As an Indian woman, I never cease to be impressed with the gender-based myths Indian women are plagued with — they all have the remarkable tendency to make room for pity and humour at the same time.
I’ve lived independently for over 15 years now. I’m 29 and still not married. Yes, neighbours do ask my mother if I have trouble finding someone, but all she tells them is, “Why don’t you ask my daughter?”. I’ve travelled the world and had my most memorable trips when I went solo on my motorbike. I recognise that I am privileged, but my strengths are comparable to many Indian women, with or without advantage. Here are 8 myths about Indian women that need some serious debunking:
1. Our parents find our future husbands.
Yes, Indian matrimonial ads exist. So do real-time interactions at academic institutions, workplaces, and farming fields. In India, some choose their partners on their own, and others think that parents might know some decent guys who are worth a shot. It is regrettable that some Indian women are forced to marry, but there is no need to generalise that for all.
It might be worthwhile for those who only feel pity towards us to read about the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya where women are the primary decision-makers, inherit family property, and do not entertain arranged marriage.
2. We can’t travel alone.
When I was 15, I left India to attend United World College in Norway. I’ve traveled extensively around the world and I’ve met hundreds of Indian women who choose to travel alone. Two things we all had in common: self-reliance and happiness.
3. We don’t indulge in sex before marriage.
A significant number of Indian women fully engage in romantic relationships, have sex along the way, and spend quality time with their partners before deciding on marriage. Women in certain social and cultural settings may not have this opportunity, but India is certainly not the only country where premarital sex is frowned upon.
4. We don’t play sports.
Nearly 300 women train to excel in soccer in Alakhpura village, Haryana, a state typically known for restricting women’s rights. 11 of them have played nationals and there is one soccer player in nearly every home. Whether it’s Poorna, the world’s youngest girl to climb the Mt. Everest, or Sakshi Malik, an Olympic bronze medallist and wrestler, Indian women can be accomplished athletes, even in traditionally male-dominated sports.
5. We all want to get married and have kids.
When I was 25, the man I was dating asked me to marry him. I said no because I wasn’t ready. I wanted to travel, sing, write and ride motorbikes. Marriage seemed like a responsibility I could not bear.
On my trips, I’ve met a diverse set of Indian women: ambitious full-time workers, family-oriented full-time housewives, balance-seeking part-time workers/full-time housewives, and whatever-works full-time nomad. All of them seemed okay with what they were doing.
6. We don’t have professional careers.
Indian women have excelled as entrepreneurs, CEOs, and CFOs of some of the biggest names in diverse industries. Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi; Naina Kidwai, Country Head of HSBC India; Kiran Mazumdar, CMD of Biocon Limited; or Priya Naik, Founder & CEO of Samhita Social Ventures. I bet they didn’t take any of the gender stereotypes seriously while growing up.
7. We are timid and traditional.
When I was told that I could not ride a motorcycle, I bought a Royal Enfield 500cc and taught myself how to ride. I like to wear summer dresses, and have occasional drinks with men. Does that sound timid and traditional to you?
All the women I know, including the ones who live the tough reality of discrimination at home, are fierce and unconventional. Let’s not forget that Indian tradition also embraces Shaktism — the supreme power of the feminine.
8. Mothers only want baby boys.
My single mother has four daughters and I often hear her say, “I’m blessed to have daughters like you.”
My mother moved away from home because she didn’t feel valued as a 29-year-old unmarried woman in her small, rural community back in the 1960s. Today, she is proud to be independent and to have raised daughters by giving them complete freedom and choice. There are plenty of Indian women like my mom, you just need to look beyond the gender stereotypes you see the world through.