Exploring Patriarchy – Chapter 13
Indians respect the elderly. You’ll hear this repeated time an again in media and in conversations. It’s true. Some respect elders so much that they do things for them all the time. And this can take away personal independence, and health that comes to elderly who hang on to it.
Growing old can make one’s world smaller and the faster pace of the world outside can make elderly anxious. This is more so for those who lack independence I think, because leaning on others on a daily basis takes away one’s confidence.
Technology has changed daily living so much these days that many elders just aren’t able to adapt. Even a simple thing like listening to music which can bring so much joy has gone digital. Technology can help build bridges. But it also isolates those who can’t keep up.
The home manager often bears the brunt of elder anxiety as she’s the one who spends the most time with elders. In many families, she is the only one who helps them navigate an ever-changing world. And it can be so exhausting, it makes her give in and live by rules guided by their anxiety.
MM knew many women who gave up evening walks with their friends, and actually stopped activities that kept them out beyond 6.30pm, because it made elderly anxious. Or had to negotiate and convince elders of their safety every time they went out for a few hours. Because elders, actually insecure without them, would translate this insecurity into a worry for their safety.
MM knew other home managers who didn’t give in as elder anxiety grew. Some of these women would tell white lies in order assuage elder anxiety so they could have a life, because negotiating was often ineffective. And was a long and very stressful process when effective. Lying was a survival skill that helped them have a life, but it exacerbated the decline that age brings, as it distanced elders from the reality of the world around them.
Talking back is considered disrespectful. And it is not generally known that there are many paths between this disrespect, and surrounding elderly with a false reality. Or maybe it is known, but these paths are taken by few because they aren’t very easy to walk.
Also, society deals with this issue by rewarding women who give in. With admiration. MM knew many women had been carried away with this praise, and therefore created barriers to solutions even when solutions were easy and simple.
She realized that all these rules stemming from anxiety were aimed at women, and not so much at men in the family. The income of the men was valued as it was seen as necessary, and therefore, even at times when anxiety was at it’s peak, men were left out of the equation.
MM felt this was because elders, even when anxious, gave priority to the earning capacity of men as they saw it as essential. And therefore were interested in men in the family getting rest, recreation and support so they could continue earning. The rules were for the women because their income wasn’t considered essential. Or because they didn’t earn. Rules particularly for the women who couldn’t get away, because looking after the elderly was their role in the family.
People often think that giving to these rules is respect for the elderly. Forgetting there’s a price for it. A quicker decline for the elderly. And a frustration that affects personal relationships between the home manager and her family – especially her husband. And that this affects her health and the happiness of all.
Then, there’s the price to be paid by the next generation of women, as the home managers ideas on how she should be respected as she gets older, make her dis-respect the rights of her daughters or daughters-in-law to live. But not those of her sons.
It’s odd and yet very typical that elder anxiety should put curbs on one gender and not the other. MM and her husband would break this system because, unlike many Indian families, they would look after parents from both sides of the family. And this would need both MM and her husband to make time for elder care.
Respect for the role of a man would bring an appreciation for his time that MM would not receive for hers. And MM’s husband would step in when elders tried to stop MM from having a life. And THIS, would change things for MM.
MM and her husband both knew that self-sacrifice of the woman has a price. They had spent enough time talking with elderly who lost mobility and a grip on reality much before their time, because of acts stemming from respect. They had seen the suffering – physical, mental and emotional, that comes with this. And knew this price was paid by the elderly in blood whether they wished to pay it or not.
Then, there was the more personal. The inevitable decline in the quality of a marriage that stems from this gender based discrimination.
It was a price MM didn’t wish to extract from her husband and a price he did not wish to pay.
We Have to Pay the Piper
We have to pay the piper for all that we have got if we don’t pay up when it’s due it’s gonna cost a lot. He’s the one who sees the things we hide - the one who keeps the score and when he thinks our payment’s due he’ll knock our every door. He keeps account of everything and knows what’s in our hearts helps us when it gets too hard and we’re falling apart. We pay up when his bill is due if our parents raised us right 'cos there has to be a balance. Really, there are no free rides. We all will pay the piper whether we want or not it’s better though to pay on time, else it will cost a LOT.
Thanks so much for reading this. I’d appreciate feedback on whether the story of Microwave Madam gives this poem more meaning or makes the social issues behind it easier to understand.
I invite you to read all chapters of Exploring Patriarchy and walk with Microwave Madam as she explores the impact of patriarchy on her life and on society. And looks for solutions.
4 thoughts on “Respect Dis-Respects | We Have to Pay the Piper”
It takes a lot of courage to break a cultural cycle! In the end the family benefits – a marriage is strengthened, the senior family members remain productive and independent, and the children have a more balanced view of aging and responsibility… hopefully taking that point of view into the following generations!
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Yes it does take courage to affect change from within the family. And seeing senior family members aging with independence changes ones view on aging in a very positive way. Thanks for writing in.
Excellent piece. Its interesting that the situation you have described is widely prevalent, but rarely considered a form of patriarchy. You are totally right about women being the ones expected to take care of the elders while the men have it easy. If only the man were understanding and came forward to help the woman.
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Thanks so much Vignesh! A lack of respect for caregivers is very much an outcome of the value system of patriarchy I feel. Yes, this situation is prevalent in all families I know or know of.