Women are made to dream of it since before they are born. It is the be all and end all of their lives, the raison d’etre of their existences. It builds and builds in their minds like a festering sore and is so deeply embedded that even when it bursts (and burst it must because every balloon must), women refuse to believe it was all a lie, a lot of hot air.
Capitalism took one version of it and sold it to the masses, offering it as the illusion of control over one’s own space and life, even as it mined it in every possible way to keep any realisation of the fundamental exploitation of labour by the owners of the means of production out of view. It maintained private property through it, paternity, inheritance, possession, ownership and control.
Yet Engels was wrong to think that the working class is not enamoured by it and that organised revolution will make it wither away. The 60s saw the women’s movement almost expose it and yet all women did was to go back right to it, as though their lives lacked meaning without it. They clung to it and still cling to it which showed feminists like Juliet Mitchell that getting rid of it would require an engagement with the psyche. And that was much harder than the idea of a proletarian revolution.
If you have not got what I am talking about as yet, it is only because it is a given in your head, a transhistorical and permanent formation, the moment you are waiting for, or already inhabiting, even if the edges are fraying or the balloon has burst in your face a long while ago.
I am talking about marriage. The institution, the ritual, the dream, the desire, the money, the jewellery, the taam-jaam.
Recently, a woman was beaten to pulp by her husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law and all she wanted was to go back to the marriage. For the sake of the children, she said. They need a father, she said. Never mind that this father would kill both her and her two daughters. And no one would say a word. They would be ‘accidental deaths,’ perhaps. Behind four walls. Because marriage is private, family is private. They hit her in such private parts she could not bring herself to name them. But that was an open and shut case. Most readers will put it into the category of abusive marriages and will agree that they should end. But this is not a write-up on abuse. It is about the institution of marriage itself being a form of abuse.
Much more pervasive, and therefore more insidiously violent (because normalised), are the cases of ‘happy marriages’, where a woman is not beaten, is earning equally (or more than) her husband and yet take on their surnames (Priyanka Chopra Jonas – UN Ambassador and braindead, nationalist Modi-lover, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja – lousy fashionista and Daddy’s girl, Raya Steier – arch feminist warrior of our times), leave their careers to accompany their husbands abroad, take a sabbatical after motherhood or even permanently quit their careers. These women say they are happy. Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma claim to be feminists and better but are the most unthinking, sexist women in ‘happy marriages.’
The institution remains sacred to women, no matter what. The men cheat on them, beat them, rape them, enslave them, kill them. But marriage is all that matters. People who have meagre bank balance take huge loans only to get their daughters married. Women remain the cheaper commodity in the institution and so have to be weighed in gold and money and refrigerators and cars and then they match up to the glorious penis. And it is never enough. And so there are ‘accidental deaths.’
The men don’t give a fuck. They are all having sex outside anyway. Whether in their heads or in alien beds, ALL men cheat. Ab roz to koi daal roti nahin kha sakta, na is the refrain. Hopefully, some women are also trying some chicken on the side. Because monogamy is rubbish and no human can sustain it. But the labour of domestic work, child-rearing and the emotional evisceration of women’s lives does not make that very easy or likely for them to enter other beds. And that childhood dream of marriage does not go away. It was and is and remains the only purpose of their lives.
So they eat the daal roti and they stare at the cobwebs on the ceiling as their loser husbands grunt and groan above them, roll off and are soon snoring. They add sexual evisceration to their emotional evisceration and clean vessels with even more ferocity or destroy their children as revenge and as succour.
Sex worker Nalini Jameela asks three questions in her autobiography that I often put to my women students asking them who’d they rather be: sex worker or housewife. The sex workers does not have to cook or clean, can say No, and gets paid for it. The housewife has to cook and clean, can’t say No and gets no money for it.
They are silent and do not answer. The dreams of being a bride begin to burn at the edges.
But then all Nalini Jameela wants for her daughter is a conventional, happy marriage.
She fights tooth and nail for it.
The marriage fails.
But the dream never dies.