How We Can Be Successful Feminists in a South Indian Patriarchal Culture

Hi everyone, we are coming up on 6 months of married life and so far so good!  Sometimes, I feel like we have have been married for longer and when people ask how married life has been I think to myself…the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today I wanted to talk about a special topic that I have been made acutely aware of since joining Nelli’s family and the interracial community…I’ve always known I was different because of my race(s) and religion but since being married; the values and practices that me and Nelli followed since the beginning of our relationship became more apparent.

I had originally written the title as “Being A Feminist in a Patriarchal Culture” but the more I wrote about my experiences, the more I realized that both me and Nelli are feminists.  Nelli is the type of person that says “Hey, I’m going to this women’s march, wanna come with me?” or “Let’s go to this Black Lives Matter Vigil.” Our ideals start at home but we make every effort to not let them stop there.  I am truly lucky to be married to such a progressive loving husband 🙂

  1.  Traditional Household Duties
    • Cooking – When some people get married, some ladies fire up the stovetop and move from making scrambled eggs for dinner to making elaborate 5 course meals from scratch.  I’ve always been an average cook and unfortunately being married hasn’t changed that haha.   However, Nelli loves to cook and makes most dishes himself, sometimes I eat what he eats and other times we cook our own meals or prepare a plant based meal together.  Nelli has inspired me to eat healthier and work out and I have definitely noticed a difference in my overall health.  I just took a physical test and my numbers are even better than they were two years ago!
    • Household chores – When it’s time to clean the house or do the laundry, I usually turn to the professionals.  In Indian culture, it’s not out of the ordinary, to have a maid and this is a practice I gladly accept.  Nelli and I both have stressful jobs that sometimes require long hours so it’s nice to have services that allow us to spend our free time doing fun things.  For daily chores, Nelli takes care of most things like laundry/dishes only because he’s one of THOSE people that have to make sure the dishwasher is loaded correctly aka HIS way and the whites are their own load in the washer (sigh…lol).
    • Finance Management – This is my wheelhouse!  I love taking care of the day to day budgeting, bill payments and saving.  One of the perks of being married is JOINT ACCOUNTS!  MUAHAHAHA! His money is mine!  Just kidding.  I like joint accounts because I don’t have to pester him when I’m doing my monthly tracking – Every year, I like to set goals, monitor the progress and move money around to different savings accounts (individual and joint).   One thing that I do give credit to Nelli is doing our taxes and long term saving goals like 401Ks, I don’t really have an interest in that.
  2. Personal Identity
    • Naming Conventions – I have decided to keep my last name to honor my family lineage even though I am married.  In American culture, it’s still a wide practice to take your husband’s last name and Indian culture is no different.  I even see Indian women in his family take their husband’s first name as their middle name.  I like the sentiment of when somebody gets married they become one unit and I believe that to some extent but I still feel like we can work together and retain our individuality.  According to this article “Women were forbade to keep their last names a short handful of decades ago, under the premise that the wedded couple were viewed as “one person” by the law. That one person was the husband, whose identity superseded the wife’s. He was the sole person who could vote, hold property, go to law, etc. In fact, it was only in 1972 that every United State legally allowed a woman to use her maiden name as she pleased.”
    • Stay at Home vs. Working Mom – Currently, I’m one of two ladies out of 12 women in Nelli’s immediate family that is a working woman.  (Off topic:  WOW…I have 2 women in my immediate family, I come from a very small clan).  Back to the subject at hand:  I do not have kids but when I do have a family (God willing), I will continue to work.  I’m super proud of my education/career and my job in particular gives me a lot of satisfaction.  Education is very important in South Indian culture for both men and women but it seems like careers take a back seat when a woman starts a family and I think you can balance both?  Stay tuned…haha. One thing that I love about Nelli is he is proud of my career accomplishments and pushes me in my career and my passion projects.  I wouldn’t have made it this far in my career if it wasn’t for his advice or encouragement.  He even proof read and gave me his opinion on this blog post.
    • Sindoor/Jewelry/Hair/etc – This may seem like a silly category but it’s really applicable in Indian culture.  During my wedding ceremony, my makeup/hair artist (Jirehartistry) told me how often she does Indian weddings where the groom has a distinct opinion on the hair/makeup styles of the bridal party.  Even when getting our nails done before the wedding, my MIL told me she got her nose pierced shortly after getting married because Mr. Nelli told her to because he thought her nose was too big.  I really liked this time getting to know her better but it did give me an insight into the interesting decision making process of patriarchial families.  Nelli loves my body but recognizes that the decisions I make regarding it are mine alone. I also touched on traditional married women accessories and my thoughts on them here.

DISCLAIMER: I still have a long way to go in terms of developing a meaningful relationship with Nelli’s family members and getting acclimated to the culture.  I also respect and admire their dedication to family and I  believe the first tenet of being a feminist is to support women regardless of their personal decisions.  This is my personal experience and this is NOT a guide on how to live your life.  NOT doing these things doesn’t mean you are not a feminist or anti-feminist…do things that are empowering to you!  If you feel a woman SHOULD do the things that I mentioned I don’t do, then we will have a problem.  I would love anybody’s feedback on this post, in terms of how marriage has or hasn’t changed you or what traditions you value and why.

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