Many things are changing in the societies across the world with time and tide, but when it comes to women, the divorce stigma hits them harder than the ex-husbands. At times it’s the women who fail in supporting their sisters when it comes to ending a marriage. The ratio of friends and relatives, telling you to do what is right for you, is smaller than the ones who ask you to try a little harder, to adjust and keep the marriage. “After all, men will be men.” They say, and in case of infidelity, they say, “Men are forever in want of new cows, and so, just accept.” And so, where do women stand regarding self-respect?
Many societies are a long way from erasing the version of men with sayings like, “Men are like that, or men will be men.” Under those banners, unfaithfulness or neglect the wives and the children by men are overlooked. Times back, when women lived behind the walls and men were the bread earners, the stories were different. But women now are equal partners in life as earning members, raising children and running the homes. When the roles of women have multiplied, how can men be still in their castle in the air? When marriages become stormy, the mother thinks more about keeping the family together for the children’s sake; they do not want the children to lose their father. After a couples’ fight, the father can be seen rushing out and disappearing into the night. The mother will not abandon her children and will hold them together and promise them that things are becoming alright again. She cannot hurt the children she had carried in her womb. Janet, a banker in her mid-thirties, is a single mother and speaks of her two children, “I will have to be strong for the children that I have brought to the world, they didn’t ask to be born. I am the mother, and they are my responsibility. Their father has a new son with his second wife; I am not sure how much he loves the children he had with me.”While the social stigma on divorces lingers, changes come to family and social circles. A divorced woman suddenly is on her own, the friends and family see her differently. The whispering begins, and there is a feeling of resentment from moms at the kids’ school. Your kid’s friends no longer want to have playdates in your house, a ghostly shadow of unhappiness seem to spread over all friend circles, you and your children’s. However, those are the moments when a woman needs support, and opportunities to grow with independently. It is a matter of common sense that when a mother decides to leave her husband, there must be a valid reason. No mother in her right frame of mind will want to break her family. Too often we fail to respect the women’s choices, and men are allowed to be off without facing the consequences of wrongs they did. Sadly studies show that 75 percent of marriage breakdown comes due to male infidelity, and the rest from lack of communication.
Ayesha, a garment worker who dared to come out of her womanizer husband’s clutch, says, “Sisters, if you see another woman trying to stand up against injustice, please listen and try to support her. No matter how much progress women have made in the world, male dominion at home still looms hugely, and like some weird animals men fall from their vows and take to other women. Women should be there for each other. My family and friends stood by me and took my son in to help me continue with my job, without them I would not be alive today.”
Sadly, it does not take a cinema to show to find a husband having an illicit relationship with maids in Bangladeshi homes. A colleague in my teaching life left her home when she could not stand living with a husband who had the habit of groping the live-in maids. “It does not end there I am sure, I am not at home most of the day, and my husband leaves much later in the day.” She confided to me one day. The female helpers in the house, often needy and helpless against masters of the house, could not always be blamed. At times the maids are threatened with dire consequences if they open their mouths. Every once in a while the stories of such helpless girls committing suicides to come up, the cause of their taking their own lives remains mysteries, known only to the one who sees all. And of course, the sex offender waits for his next victim. Too many men, women are like wine, they will find them outside or inside the home, beyond the legally married wife. However, some men are good husbands perfect to the vows they have made. Imagine the bliss in such couples’ lives!
The other part of the divorce that comes with a biased attitude is remarrying. When a man remarries the common saying is, “Oh he is a man, and man can’t live alone? They need women?” In rural Bangladesh and some towns, a man can marry many times just because of his gender. On the other hand, a woman seeking a second husband may face criticism, and blamed for not thinking of the children and so on. Raihan, a banker who married a divorced woman with a son, refused to look after the son from the previous marriage. But Raihan’s daughter from his last marriage found a home with the stepmother. Such an unfair bargain for remarriages! In a transitional society like Bangladesh, it is not easy for a woman to live alone. And yet some single mothers prefer to raise their children by themselves. A peaceful home and steady parenting are far better than a chaotic household where parents are on each other’s nerves all the time.
While statistics for family breakups have higher ration due to male infidelity, there are times when a wife falls out of the marriages. Yes, they can be unfaithful also, but one has to reckon where the higher weight is. The recent years have shown a sharp rise in divorces and family breakups, and they are not all necessarily bad. For a seed to bear fruits and flowers, it needs to bust and allow the shoot to come out. Let women find freedom and justice. If we teach our children that injustice at home is okay, they may face the similar patterns of unhappiness. Standing up for what is right, to recognise one’s self-worth is a woman’s birthright. I would not be just to my soul if let someone treat me any lesser than who I am, a God-given life.
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA