want to do it to our children, especially since they have to cope with so much more — studies are more competitive, workplace more demanding, life is more difficult…’ I am appalled to find even daughters ordering these mothers around after coming home from college or work and the mothers solicitously running errands for them. Come on girls, your mom deserves a break too! I can understand if many girls today have no feelings for the mother-in-law, but their own mother? This group of women turn into martyrs later in life, trying to send everyone on a guilt trip, for their own weakness.

The balanced ones:

These knew the score then and know it now, having learnt their lessons well right. They didn’t act the fawning mothers like the Martyrs, nor behave like the tyrants that the Avenging Angels were. They were quietly assertive, not subsuming their own interests while taking care of their families, even holding down a job. In their old age, they know how to enjoy life, without depending upon their children emotionally. This group has also made the most compromises and adjustments during its formative years as well as its early adulthood, but has not let any of the experience make it bitter or act in a negative manner.

Knowing that the world will never be what it was in their own youth, they went about making their children independent from a young age. They taught them that chores had to be shared, whether you were a boy or a girl. Even the husband had his share of housework. They stressed that being independent was a virtue and they did not feel abandoned when the children left home. If they stayed with their married son or daughter, they did so on their own terms.

When they had daughters-in-law they were clear in their minds about how to behave with them too – welcoming, understanding but firm. ‘You are welcome to set up your own home but if you want to enjoy the benefits of a joint family, (unbelievable as it may sound, there ARE many benefits, folks!) be part of it and share the work.’

Here comes the crunch. DILs sometimes come from families where the mothers were Martyrs and so are not used to pulling their weight, or might have been the daughters of Avenging Angels who are conditioned to believe that all MILs are demons and deserve to be treated with distrust and hatred. And so even the most balanced MILs might be seen as being heartless and a tyrant for the tiniest of things. With such preconceived notions it is easy to get into a relationship with a severe handicap that can go from bad to worse in a wink. Also they forget that by this logic, their own mothers (if they have brothers, that is) fall into the stereotype.

Events and experiences have a way of affecting people. The environment is a big influence too. But how each one reacts and learns from them depends entirely on individual perceptions, attitudes and personality. It is easiest to blame the society for all ills, but if one looked hard enough, or even wants to look hard enough, one is sure to find solutions — with hope and without rancor as the last group has done. Remember, there are no free lunches in this world.

And hard as it is to believe this group is increasing in number, imperceptibly maybe, bumbling, making mistakes but learning and moving forward – surely and steadily. We can look at them in detail in later posts!

As she has mentioned in her comment, Dagny has made a wonderful post out of it on her blog Serenely Rapt, which has some great posts on a whole range of topics. Do hop over and enjoy them!

80 comments

  1. An insightful post! Understand my mothers generation a little better now. 🙂

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    1. Thanks Rahul. That was the entire idea behind the post 🙂

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  2. Found In Folsom · · Reply

    BM, why didn’t you nag me to read this post? You just asked if I read it or not? I want to give you a big hug for writing this. Only you could categorize women like that without taking any one’s side. Having seen all of this and much more, I think women of your generation must be smiling silly at the ‘choices’ our Gen X women is wanting to have. I won’t say anything more than that. 😀

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    1. Oh yes, many women of my generation would surely be grinning and even grimacing at the demands and choices of the present generation. It is like fighting for the tail after getting the entire elephant! Waiting to get that big hug, hopefully in person sometime in the not too distant future 🙂

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  3. Dagny · · Reply

    Thank you for including the link to my post on yours Zephyr! You are the sweetest! ❤

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    1. You are welcome, dear. It was a perfectly logical thing to do, considering it takes the topic further and is so well written too 🙂

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  4. I wonder how you can cover all the points, put forward all the pros and cons and still not take sides. It is indeed the beauty of your writing that makes it worth reading over and over again!
    The best part is that people of every type you mentioned are very easy to come across in our day to day lives. They are very real.
    I don’t really understand feminism, to be very honest. It has very confused notions. Being deliberately rebellious, stubborn and unheeding is taken as feminism mostly. Wish such people read your post to understand what it really is.

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    1. Hey Varsha, that’s a great compliment. Thank you so much 🙂 Unfortunately for women themselves, today, unless you are aggressive and belligerent, you are considered a traitor to the sex. There is something steely strong about women, which is getting lost in all the noise and hype. That is why I liked your latest post and commented there 🙂 You would love Dagny’s post, which I have linked at the end. Do read it.

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      1. I agree with everything you said. Anything that needs to be proven with brash words and actions reeks of negativity.
        Will read Dagny’s post for sure. Thanks. ☺

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  5. OMG! Who are you? You make me want to sob my problems away to you and ask for advice on everything that is messed up in my life. Don’t worry though, not doing that now 😉

    Let me say this though, its the first time someone put women in defined categories, and yet did such a wonderful job of it, without reducing the dignity of womanhood itself. You showed how there are all kinds of them and how, even those who ‘seem’ wrong, have had situations that are partly responsible. You also make everyone who finds herself in the other categories wish to move to the balanced one. And like Dagny pointed out, Standing on the inside while sitting on the outside….That was just briliant, Brilliant!! Just like everything else on your blog. A large part of my day tomorrow is going to be spent here. Great to have come here, Thanks to Dagny 🙂

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    1. Welcome to Cybernag, Pia and I am so thrilled to know that you like being nagged 🙂
      I understand that there are always two sides to everything, including people. So just judging them on the basis of one trait would be unfair. Circumstances shape us and our reactions to them mould our character. But there are times when one needs to keep up appearances, make some concessions for the sake of harmony and peace in the family. And when we do it, it is important to keep our self esteem intact, else we will be ridden roughshod over. So even when we don’t articulate our rebellion, the others are fully aware of it, and yet are unable to hold you guilty for transgressing rules, see? 😀 Hope you liked what you found on the blog, dear.

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  6. […] read Zephyr’s post Opening That Window And Breaking Free (the third in the series) before you read my response to her thoughts. She has said it all far […]

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  7. Brilliant! Just brilliant. What else would I expect from a ‘balanced one’ like yourself 🙂
    You have presented here a very keen and compassionate analysis of experiences of a whole generation of Indian women, particularly urban women. The one sentence that Dagny has highlighted – standing on the inside, sitting on the outside – jumped out at me too. It actually so perfectly expresses the real meaning of struggle for what is right and what is equal. So often these days we see this word equality as being misunderstood and misrepresented as women behaving like ‘men’ – whatever that means! I guess you would call them AA’s as per your classification 🙂 That would be such a waste of all the gains women have made in their struggles over the decades.
    Here’s hoping that we see more and more of balanced ones in our times. Goddess knows we need more of those!

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    1. It is so frustrating to see so much energy being wasted in belligerence and posturing instead of quietly taking one’s right at least within the family, without making a song and dance about it. Becoming the aggressor never solves any problem, only reverses the aggressor-victim roles. The earlier generation of women were more equal and even held an upper hand in decision making — all without having to demand for it. I feel that instead of building on the strengths, the present generation is dissipating it by losing focus. I would say that women are so much more strong and resilient than men. All we need are legal rights to be put in place. Social rights should be slowly taken as Dagny has put so well. Give a little and take a lot more imperceptibly. By the way, what makes you so sure that I am a balanced one? I could well be an ogre in disguise.

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      1. What makes me so sure?! As they say, like recognises like. And I prefer to think of myself as a balanced one 😀

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  8. I notice from the comments that most people have focused on the latter part of the post in their observations. And certainly the latter part is where it comes together; that is where the wisdom condenses into pearls.

    I, however, will talk about an astounding statement you made in the first half of your post. You wrote, and I quote:

    “And so we perfected the art of ‘standing on the inside while sitting on the outside’, if sitting was what was expected of us.”

    Endquote.

    How perfectly and concisely you’ve said what I always thought wordlessly. I never could put it into words. The best I could do is to say- Women don’t need to be aggressive/ belligerent in order to win their rights. If they would only recognize their inner power, they would know that no one can bully them IF THEY CHOOSE NOT TO BE BULLIED!

    Obviously, you’ve said it far, far better. You’ve no idea how delighted I feel! Thank you! A million times, THANK YOU for these distilled drops of nectar. I feel replete!

    It saddens me to see that most people (men and women, both) raise their flag of discontent and get ready to battle over the smallest issues… and then concede over the major ones. It should be the other way round!

    My in-laws were pretty conservative. They had fixed ideas about what a DIL should wear and how she should behave. I am perfectly fine with that. Every family has its own ‘culture’ which they work hard to preserve. As a part of that family, it was right that they should expect me to honor it.

    As a result I always wore a sari (even at night… and that was a pain truly) and kept my head covered at all times. I touched every one’s feet (twice per visit; once when they came and again when they left) no matter how many times they visited in a day. But I always accompanied it with a breezy ‘good morning/ evening’. And everyone just loved it… and me. My MIL once confessed that they did not expect a ‘highly’ educated girl like me to fit so well into their family.

    Of course I smirked, secretly. 😀

    A few years later, I announced that I it was time to make good on a promise I had made to myself many years ago. It required me to do something that I was sure they wouldn’t like. Cleverly, I had discussed the issue with my to-be husband. Only when he agreed to support me on the issue did I say yes to marrying him- that’s how important it was to me.

    When the time came to actually do it, however, I found both him and my in-laws absolutely against the idea. My own parents weren’t too pleased either. My husband had falsely agreed earlier. His hope was that he would be able to dissuade me when the time came.

    I refused to budge and reminded him of the promise he gave me. He couldn’t deny the promise. I did what I wanted in that very major issue.

