Me, Liberated? I Think So

January 22, 2009

I was having a conversation with sup33 the other day about names: maiden names and marital names (if that’s the name for the name of a woman who changes her name to her husband’s name after marriage – if you know what I mean).

I changed my name after marriage; sup33 didn’t. “Well you were only 24,” she said consolingly, implying that at that tender age I perhaps hadn’t quite thought things through.

But I had.

It’s true that I didn’t demand that Amit change his surname to mine; in fact, I didn’t even ask hypothetically if he would if I asked him to. I think he probably would have refused, and probably would have also said that I didn’t have to change my name if I didn’t want to.

But I wanted to.

For me, it wasn’t about bowing to tradition, or to Amit, or being subservient to his family, or to the laws of society in general. It was simply out of love for Amit, a sense of joy in my commitment to him by way of marriage, and a desire to proclaim to the world at large that we were man and wife. The fact that I felt no pressure or expectation from his side, that I felt quite sure I needn’t change my name if I didn’t want to, ensured that I had no qualms about doing so. And now, 11 years on, my maiden name is just a memory, while my marital name is who I am.

I did another little thing along with this change of name which, to anyone who knows me, might appear quite out of character.

Bengalis don’t have a mangal sutra; they have a ring, but it’s not the most important symbol of marriage. What they have is kacha-shaka – the traditional bangles, one red, one white, worn on each hand – that is, two of each, four in all. Well, my white ones got busted on our first night (symbolic, that, but not in the way it is intended to be) and were never replaced. The red ones lie neglected in some corner of some drawer at home. This, I’m sure, is not at all surprising to anyone who knows me.

But what might be surprising is what comes next. You see, Bengalis also have this metal bracelet thingy, sometimes decorated with a thin layer of gold, which is worn at the wedding and thereafter is never to be taken off until death do you part. This I do have. And, for some reason, I made a promise to myself when I got married that I would honour this tradition, and I have. I have never, ever taken it off since that day.

Of course I don’t know what superstitions are attached to taking it off prematurely, nor do I want to know, far less believe such things. Neither do I know or care to consider what I will do in the event that death do us part. But I took that bracelet as symbolic of my commitment, my marriage, and I chose to wear it always. It’s a part of me now, just as much as my hair, my glasses, and my marital name.

My point is that, if women’s lib dictates that I should automatically reject such customs, then I think that women’s lib is as restrictive as the very restrictions it sets out to free women from. For me, being liberated means being free to decide to do something, or not do something, purely based on my own choice. If I am secure about my equality and freedom in my relationship, then I don’t have to question whether taking my husband’s name or wearing a bracelet somehow makes me subservient to him or makes me his possession.

Does women’s lib mean that I have to shy away from doing something that I actually want to do, or don’t mind doing, just because it’s what I’m expected to do? If I am really liberated, can’t I choose to do something not because society ordains it, but inspite of that?

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