Expert Speak

The prevalence of the ideal daughter-in-law stereotype

Old in New

As told to Raksha Bharadia

They say that in India you don’t marry a person, you marry into their family. Dr. Rima Mukherji, Consultant Psychiatrist at Woodlands Multi-Speciality Hospital, Kolkata, holds up a mirror to the prevalent churning taking place in our society – from the expectations the husband and in-laws have from the wife/daughter-in-law to the manner in which boys are still being raised.

The concept of who is a very good daughter-in-law is still judged by stereotypical characteristics that are determined by the boy’s family. They measure the daughter-in-law by their yardstick. If you are married, there must be a degree of adjustment on both sides. For instance, there is a married couple, where the working woman has chosen her own partner and the husband’s family is a little less liberated than the woman’s family. The moment she entered the house after marriage, she stopped applying sindoor (vermilion) and other symbols of marriage. She got into her capris and T-shirt at home before her father-in-law. The father-in-law took his son aside and said, “Your wife is a loose woman.” So the judgement is passed because she has not fallen under the stereotype.

So, the wife said, “You knew I used to wear Western clothes before I got married. You knew everything – but at that time you did not tell me that these are going to crop up as issues in your family.” And she went back to her parents’ house. An educated woman, who is being judged, tends to react. Sometimes, she tends to do what she wants to do.

The husband was completely confused. On one hand, he wanted a completely hip, hot girl to show off before his friends but the conflict at home was that his family considered the same wife to be a woman with loose morals. She did not have loose morals; she simply did not fit into a stereotype.

Related reading: It took 7 years for me to find acceptance, love and respect in my marriage

Yes, she does everything but…

There are very few families who would actually not crib about the daughter-in-law. They will always say it is her fault that she is not able to adjust. “Yes, she is very educated, yes she earns a lot of money, yes she is a corporate head, but she doesn’t take care of my son’s needs” (they will say).

Today’s men are a very confused lot. They continue to be pampered while growing up, and almost every family is patriarchal. By and large, men still have not evolved to the extent where they are able to handle a very modern woman with liberated views. And there also are huge double standards.

Double standards

The double standards are – “What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.” It is okay if he does certain things; if he has a lot of girl friends or if he wants to go on a night out with buddies (even if they are male buddies), and if he returns home at two in the morning, then this is not supposed to be considered wrong by the wife. But she cannot do the same because the husband feels; she is married to him and what people would think of her. It is still not considered nice if a woman is seen smoking and drinking. People are still very judgmental about those things.

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Men also do not know how to handle working women very well. Theoretically men are very happy getting married to working women, but they are not able to handle the consequences. For example, they are not able to handle the fact that their wives are not like their mother who was always there to provide them with everything.

It’s how you grow up

The values and attitude that you grow with, stay with you all your life. If you had a homemaker mother, then the boy would want a wife like her. Whereas a boy who has had a working mother in his life, is used to doing things on his own, is self sufficient and is far more adjusting.

We hardly come across a family or a boy child who has been told that if in today’s world where we are talking about equality and if you are living abroad and working or your wife is also working, then you better be self-sufficient at home, help your wife with the chores.

My mother keeps complaining about her daughter-in-law for no good reason

My in-laws’ remarks about my looks hurt me till I found my self-esteem again

My husband supported me when my in-laws turned against me


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