    That’s when everyone realized- my own parents included- that I wasn’t as docile as they thought I was. 😀

    Later of course, they all congratulated themselves for being awesome enough to let me do what I wanted. Which was fine with me… 😀

    I got what I wanted, didn’t I?

    PS:This has turned into a post but I won’t apologize. You asked me to interact… and I did. I’ll just copy paste this comment and post it on my blog… with a link to your wonderful post here. I’ll also assume you’ve granted me permission. I can’t possibly wait for a formal permission.

    Yes I’m a brat that way! 😀

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    1. Ha ha ha! Loved the comment and the last line! I am so happy you connected with the post and got the essence of what I wanted to say. But then, we both share the same views about getting what is our right without having to demand for them belligerently. Tact is the most undervalued thing in relationships, whereas it should be right there at the top. I am so happy that you shared your story here and on your blog and I am sure a lot of young ones will find inspiration from it.

      The reason I wrote this post is exactly because everyone seems to be obsessed with the fact that older women are so rigid/vexing/tyrannical etc. etc. and can’t think of them even as women. Which is why most comments are focused on the second half and even then talk about unreasonable MILs! I thought why don’t I try to put the record straight so that at least some women might benefit from reading it?

      And you have said what I had left out — no one can be bullied if one chooses not to be bullied. Your post was absolutely wonderful and said all the things this post had not been able to say. For one thing, it was already too long and I couldn’t possibly add much to it. But then as I have often said, my discerning readers fill the blanks up admirably. Thanks for doing just that with your comment and post and the link back ❤

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  9. Enjoyed reading the whole series of ‘our’ generation, Zephyr. While reading my thoughts were running simultaneously to add more points but they were also written here in the later paragraphs! All pros n cons are expressed beautifully!

    I have noticed that whether educated or uneducated, the MIL’s nature is unique always. Some would like to treat their DILs like daughters and thereby pamper them and take all the burden of running the family or ill treat the DIL like she was treated. The ‘understanding’ DIL and MILs are very rare to be seen. And the older generation too like to be independent now like the new generation. Joint families’ advantages are not recognised, though with some compromises.

    Hmmm…feel like keep on writing, but I seem to write posts in comment sections and you have written so well that I feel I might repeat them. Keep writing more about ‘our’ generation, Zephyr! Let us enjoy!

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    1. Glad you liked the posts, Sandhya. Do you know a funny thing? Like the lamb and wolf story, even good MILs are attributed with ulterior motives if they are kind to their DILs. And most girls come into a marriage with preconceived notions of their in-laws and are unwilling to accept it if they are proved wrong. That is why the conflicts. And yes, we want to remain imdependent as long as possible.

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  10. (Quick point before I start: The two links at the top point to the same article [Pt. II] instead of both)

    I wanted to talk about two different generations of ladies in my family, but I wonder why I had to wait for over four months to do that. Yet, frankly, reading this now has been much clearer for me than it was back in April.

    The first: Imagine a lady in her 20s having a love marriage. Of course, with a guy from an acceptable community to her family, we’ve still not reached that stage of freedom yet. Then – she having no mother at that time – having to see her father get married to someone younger than her, but letting it go at that. Having kids, and starting to go to college with her own daughter. Finishing her B. A., starting to teach kindergarten at the local school. Retiring only when her grandchildren are a bigger handful than can be handled by her daughter in law. Not to tom-tom myself, but I happen to be that younger grandchild, and the lady being talked about is my grandmother, now in her late eighties.
    Even today when I accompany her to our doctor next to her school (and mine too) we bump into many of her ex-students who speak to her with a respect and gleam in their eye that I do believe she left a strong impact in their lives.
    A fiercely independent woman, she still wants to spend all the year (except the monsoons) out of the house, volunteering at one of the meditation centres she is connected with. That I, worried for her health, have stopped her from doing that more than one month in a row, is something she still holds a grudge about.

    The second: A girl is the first female to go to college in her extended family, going back to god only knows how many generations. Her mother warns her, warily, to ‘find only a Gujarati boy, ok?’ since she believes that every girl who goes to college ends up having an affair and a love marriage. What to do, blame the films of that era, I say. Misses a medical seat by 4 marks. Goes on to create a life for herself and her family like a balanced one that you have described above, even though her mother- and sister-in-law are quite the avenging angels. Tries to help her daughter get through a rough relationship, and when it doesn’t work out, stands by her while it is ended. Ever since I have started earning, I have helped my mother spread her wings out as much as she can, even if my father is not that supportive of her activities and tries to hamper them at any point. The fact that we can see the bluff and she can bulldoze through it has been awesome for her self confidence in the past few years.

