A man will never understand what it feels like to live in a world that believes a woman’s destiny is to cook for her family, find a partner, and eventually attain motherhood. What if a woman can’t identify with one or more of these stereotypical expectations and definitions of a “complete woman”? What if a woman doesn’t want to explain her personal choices and is truly happy with them? What if a woman wants a partner or a baby but they haven’t happened in your life?
August is National Wellness Month. Wellness includes different components: physical fitness, emotional well-being, financial wellness, and mental health. All of these aspects of wellness are intertwined and impact how we women navigate the world. The road to gender equality remains long. But we can show sensitivity. Between societal conditioning, patriarchy, misogyny, and internal guilt. Women constantly have to explain themselves if they choose the path less traveled.
I am not asking you to be understanding of anyone’s choices; I’m urging you to stop with the judgment, unsolicited advice, and eye rolls, because not all women or their needs/wants are the same. Don’t say these three things to women, ever!
A good woman knows her way through the kitchen
I agree that eating home cooked meals is good for your well-being. You know exactly what ingredients are being used and when and how the meal was prepared. It’s easier to control portions and the likelihood of addictive chemicals in food cooked at home is below negligible. The emotion of the chef matters too — whether or not it’s made with love. How else do you explain the cappuccino tastes crappy on some days at your coffee shop despite being made by the same barista? But does it have to be the woman responsible for putting meals on the table?
For me, cooking is therapeutic. In Ayurveda, food is called mahabhaisajya, which means “the superior medicine.” Because my family eats and lives Ayurvedically, I experience cooking as a beautiful art and science. Instead of a chore, my kitchen feels like an art studio where the creative artist in me gets to combine/avoid foods and spices to yield not just good taste but also healing effects. Ayurvedic cooking is restorative, and it rejuvenates. Let’s be clear: I don’t believe it’s my job to cook and feed my family. At the same time, I don’t consider I am any less of a modern or feminist woman because I choose to cook fresh meals for my family every day.
I work in wellness and one of the first pillars of Ayurveda is ahara, which is diet. Ahara is responsible for the life sustenance of all living beings. You can maintain your health and prevent diseases for a long time if you eat the right food and follow the right kind of lifestyle as per your needs and in line with the seasons and cycles of nature. Freshly cooked meals prepared for your Ayurvedic dosha nourish our health. What we eat impacts how we feel. Our gut health is connected to our brain health. Food is medicine to me. My spice cabinet is my apothecary. But that’s how I choose to live, and it’s not the only way to live. I agree that cooking is a life skill. But it doesn’t need to be a quality that society uses to separate “sanskari” women from “incompetent” ones. Whether or not a woman chooses to cook … is between her and her partner. If she’s single, it’s only her choice that matters. Stop judging women who don’t cook for a myriad of reasons.
Having a partner completes you
India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world. Hang on! That doesn’t mean Indians have cracked the happily-ever-after recipe. Oftentimes, women don’t have a voice in Indian marriages or support of their families. There is the sanskari, legality, morality, and other rhyming bullshit women need to navigate along with religious pressures. When a marriage falls apart, brown culture blames the woman for not being competent enough: She was no good at running her marriage. Shame! Shame! Or, She was running behind her career, so the man found someone who would cook and clean for him. Wife isn’t an acronym for domestic help or your mother.
Even in the West, I have seen friends lose themselves to bad relationships and emerge happily once two people part their ways. I have friends who got divorced in their 30s or lost their husbands to illness in their 40s. The divorcees get suspicious looks and snide remarks. The widows receive unwarranted pity. No matter the situation, each one of them has been given solicited advice: You don’t look old. Marry someone so you aren’t alone in your old age. Everybody needs somebody to take care of them.
Some people are happily single. Deal with it. Some people are miserable even in a relationship. Stop defining how women should experience happiness. In the world of yoga, the first thing you are taught is to never depend on others to complete you. Having a healthy relationship is an asset, but it might become your downfall if you only see yourself from your partner’s eyes.
Motherhood is the biggest achievement in life
Women can go to the moon. Women can own boardrooms. Women can become teachers, lawyers, doctors, writers, healers, and just about any profession. But the patriarchal world lists motherhood as a woman’s biggest achievement. Some women choose to be child-free. That’s not selfish. Some women become mothers despite being mentally, emotionally, and financially unfit to take care of children. Abuse and neglect are common in those households. Some women are childless despite wanting to be moms. They are constantly made to believe that they lack the true essence of womanhood because they aren’t mothers. I have friends who have had miscarriages. I have friends who lost their babies within days of being born. I have a friend who lost her teenage son to a road accident.
You don’t know every woman’s story. You don’t need to criticize or comment on choices women make about their uterus. Not every woman’s life’s purpose is to have a child. Not every woman has regrets about not having children. Similarly, not every woman gets to be a mom despite wanting it badly. Not every child has a supportive and sane mother. I’ve heard people say that having a kid is like investing in your future; they take care of you when you are old. The same people never visit the elderly in their family. The same people who never bought a pair of shoes for their aging parents are so good at dropping these nuggets of wisdom. What values are they teaching their own kids? Fact: there’s no guarantee that your children will care for you when you’re old. So, that’s a ridiculous reason for wanting kids.
India turns 75 years old in a couple of days. If we could fight the British and gain our freedom, we can definitely free women from these unnecessary shackles of expectations.
“I raise up my voice — not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back” ~ Malala Yousafzai
For more of Sweta Vikram’s thoughts, check out The Balanced Life on SEEMA.com