It is quite common to come across a feminist in your travels. This is far more common now than in the past. Women have so much to be proud of! I’m not saying I’m a feminist, but I have definitely grown to truly appreciate this incredible gender of these hardworking, fearless, poised and special people. It took me a solid 18 years to think long and hard about how women in America are treated… simply because women here are not treated badly. For the most part we’re treated equally, especially when comparing ourselves to India.
When traveling in India when I was 18, I lived with a host family for two months. Not only was this experience unusual and incredible, but very educational, as well. I grew very close to my host mom. She was definitely my comfort when I first moved into her house. She greeted me every morning and every night when I came home. All she wanted was to sit and talk with me, give me homemade chai, make me food, and buy me a sari and more. She could not have been more loving. She was the light of my life when those days in India got overwhelming and dark. She made me feel loved, and for that I am forever grateful.
Within weeks of being a new child to an Indian woman, I grew to understand that not only was she my comfort blanket, but I was hers. It became clear to me that she didn’t always feel comfortable even in her own home SIMPLY because she was a woman. Let me explain why:
In India it is common to have an arranged marriage. This is when two sets of parents meet one another, figure out that they’re of the same caste, figure out they both have children the same age (one male and one female) and together those parents arrange the marriage for their children. The “children” (I say “children” because they actually are! For example, my host mother got married when she was 17!!) meet one another on their wedding day and from there they start their life together. There are no divorces in India… so once you’re married to this absolute stranger, that’s it. It’s scary to think about it. But that’s what happened to my host mother- she had no control of her future.
Luckily, she was married to a very nice man, my host-father. But the issue is that the day after her wedding, she was forced to move out of her home and into the home of these strangers. She immediately lived with her new husband (a stranger), her new in-laws (strangers) and her sisters and brothers in-laws (all strangers). From the get-go, she felt like she truly did not belong. She would be in one room while her husband and his family were in another room across the house. You can imagine how lonely and sad that can get.
From what my host mother taught me, women in India are not treated with nearly the same respect that men are treated. She explained that woman have a purpose to just clean, cook, and make babies. The goal for a married couple and their families is for the wife to just have a son. If they have girl after girl, they keep trying until a boy pops out. This is yet another reason to lead me to believe that females in general are perceived as inferior and even less wanted than males.
Today, I couldn’t feel more grateful to live in a country where we don’t face these same issues. I feel lucky to not ever have to worry about being in a situation my host mother was in and I can make my own decisions about my future. My heart does go out to women like my host mother. I will always remember the love and affection my host mother showed towards me and I will always hope that our world becomes a more equal place.