    The two examples given above match the kind of women you talked about, but the fact is that frankly, these are actually exceptions from the women that I have seen of these two generations. My family through generations and extensions is still awed by the love marriage that my grandparents had, and there has been no repeat of the same since. My mother is the only female in her generation to have completed college – even my youngest aunt, and my eldest cousin, who are about 10 years apart, haven’t. My sister is the only postgraduate and the only person with an ended relationship behind her (I won’t use the word failed because I do see relationships that have failed but are surviving due to apathy or social pressure). My cousin brother’s wife works mad hours, their son being taken care of by his grandparents. Not that there is any compulsion or strain to raise a grandchild, but there is an underlying fear that if we don’t manage the grandson, our son and daughter in law will move out, and then what will happen of us.

    In essence, an emancipated woman is still a rarity even in my generation, because they and the generations above just decided that the push that is required for it is not worth the effort. The freedom that we see now amongst women is not so much a factor of being raised right, but more so of having much more avenues of exposure and observation of things around them. But that is a discussion that merits a different comment, and I still have four months of Cyber Nag’s blogs to catch up on.

    Regards,
    With extreme apologies for the massive delay in this reply,
    Grond

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    1. You are indeed fortunate to be able to observe, assimilate and talk about the strong women in your family. But tell me one thing, is the reason why these strong women have not been emulated in your family is because of societal pressures or because the girls feel that the efforts of blazing a new path is too hard? For that it is one reason I have personally seen among girls who are otherwise lucky enough to have all the opportunities to choose their path in life. It bugs me no end. Raising right means giving them the freedom to also take decisions and not sit and teach them the dos and don’ts of life, even while giving them support to do it.

      I am still waiting for you to do a post for me. you have so much to share and you do it so well. Think about it 🙂

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      1. I feel it is a combination of both – the fear of societal pressures (whether existing or not – that has never been gauged) and the lack of will to do so.

        If the situation at hand is not so bad, and you are satisfied with what you have, then, no matter how much ability you have to improve upon your life, these men & women don’t expend the effort to do so. A complacency has set in, perhaps. Not so bad in itself, since the measures for life that they have set are different from ours, and they have met the standards they set for themselves.

        On the other hand, the lack of will is a dangerous thing. Chances are, you may well end up in no man’s land in one way or the other if things go south. Luckily, or unluckily, cooler heads of the community do enter the situation to control it, but only when it has gone well south to be unresolvable.

        Have written to you about the guest post.

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  11. I like the balanced tone with which you have handled this issue. The truth and the learnings, stand out. We are generally used to reading stuff implying that the women can never go wrong and perhaps that makes this post even better. Looking forward to future posts on this topic. Why don’t you include the feminism / gen x woman – III in the title so that we know you have written on this topic?

    Destination Infinity

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    1. That is a compliment coming from a man! Thank you 🙂 We generally are so busy pointing at others that we forget that four fingers are pointing back at us. How many times when I have been exasperated by the L&M have I stopped to tell myself that only he could have put up with ME for so many years. And that introspection always helps. 😀

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  12. I would definitely want to read another post in this series as I think there is much more to the “activism” and real women carving a place for themselves in a real manner.

    I slightly disagreed with the opening lines, it is not a generation that was/is capable of opening windows or finding those chinks, there are people in every generation who think and operate like that and not straight jacketing can put constraints on them. It is an attitude irrespective of the generation gaps and all. I have myself seen people from different generations finding out those windows…myself including. Not only for gender issues. Darkness is just not an option.

    Understanding relationships is an important life skill, after all even the workplace also requires a balanced approach, a cool headed thinking and mature level of problem solving. Even a leisurely weekend picnic requires this life skill for that matter…if you are not picnicking alone that is.

    Misplaced enthusiasm, lack of direction and all the cloud and clout hovering over the heads of activists, is what is causing harm.

    Extreme individualism cannot be a way to live, although it looks right in the first glance.

    I am craving to read more of you on this subject…

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    1. How right Sangeeta! What I love about this generation is that they speak their mind even if they disagree. Darkness is never an option unless you want to let someone else take the responsibility for your life. It is the easy way out, in that case to blame someone for your situation. I have had aunts and other relatives who have done the widening of the chinks under extreme conditions and coming out on top. I agree that it is common to all generations but that generation opened a lot of windows for this one. today education is a right for every educated woman and all of them exercise it. whether or not they use it for furthering their economic independence or find the much needed outside influence is up to the individual woman. I had to fight to go to college and make so many compromises to do it. others were happy to get married because they found college studies intimidating. They took the easier option.

      Bang on about too much individualism too. Aren’t we part of a community? Or are we just an island? How long can we fool ourselves that the virtual world is real and find solace in it? And yes, it looks to be the right thing at first glance. That is why we had succeeded so unobtrusively. We didn’t believe in cutting of anchors and stays. We found ways around them and sometimes through them. Today it is ‘My way of the highway!’ And activists have always seen only the black and the white, but today relationship issues are being taken up by activists, which as you have rightly pointed out arises in all situations and has to be tackled in a mature way.

      I have a couple more lined up, but they might not be in the same series. But certainly address a lot of issues that are bothering the thinking group of both the generations.

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      1. Yes. Yes. Yes.

