>"But you don’t look married!"

You bet I don’t because when I got married, I didn’t also go for plastic surgery! I’m sure you didn’t either, then why are married women expected to look a certain way?

Why is it that the symbols of wedlock must only be displayed by women in the form of sindoor and mangalsutra, bangles and bichiya while no one even notices the wedding ring on the men? I find it amusing when sweet, plump, inquisitive aunties check you out head to toe to find that one sign that will give away your marital status, if the girth of your waist doesn’t.

Over the years, I have consistently forgotten to wear the sindoor and I have no mangalsutra to flaunt. I wear the bichiya when it suits me and for reasons that have more to do with fashion than anything else. I have put on some weight since I got married almost six years ago, but ever so gradually that most people haven’t noticed it! And therefore, I get that line often, “But you don’t look married!” Not that I’m trying to look single, but I don’t think I need to look married either. I mean, if you know me you would know I’m married and if you don’t, how does it matter?

I’ve often thought of carrying a placard with me stating I’m married since I don’t look it and since people so want to see all married women to look it! Of course, all the while I think that, I have my tongue in cheek, so you needn’t worry about me ever really doing that!

What’s more amusing is that no one will so much as give a second glance to a man to check out whether he’s married or not. The mister will always just be mister – single or otherwise. But even the telephone operator wants to know when you give your name whether you’re Miss or Mrs! Does it make a difference? Is there a thought process behind this inquisitiveness or is it just conditioning?

Could it also be that this is a culture-specific thing? I remember I knew even as a child that a woman who was in a pale-hued saree and not wearing a bindi must be a widow. So it works both ways: while married women are supposed to dress a certain way, widows are also expected to dress a certain way. And to what purpose, I wonder. Why does the society need markers to demarcate married women from single and widowed women? How does a woman’s marital status affect her social status? And how does that affect discrimination against her?

Answers, anyone?

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47 responses »

  1. >First up, whats a bichiya??Secondly, its a cultural thing.. In fact, I wear a mangalsutra because the DH likes me wearing it – but he does not force me to do it.. However, when I leave the house, the MIL checks my neck & asks me indirectly, if I have forgotten something.. Sigghhh..In fact, when the MIL underwent a major neuro-surgery earlier this year, I went to visit her in the hospital where she was in ICU and the first thing that came out of her mouth is, where are ur toe-rings??On the other hand, I find a lot of female friends who like flaunting their marital status and when they find someone who does it, it makes them judgmental..Its not about being married or not, for them its almost like an identity crisis if they are not identified as Mrs, XYZ, ABC's wife!!

  2. >I've also been subjected to that comment time & again coz I too do not flaunt any of these "signs" of a married woman. It's fun. Of course there are downfalls coz men do tend to make a pass butthen their jaws drop when I tell them that I have a 5 year old too. These days people are breaking free from these signs except in the "Saas Bahu" serials.

  3. >Let me be the 3rd. one to ask you – what is a bichiya?While widows are supposed to wear white and eat vegetarian food (at least in Bengal), widowers don't have to do anything i.e. they can continue with their 'normal' lives…In Bengal, widows can't attend weddings etc. as they are considered unlucky while widowers can (they are not considered unlucky because only their wives have died who are not important in the grand scheme of male things)…I too have been told that I don't look married or my age…

  4. >@Dee: Sigh indeed! After my marriage, I was so uncomfortable in my 'chooda' (the red bangles that newlyweds are expected to wear), I wouldn't be able sleep all night. So I thought I'd take them off since the bangles weren't anyway visible because of my sweaters and jackets. My MIL noticed I'd taken them off and asked The Guy to tell me put it on for at least 45 days! I had swelling in my arms because of them. @Hitchwriter: Oh well, then join the club!@Monika, Ansh: I don't think it matters any more whether you're married or no in order for someone to make a pass at you. But if it works, well, good!@I scribble here: Will read that.@Sraboney: That makes the two of us then!

  5. >Oh, I get a LOT of that too. Mostly disapproving. And not only in the symbols of marriage but also that i dont "BEHAVE like a married femme". Viz. i dont sit around coyly with aunty log, i dont blush every time the husbands name is mentioned, i run down the stairway taking three steps at a time instead of walking daintily down etc. oh and the bichiya thing, i kept on tripping over it so i dont wear that ( the spouse only told me to take it off coz i was a hazard to myself), and dont wear bindi or any of the trappings. I am a bad, bad patni. We should start an association. wait, maybe we should start an association for those who disappove of us.

  6. >Right? Like you are supposed to grow horns or something when you are married! I think people are taken aback when they don't see a mangalsutra on me…or any other trappings associated with married women! I have also had people say I don't 'act' married and that I and the husband still seem like friends. Well, guess what? We are friends!

