Saturday, August 20, 2011

Am I too feminist, or is it just a class thing...?

With a slightly sheepish smile he explained, "she was talking to her husband." I didn't know whether to be grateful for even that slight sheepishness on my behalf, or to be angry at him for assuming a controller-controlled relationship between my husband and me :D

This was a friend of mine explaining to the ultra-chic saleswoman in a shop at a mall in Bangalore, why I refused to buy a handbag priced at 600 bucks and chose a bead necklace costing me 200 instead. We had spent some time looking for a suitable gift for a friend of mine - from ear-rings, necklaces to handbags and headphones. It was apparently a more embarrassing and less frequent experience for him to refuse to buy at malls because things were priced at rates higher than he could afford to pay. For me, it has been an inevitable part of my mall-experience whenever I've been coerced into entering one; it's also my husband's and my long-term loan-free-survival strategy! For we rely on research stipends to keep our brand-new li'l family of two afloat :) And at the time I wasn't even earning the PhD stipend I am entitled to now, so ours was a single-income unit. But, it was not just because of our low-income attitude towards life and family-life; it was also because of an ecological one, that I was discussing this purchase with my husband over my cellphone, asking for his okay. We both believe in the need to cut down on human-consumption and on keeping it as environment-friendly as we can. So we generally get both parties' approval when shopping for anything.

However, my friend, though completely aware of the chauvinism-free nature of the relationship between me and my once-boyfriend-now-husband, was more bothered with his ruined reputation as a capable customer than of my ruined reputation as an equal partner in my marriage. 

At first glance it seems like I am making a big deal out of something which concerns a third person who doesn't even have any permanent role to play in my life at all. But, I was irritated when I realised that he'd offered that statement as an explanation of our refusal to buy something we apparently liked and which was our first choice. You see, it is very simple: we might be shopping in a high-profile mall which of course represents the 'progress' Bangalore, and in turn the nation, has made, and the essential steps India is taking to become a global superpower (tell me, what stupid country can boast superpower-status if it were devoid of those highest achievements of human malls?!), but it is always absolutely acceptable that a woman, a wife cannot buy something she likes simply because her husband has said an irrevocable "No".

What is not acceptable is that someone who is part of this aspiring-superpower empire (read, a white-collar employee serving India Inc.) which finds its reason and achievement in increasing purchasing power of individuals, should be seen as being incapable of buying something simply because it is beyond his finances. It is important to be seen as a legitimate member of that class for which shopping malls are the cure of all ills - from bad moods, and lack of individuality to the need for entertainment, and upward social mobility. But it is unimportant if women associated with them - sisters, friends, mothers, aunts or daughters - are seen as unequal partners in their relationships with their partners/husbands/boyfriends.

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