        Loved the way you put the darkness option. It is definitely a way for those who want to shun responsibilities and are always ready to blame someone else for the misfortune or for the non-achievements. Self pity is their dope.

        Would be waiting for the other posts.

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  13. You have done a neat analysis on the psyche of women who grew up in that era. I just want to extrapolate (and think/believe) that every generation had their own share of the Avenging Angels, Martyrs and balanced ones, just the proportion was skewed towards Avenging Angels and is slowly moving towards the balanced ones. What I am worried about is it shouldn’t go towards Martyrs… In everything there is always a middle ground/path and we should strive to achieve that. Right?

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    1. I wouldn’t agree about the Avenging angels moving towards balanced ones. In fact, they are still there in large numbers but the Martyrs are actually reducing in number if you look around. Balanced ones are not increasing as they did in our times either. That is what worries me and made me write this whole series in the first place. 🙂

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  14. I think I like this part of the series the best! It is excellent. I almost don’t want to comment but rather take it in–take in the lessons, take in the shift, and simply grow from the wisdom that this post embodies.
    Yet, can’t help blabbering…women trying to be men: this does get to my nerves. How can we embrace ourselves? The term “liberated woman” demands certain rituals to be accepted as one. How can we be liberated in our softness, compassion, empathy, and all our vulnerability?
    Next point of MIL and DIL. Yes. We women at certain level internalize inferiority so that we hold the man as the prize and fight for greater importance in his life by demeaning the other. When will we awaken and realize we as women need to have strong sisterhood–to support and love and validate each other?
    When will we as women realize our womanity?

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    1. You make the post sound more profound than it is, Bhavana and it humbles me. 🙂 It was just about how I have grown with the movement and formed my own perceptions. I am glad though that liked it. As for the MIL=DIL issue, do you really think it is only about inferiority and fighting over the male? I feel it is deeper than that — an ego tussle, a power struggle not just over the male but over power per se. This generation of women has to learn to find its strength quietly, imperceptibly and irrevocably. Nothing will be gained by just demanding or demeaning the other sex. Sometimes we have to take, as we had done.

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      1. I agree Zephyr. Nothing is gained by demeaning the other sex–they are as much oppressed by the system as we are. But women’s ego tussle is way more than the usual power struggle–it is, I hold firmly, the struggle to gain access to power which is embodied in the male. Not that male creates such a system or encourages it. But rather we have constructed ourselves around such beliefs. It is not even that we do this consciously, but it is that instinctive growl that you can see in an alpha male dog when another male comes into his territory. But women are not in alpha positions, they gain that power through the proximity to the male and by proxy they enter into power.
        Why, why is an MIL-DIL relationship more intense than FIL-SIL relationship?
        Anyway, this is how I read it…(while keeping my own Mom from badmouthing my SIL and hoping my SIL would not respond)..aah life:)

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        1. That is a very well argued case, Bhavana. I understand what you are saying. And in a way, that is what I had said too — the power structure goes beyond traditions and customs, to the evolutionary stage of hunter-protector and nurturer roles that men and women were put into. while we came out of it briefly at least in Eastern cultures, the traditionalists saw to it that we have gone back to those roles. it is now the fight of the female species alone, without the support of the society, which had helped in the first coming of the women.

          The FIL-SIL tussle is going to become worse than the other one in the not too distant future. Mark my words. 🙂

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  15. I loved loved loved the entire series..couldnt comment on the earlier ones but then in all I think what you wrote makes so much sense..

    the way you have gone through the ages and written about the women of the 60s and 70s…awesome..I think I respect my mother a bit more now 🙂

    We compromised, we used diplomacy, we showed displeasure but we slowly inched our way out of the straitjacket that we had been put into. – AWesome way to write about someone of your generation…I think this describes my mom to the T…except I think she adjusted instead of compromise…

    Guess like you said, everything is not black and white and life is definitely full of greys…

    This series sure have changed my thought process in some way …thank you 🙂

    Now, when are we having number 4?

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    1. We were women of ‘substance’ in more ways than one, RM and we knew we were worth it, even when the society was busy telling us otherwise. Our strength is in our vulnerability that we managed to turn into our strengths. We could survive even in a vacuum, remember? Oh, we all adjusted and compromised, and knew when to do what. You will get more posts in this series, but not as part of the series. Or else, mine will become a niche blog. I would love to keep it the way it is now — a bit of everything and then a half 😀 Hugs.

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  16. Very informative post. Helped clear some mis-conceptions. Will have to read through the earlier posts sometime soon.

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    1. Welcome here Ramakant. I am glad the post was able to clear some misconceptions. Of course it is not a chronicle of the times, but only my perception, but as I said, many like me coming from middle class backgrounds shared similar experiences and reacted similarly, making our stumbling way to freedom and empowerment. Do read the earlier two posts in the series as well as the links in the last one. They will provide a comprehensive idea on the subject. Looking forward to comments too 🙂

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  17. I am zapped .How did you describe my own growing up years so perfectly?It is certainly my loss that i could not connect with you before this—a blog to wait for!!