  7. >hehe! i never got i dont look married because i look like an aunty in any case! :pbut apart from that i dont wear any of these symols either. i did initially. then cubby broke two my mangalsutras when he was a baby and would keep pulling at it. and then i just never bothered! like the cynic above, i could never manage toe rings so gave on em real soon! ow i have this big mangalsutra that i wear on weddings etc! thats that! :)but yes most people at our shaadi said bahu acchi toh hai par bahot hasti hai aur bahot bhaagti hai! :pi am guessing another two generations till some of these perceptions change! :)and the whole widow thing is really upsetting. you can give them flowers or put teeka on their forehead. i have had times when they would suddenly shirk back saying no i cant and i would get so mad and embarrassed at the same time! :(abha

  8. >:) I get that too and take it as a compliment.. Actually come to think of it: My husband gets this: you have put on weight – fatherhood has that effect.;)

  9. >This reminds me of an incident that happened to a friend's mom. They were at a wedding and some over-inquisitive stranger aunty came around and asked the Mom if she was interested in getting married. Jaws dropped and all that and the stranger aunty offers a 'But you don't look married! as an excuse and walks away.

  10. >I can so relate to it. Because for 5 yrs tht I was with my In-laws, I had a "suhagan-check"every morning before I left for my work:-)sindoor – checkbangles in hand -checkbichiya -checkmangalsootra – checkrings – checkand hubby dear was able to get a free pass every time. And I hate these things, when they are imposed on me. I can wear any of these on my own any day, but If I know someone wants to forvce these on me, I can come up with 101 reasons to not to wear these !!Now that I am in US, I wear them at my own liberty, when I want to wear them, not to prove to some one !!

  11. >Well I know what is bichiya because my mom never took hers off until an year ago… and because I never wore them. No sindoor, no bangles, no mangalsutra, no tali either. This question I too was asked but haven't been now for a while. Everybody wants to know the personal details of a woman's life. I like your questions. And I am very curious to know why men don't need to display their marital status? Just like I'd like to ask if Managalore pub molestations were a protest against liquor then why was liquor served to kawariyas.Good post D

  12. >Culturally, I think the reason why a woman is supposed to display her marital status is because she has worth only because of her marital state. Unmarried women and widows have not had any "worth". So it was supposed to be a badge of honor.Men, on the other hand, are elevated regardless of their marital state, because they have always had status- such is the patriarchal deal. It is not every culture specific, widows and unmarried women have been looked down in all cultures- but in the East Asian sense , it carries more stigma, because women have traditionally been more powerless.For women who take pride in displaying their marital status, I wonder if they would if they knew the associations these traditions have.

  13. >I don’t wear any of the married symbols…Simple because it doesn’t go well with the dress I am wearing :-)For such customs, I think – To each his/her own …I am in the US right now and I can’t even think of wearing a thick gold chain and sindoor with my suits …Actually there r very few Indian working women who wear sindoor to work (I have a mallu Christian frnd – who wears sindoor to work in the US .. she doesn’t need to as per her customes..But she thinks it is cute and always wanted to wear one and now that she is married she wears …)Most women wear a thin gold chain which can be considered a mangalsutra ..I also don’t wear Wedding ring – my answer to qns regarding the ring .. it is a western concept and I am Indian ..:-)As you know – wedding ring is a big deal over here and ppl are shocked when they come to know that I am married and still don’t wear one ..My answer to them is – anybody who knows me knows I am married ..And if I am meeting someone new, my hubby's name keeps popping up in the conversation that they will get to know that I am married in 5 mins !!!…But I think the topic of MIL and DIL’s married symbol is something else …MIL thinks her son’s long life depends on the DIL wearing those symbols..;-)Even in India I mostly wear skirts and jeans and think mangalsutra doest go well with those dresses..Once my MIL commented among neighbor aunties ( I was also there .. more in a fun way ) that I don’t wear mangalsutra and how married women are not supposed to take that off at all and my SIL will never take that off etcThen my neighbor uncle commented “But when you go on your early morning walks you take that off fearing chain snatchers-right’???That was so funny …-ANAMIKA

  14. >Hopped over from Dee'sGood for you ladies who dont look your age :)*Sigh* I'd never looked that way and the moment someone befriends me I am like all yakkity-yak about my daughter and all. In my mind I know I should stop, but yeah I am working on it.On the signs – no sindoor, but toe-rings yes because my mom got me really pretty ones. Mangalsutra, yes. Actually I have this heavy chain for mangalsutra, I dont feel comfortable keeping it back home for the fear of losing it….I've had the history once before when an ex-maid flicked some gold off me 😦

  15. >Oh yes, I have faced the same comment so many times, and I have felt like saying the same thing that you put in your blog: am I supposed to wear a placard or what? I just don't get the whole concept of how I am supposed to 'look' like if I am married! Am I supposed to change anything in myself, the way I look, dress, feel, behave? And if so then why?