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    1. Hey Indu, welcome here! I am glad the post struck a chord in you. Waiting for more comments on other posts too. I am heading to your blog, right away. 🙂

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  18. A very interesting series. Classification into three groups is brilliant. This classification will help understand women better- from where they come.

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    1. The classification, as many have pointed out is possible because of the background, upbringing and individual thinking and perceptions, which is why it is wrong to blame something amorphous like the ‘society’. Even when lines were drawn more rigidly, so many of us managed to break free and chart our lives, which explains this.

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  19. You know, Zephyr, on reading the post (which was brilliant as usual), I am convinced that not much has changed with respect to the broad groups of avenging angels, the martyrs and the balanced ones. Maybe these groups are not blatantly or clearly recognisable as they were even a decade ago, but they exist wrapped under a cloak of sophistication.

    I feel that my generation from the 70s (what would you call our generation) is caught in a time warp and we are kind of neither here nor there. I see a bit of myself and that of my peers in every group that you have described.

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    1. The reason you see a bit of yourself in every group is because we are not cut into rigid types. Personalities like relationships are of many thousands of shades but there is some predominant characteristic in all of us that defines our types to a large extent. I liked the ‘wrapped under cloak of sophistication’ description, sort of closet avenging angels and martyrs, right? But the very fact that they are pressured into being pushed on the backfoot makes it a good omen for positive changes in attitudes, right? Yeesh, now I am sounding like an academician 😀

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      1. There’s no danger of you ever becoming an academician. And before you wonder, that is meant as a compliment 🙂

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        1. ..and I am indebted to you for that! 😀

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  20. We processed the experiences differently depending on the availability of information and the environment at home and Social circles. Some of us went with the flow and also watched people whom you describe pass by with flying colors. I could have .. was the thought that crossed the mind.
    We were also aware that we were exploited. WE knew what we could do, and did it with grace, by indicating in different ways, By bringing up children with quality time, by being magnanimous. And it paid, by way of admiration, and acceptance and by way of envy. Within no time, women were taking up jobs, left right and centre.
    Avenging angles are the dwindling species now, except on TV Soaps.:-) Can’t say that about Martyrs, they too become balanced after some experience.
    The conclusion has been drawn beautifully. I too sense that this group is a contented lot, not like their mothers who suffered and not like the next generation who have to charge at every opportunity .
    A pleasure to read and relate to Zephyr.

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    1. We did, and that is the main thing, wasn’t it? As for Avenging Angels, I loved Scribblehappy’s comment on that. While the MILs of this species is indeed dwindling, the DILs are taking up the role, often fed by myths and apprehensions. If we don’t strike, we will be made to pay, seems to be the defensive reaction. But our media wants to feed on this species making them larger than life, indeed far removed from life 😛 Charging is good if the goal is for advancement but not otherwise. The other things need to be taken, slowly, individually, one at a time, as the Gen X had done successfully. I am glad you liked it Pattu.

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  21. We take so many things for granted, blissfully unaware of the struggle our previous generations had to overcome. Imagine having to put up a fight to be able to go to college! But those who get freedom easily, do not appreciate it.

    And as daughters, mother’s and MIL we have to let go of the past burdens and learn to forget and forgive.

    Beautifully written, Zephyr. *respect*

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    1. You will be shocked to know what we had to fight for. College was one of the easier things. And the permission was so difficult despite getting a merit scholarship! Thanks to my brothers who persuaded my mother to let me study that I got to go, albeit a women’s college. I began writing this series because I found too many young girls and women talking as if Gen X is a bunch of losers who are torturing their DILs and being a burden while being regressive.

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  22. Beautiful analysis. It is fascinating to track down the values a whole gen grew up on… how they moved on from one gen to the next and how they brought (or rather still bringing) about a change in the overall outlook in the society. It is also interesting to see that though the basic struggles spanning over a gen remain more or less the same, the lessons taken out by an individual differ based on their upbringing, roots and line of thinking passed on by the earlier gen to them and how this then lays the foundation for the next gen and prepares them for their struggles with the society.

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    1. Some values were passed on, some we picked up along the way and some we got much later in life. But we learnt and put the lessons to practice, most of us that is. Every generation should do its best to learn and improve itself and its circumstances to the best of its ability. Nothing ventured nothing gained. and one can’t go on fighting for small things when bigger and life shaking things are out there threatening our very existence sometimes, right? The struggle continues and will continue till an equitable society emerges.

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  23. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this series of posts about Feminism of the earlier generation. My experiences were more or less the same as yours.

    I attended a co-ed college in Pune. A friend from my town attended an all-girls’ college. The first time I went to meet her, I was astonished to see some girls wearing ‘hotpants’ which was a BIG thing in those days! My friend told me that these girls were from very well-to-do, but conservative families. So they came to college wearing clothes that their families approved of, and changed into ‘modern’ clothes at college. They changed back when it was time to go home! 🙂

    I so agree with you about fnding a window/ crack to “make a change for oneself if not the society without revolt or bitterness”….

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    1. Tradition-bound families that laid too many restrictions on girls were the norm in those days, which is why the experiences are similar. 🙂 I had started wearing a sari from the age of 16 and till then wore the half-sari that south indian girls wore. Tired of wearing the sari, I had started the fashion’ of wearing the half sari to college. And lo and behold!Soon half a dozen girls were wearing an essentially ‘house-wear’ dress to college in Nagpur! 😀 Small victories, but sweet, nonetheless, weren’t they?

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  24. The ‘avenging angel’ mentality is so widespread, and not just in the MIL-DIL dynamics, that it would appear that it is ingrained in human nature–not many have the wisdom or the fortitude to rise above it, if left to their own devices.. Think, for instance, of the ragging that takes place in our educational institutions–the seniors make life hell for the freshers during the first few months, and the juniors go on to make life hell for their juniors when the opportunity presents itself, thus setting in motion a vicious cycle. Most people will try to avenge themselves, to varying degrees, unless a change in the ground rules prevents them from doing so.

    I am inclined to feel that the decrease in the number of ‘avenging angel’ MILs is due in part to the dizzying socio-cultural upheaval– whereby it is increasingly difficult to lord it over DILs and youngsters in general. Avenging angel DILs, on the other hand, continue to be just as common.

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    1. I liked the way you have extrapolated the post to include other relationships and see the changes happening around us. The ragging bit is a perfect example. Sadism is what it smacks of, isn’t it, to perpetuate something like this? While you are talking about Avenging DILs, I would like to add that double standards are used by even Gen Y. While as a daughter they might not sympathise with their bhabhis for tolerating their mother, they will complain about their own mothers-in-law and look for sympathy!

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  25. Very well written! The struggle the confusion still continues…..

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    1. They will continue with every generation but the method of fighting will remain the same. militancy in some issues, compromise and diplomacy in others. The end goal is advancement of the species in the broader perspective, not just narrow and cosmetic issues.

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  26. Bingo!!

    Well said!

    Wonderfully analysed!!

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  27. Hopefully, in this day and age, men and women try to reach for a level playing field, have a sense of humour and are good friends. Nine times out of ten, they are partners for life. Hitting out at either partner may well come back to hurt the other.

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    1. Very true. But today marriage is being increasingly seen as redundant by the educated, liberal younger generation and compromise as weakness. So where does the adjustment come from?

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      1. A partnership might not be on paper but it is a natural instinct. As for compromise, it is a highly developed skill, valued in personal life as well as in business as it shows empathy, understanding, the ability to move forward without getting stuck in a rigid stance – qualities of a well adjusted, non judgemental human being.

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        1. Very true Kayem. what is in a piece of paper when the sentiments are absent and the commitment missing, right?

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  28. Zephyr, this is a rare and comprehensive essay on the subject, even if controlled in length due to the format of a weblog. The narration is lucid across the length despite the gravity of the subject. This is, indeed, the saga of a generation that contrived to grow the saplings of change in tiny pots and vials, against many, many odds. It has been an uphill journey for sure, leaving many with blisters that are still sore. While they could have held their heads high for being the ones who set the ship moving, they chose to nurture the wrongs inflicted upon them, subconsciously allowing them to become monsters. Sadly, they seem to be the largest lot, as you say, and are “getting even” with their future counterparts. This post should be a revelation to the young, blind followers of such vengeful sirens that seem to be hell bent on squishing the tender tendrils of the society.

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    1. These are times when everyone wants things their way and RIGHT NOW, if you please. Militancy works on issues and problems, never in relationships and therein lies the tragedy. Mindsets can’t be changed by holding placards, but working at another level altogether. In Hindi they say patli gali se nikalna, right? Avoiding confrontations can help achieve more than fighting a pitched battle. To my mind, the most imperative need today is to hold all our elected women representatives accountable for the condition of women in the country. If these who are in power can’t help their sisters, why are they there? To amass wealth and hold power? And why would any law enforcing agency bother to lift a finger if their leaders don’t make them?

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  29. Great continuation to the earlier posts on the trials and tribulations of Gen X. I never thought so much of how difficult it might have been (it still is actually I ld say). Even though the mindset of men and families has changed so much, I see all around me still rooted in tradition the hand of the woman involved in every nitty gritty of household management just because the ‘husband doesn’t think of household things’. MILs still cringe if their sons are asked to help in household things and sons still think they are entitled to being molly coddled as their moms did. As though we girls weren’t pampered by our moms! You say all this is part of Gen X. I say even in my generation, the problems continue in their roots albeit to a lesser extent, in big cities. I doubt if things have much improved in smaller places.