  16. >Good post. Contemporary and relevant in the era of globalisation and cultural conflict."Making two unequal things equal is also an inequality "….I read this quote somewhere….Instead of sticking to isms of who is superior/inferior to whom, as u said, one should respect other's individuality, space and choices made in life. Regarding the cultural bearings of married women,i think it should be followed by choice/interest rather than by rituals and formalities.

  17. >@Cynic in Wonderland: Oh yes! There's that too – about not behaving like a married woman… Absurd.@Mumbai Diva: I remember my grandmother wouldn't have my mother with bare arms even for a second. Even if my mum had to change bangles, the bare wrist was hidden below the saree pallu! I'm so glad the world has changed at least a little bit and there are no such expectations from me!@Shilpa: 🙂 Can you imagine how many of us women are not wearing these symbols of marriage? And still the world looks at us strangely!@Abha: Yes, I think another two generations should change the world completely :)@N: LOL! Poor hubby 😦

  18. >@Purely Narcotic: I've heard that story for my nani who got a wedding proposal on her eldest daughter's wedding!! I love my genes 🙂 :P@Dil Se: 😦 I would have revolted against all that checking!@IHM: Now, what's a tali?@UTP: Personally, it may not matter. But sociologically, it matters a lot.@Alankrita: Yes, I understand that. A woman's identity is derived from the relationships with the men in her life – the father when she's single and the husband when she's married. And it's this precept that I find objectionable.@Alankrita: Like I said, I wear the toe rings only because they're in fashion. When I was on my honeymoon, I even took off my chooda because I didn't like how I looked in a swimsuit with all those bangles on my arms!@Sowmya: like I said, it's not that I want to hide my marital status but I do not understand why I need to wear it like a label all the time. It's quite alright if someone asks me if I'm married but why expect me to dress up or behave a certain way because of it?@Ninia: Because it will make it easier for people to slot you. That's why.@JLT: I agree. Have seen my aunt give up so much colour in her life because she's not married. Makes no sense at all.

  19. >D, the only thing I always wear is my loha bangle (its a Bong symbol for married women but not too many know it here up north and looks more like a plain kada on my left hand) on the left hand and my wedding ring (which also I'v not bneen wearing for somtime cuz I'd cuz my finger and couldn't wear it).I wear sindoor only on family occassions (cuz my husband likes it and its easier than dealing with a thousand comments of why I'v not worn and that's on my side). His side – they onyl wear bagles on both hands and mabe a chain at the most – that's it.So I'm quite chilled out and most people who meet me for the first time don't know that I'm married 😛

  20. >I guess a woman's marital status was part of her identity in well, times of yore 🙂 I know some elders force these so called 'marriage markers' on women even today and I hate that… Its' a woman's wish whether she wants to wear them or not. I have heard this story that bichiyas were first worn by men as a sign of marriage! They wore toe rings bcause it is a sign especially for women as women walk looking to the ground! Men have always been men. Haven't they!? Women were just property owned by their fathers or husbands…Sigh.I wear my mangal sutra and ring even here in the US not because someone forced me to, but because I like to wear them. If i were in India I would love to weat the sindhoor not daily, but at least during special occasions 🙂 !

  21. >Well – I have been told this, too, in addition to I don't look like a Bong and I don't look my age. I don't wear sindoor, mangalsutra, or the customary loha that bengalis wear. I don't ever wear a chain, bangles or earstuds at home. I use my maiden name. I wear the loha and sindoor only when I attend a puja. I don't really care what anyone says – I am comfortable and happy this way.

  22. >My story is exactly the opposite!! Since no one wears sindoor,'shankha-pola', mangal sutra anymore, people actually ask me why I do!!! I get that a lot! 🙂 I`ve thought about it plenty, esp as my sister doesnt wear any of this and goes to extreme lengths to make her stand very clear. I wear it because I like it. I like the feeling that comes with it. The G wears a wedding band too. So it doesnt really bother me, why any other male does/doesnt wear 'symbols' while other women wear or do not. But if I think of it more clearly, I know it is yet another manifestation of gender inequality, under the garb of unrealistic traditions!I missed reading you, D! 🙂 But I`m back!