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    1. did it occur to you that sometimes the nitty-gritty is borne by the woman because she might be a perfectionist or wants to be in control of things, or doesn’t trust anyone else to do them? I am planning a post on such women but you have to wait for it. 🙂 As for the sons and their mothers, you know which category the latter falls into, don’t you now? Sometimes women just realise the stereotypical image they have fallen into when it is pointed out to them. So maybe you could try that? It works. I have done it successfully 🙂 Look for and work at changes slowly and in a customised way.It is the best way to go ahead.

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  30. I agree with the lessons that you have written. Even today, if you want to be a pioneer, you have to be a rebel and make sacrifices at the cost of your family life. About lessons 2 and 3, how many of us are actually teaching our children to be independent? Kids are not supposed to do things around the house because they are studying harder. Bullshit! I studied much harder though it is another thing that I did not do anything around the house because of a full-time maid at home. So, it took very long for me to “learn” housekeeping. And even now, I am not as organized as many other homemakers. But, I am doing a good job of managing my home, my career and my family and yet trying to make my kids independent. Some women would not allow patidev to lift a finger at the risk of severely harming their health because of their conditioning or misplaced sense of being a “good” wife.

    I would end by saying that it is not so easy to come across a really balanced mil, but it is not easy to come across very balanced people in general. Most are carrying prejudices and misconceptions from their upbringing and are doing precious little to understand and change.

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    1. Those are the Martyrs Rachna. And every generation has to learn its lessons and this is possible only when the parents allow them to fall and pick themselves up. Otherwise they will only pick up the signals from their parents especially the mothers and perpetuate the tradition. But being a pioneer is hard and everyone wants an easy way out, so…

      You are right about people in general not being completely balanced and so would MILs. I used to think that they are not women, but maybe they are not even ‘people’? 😀 😀

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  31. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    I would want my DIL to read these posts…all 3 were well defined, articulate, well chronicled. Pearls of Wisdom!

    You are right, the girls have to learn their lessons and the mothers have to teach them…I feel a lot of responsibility lies on parenting.

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    1. Mothers can’t teach them unless they have learnt their lessons, can they? Otherwise they would perpetuate Martyrdom and the Avenging Angel stereotypes much to the harm of the society. Girls have to think independently not allowing media and other glamorous images to intrude into their thoughts. What works for one might not work for another. So each has to formulate their own thoughts and take decisions based on them.

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  32. This series is so informative and educative .. I am realy enjoyign reading them !
    And standing on the inside’ while ‘sitting on the outside .. is so very true ! I

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    1. I wouldn’t know about informative but I certainly wanted to share my own ‘education’ on the topic. And hey, coming from a JNU scholar, that is high praise indeed! Thank you 😀 The standing inside thing had been used by me since my teen years well into my adulthood till I could begin standing outside too. It is highly empowering, believe me 🙂

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  33. This is such a wonderful series of posts. I find myself nodding at so many things.

    One thing I have realized, is that, way back (40-50 years ago), a “balanced type” was really someone who defined her own boundary conditions, based on her upbringing , careful thinking, and observations of society, and took decisions without being revolutionary about it.

    We also had less media bombarding us daily . I see so many young people, meekly imitating standards around them dictated by magazines, TV et al. Then there is peer pressure. (We had it too, but then i never knew the meaning of peer, then )

    It was more of a continuum change in our time. gave us the time to think, adjust, wonder, and decide. Today its a bunch of unconnected societal standards, confused folks. Those who had some kind of no nonsense childhoods, probably handle things better .

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    1. Coming from a fellow Gen X woman, this comment is close to my heart. Thank you for stopping by. 🙂

      Today it is more of media images as you so rightly put it, which are confusing girls into discarding anything else as being retrograde and old fashioned. Individualism is sacrosanct to the exclusion of everything else. And you said it! A no nonsense childhood is certainly what grounds this generation, wherever they have had it, that is 🙂

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  34. Beautifully written! Wish I could double-promote! Superlike!

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    1. Thank you Deepa. Maybe you could ‘Like’ it on FB? 😀

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  35. Zephyr, you have taken through the era of changing times like turning the kaleidoscope to see the patterns change with time! This was serious stuff but so easily conveyed!May be I should write one on men as they changed tracks and became more homely at least in some cases with passage of time:)

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    1. Hey Rahul that’s a wonderful idea and who better than the ‘nostalgia expert’, which of course is you! I had a tough time writing these because of the sensitive nature of the topic and also because I am no feminist scholar, merely a woman who rose above the restrictions to, well….write this series today 😀

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  36. Most of the time I was nodding my head in agreement and few things simply went over my head. However, I am going to read all the posts in this series coz it’s really engrossing. So while I move onto the lighters stuffs I will be waiting for part 4 😀

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    1. That’s nice Debajyoti. I mean that you liked it and nodded in agreement most of the time. 🙂 Part 4 might not come any time soon, but you can read the related posts, which I linked this morning. The thread running through them all will be the same though the peg will be different in each.

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