  23. >@Mahesh: 'Choice' is a very loaded word in this context. Why do women have to choose between whether they want to or don't want to follow traditions such as those I mention, while men have no such choice to make?@Supriya (I miss SMM): I know the loha bangle you're talking about because I have Bong friends, but yes, a lot of people don't know it's a symbol of marriage. @Jira: First of all, welcome back!! 🙂 🙂 Where have you been?!As for bichiyas on men, really?? I mean, really??@Mystic Margarita: Ditto for me.@Piper: Where have you been?! I missed you too!@Tripti: Thank you!

  24. >@ D,Hi,I agree that men do not have such choice and women shoulnt too.I am talking about those women who are fine with having the choice( may be because thet dont know about the concept of choice )Good post indeed 🙂

  25. >This is a follow-on of years of a woman being defined by the man in her life. Who at varying points are the father, husband and son. And though these things have no value now, where people like you and me, don't flaunt symbols as part of our marital status, the deeply ingrained mindset in the society, expects a woman to still announce her marital status loud and clear through such smybolisms.

  26. >We left for US right after getting married and went back home for a trip after a year or so. While going to bed at night I said good night to my mother n law and she said "no bangle in your hand?!!" I said "I need to sleep comfortably, it hurts me" She said "beta, its a matter of habit, you will have to do this" I said ok but still didn't do it. She is still upset with me that I don't doll up for her son!!

  27. >@Mahesh: Thank you!@Goofy: Bang on!@Sandhya: 🙂 I sometimes think it may be too much to expect the generation of mothers and MILs to understand our logic. Or maybe not.

  28. >Coz it is a man's world after all. There, I see you fuming :-)Jokes apart, guess it is more of a cultural thing. Besides, have you realized it is only women who are bothered about the other woman being married or not or whatever. Men would admire the beauty irrespective of the marital status. It may go down as being flirty at times. But on second thoughts, don't you think it is better than being questioned by aunties :-DDayem! That is one long comment. But does it make sense? 😛

  29. >The only reason I have found behind this is that the rules were made by the Men.They need the rules to demarcate between the available women and unavailable ones, for them to hit on… but no demarcation is there for the men, because they don't want to stop cavorting even after they are tied down…lol… :DGreat post! Got here from Shilpa's Recommended Reads 🙂

  30. >These things happen in real life??Even in these times??? I thought such families- MILs-asking u to wear bangles,follow certain rituals- were just an exaggeration of bollywood.But after reading your post and the comments where the other girls have mentioned how their in laws have 'subtly' asked them to wear bangles or whatever.. I am amazed you guys have not asked them to shut the fuck up..:-)

  31. >@SMM: Yeah! :)@How do we know: But you know me – the rebel with a cause!@celestialrays: Oh, I hate wearing a chain in my neck. It's very irritating!@Sangfroid: That's not true – about only women being bothered about the marital statuses of other women. I know a lot of men who're just as interested in that. And no, your comments makes no sense :P@Sirop: Oh yeah :P@J: LOL! There's another post on that altogether, in which we say we don't look our age :)@Guria: That's logical! Totally makes sense.@RS: Yeah, we haven't asked our MILs anything of the sort because to be fair, a lot of mothers also expect their daughters to adhere to this dress code. Only the MILs get sullied for it. So if we have to tell anyone to shut the fuck up, it will have to be almost a whole generation of people! Ignoring serves the same purpose, you see.@Poornima: 🙂 I like those adjectives!

  32. >I don't want to enter the debate about who made the rules. I think women are tougher on women than men. It is women who ask about where's your mangal sutra, not men. I think men aren't really concerned about it anymore. Cultural beliefs make a lot of women believe it is important to wear these signs of marriage but its really their choice, not a mandatory thing. Come on, women are busy, working wives or moms, who has the time to deck up and show marital symbols these days?My wife hardly wears her mangalsutra and I really don't have a problem with that though she does insist that I wear the ring coz people keep thinking I'm not married and send marriage proposals to me:)

  33. >This made to the final selection for voting 🙂 Good Luckhttp://alchemistpoonam.wordpress.com/2010/02/02/final-nominations-in-avant-garde-bloggies-awards-2009/

  34. >Nice..I wear my stuff by choice…I hate sindoor, not wearI love bichiya. got nice ones..wear themMangalsutra yea, wear coz I like to wear it. May dump it if dress demandsBangles and rings, hell no…. interfere with my work (Being a doc, I need to remove them often)Bindi….depends on costume, mood and how many minutes I have to dress up.And this is by choice. My MIL likes it if I wear them but never insists, since I am a shade better than her daughter on this one :DThough I must say I do not feel these are some "shackles". And I do not believe by dumping these I shall be more "evolved" "liberated" or "modern". I feel its a matter of choice and individual freedom and preferences…Cheers!

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