Print Edition - 2014-05-04  |  Free the Words

From the margins

- Prateebha Tuladhar, Kathmandu

May 3, 2014-

One day in the canteen, a colleague said to me, “You're divorced. You were in a relationship that didn't work. Who's going to marry you?” The colleague probably took the liberty because he also happens to be a friend. My instant response to his remark was laughter, later silence. My girl friends/colleagues pointed out there was some truth in what he was saying. And there was. To Nepali society, I am a divorced woman, which makes me a person on the margins, of sorts. And I am not just assuming this.

Once, I was telling my colleagues how journalism is the perfect job for me because I like immediate deadlines. And one of them deduced, “You're impatient. That's why your marriage didn't work out.” I told him he had no right making a comment like that.

Box of reactions

Occurrences like these are not uncommon to me anymore. I have had relatives, friends and colleagues say unkind things to me about my relationship status. There is a lot of kindness too, of course. When I tell people I'm divorced, most of the time, people apologise in near agony, like they were responsible for bringing some great misfortune on me. Some give me sympathetic hugs. Others pretend they do not understand and ask me to repeat and I have to repeat of course: I am de-vorce-d. With the sympathetic ones, I just fall into their arms because hugs are good for the heart. With the apologetic, I say: it's alright, it's alright—almost consoling them.

There's a fourth category of people, who know I'm divorced but they will never broach on the topic because it's awkward. Many of them happen to be relatives. They pretend they never have heard about it. Some will even go to the extent of asking me how jwain is or where he is. You find different ways of responding to these questions as time goes by. At one point, you will have turned into a pathological liar or turned permanently paranoid. You also get so used to your status that you forget about it, until people remind you to marry again.

It, however, seems harder for others to accept it. For months, your parents might not be able to acknowledge the fact and will try to cover-up the matter in small lies, trying to protect you. At parties, conversations will transpire behind your back and at the sight of you, people will quickly offer a guilty smile. Those who have not 'heard' of it will ask when you're having kids and you will just say you have no plans yet. They will argue you're ageing. You will use 'work' as an excuse. And sometimes, you'll just say, “I'm divorced.” And the Pandora's box of reactions is again open.

Double standards

Now, why am I making such a fuss about this? I'm not the only one who is divorced in this world. There are hundreds like me who are happily divorced and have moved on to better things in life. Marriage is not everything. If it isn't, why should divorce be? I crib because our society still treats divorcees like they stand no second chance. A divorce is not always a choice people make willingly. When you walk into a marriage, you make a commitment for life. And if it doesn't work, it is painful. Sometimes, traumatic. But no social bond should be forced on you in a way that it destroys the people concerned. Hence, the option of divorce. Some relationships work out and some don't. And it is better to separated and at peace than together and miserable.

Being divorced does not mean you did something terrible. And being a divorced woman most certainly does not mean you are available for casual sex. It also does not mean you are desperate to get married again. Most women of my generation are independent and do not look to their partners for financial support. But there are other needs: emotional and physical. The ultimate goal in life for humans is to find love and appreciation. And there is nothing wrong in having emotional and physical needs. Why should a divorced woman be chastised for having sexual needs, when a man is never put through the same ordeal for visiting prostitutes before or even while he is married? How come a divorced man is free to remarry or date easily while a woman has to confront snide remarks when she attempts to do the same? Why are standards so different still for

men and women, when we go to the same schools and offices, pay our own bills and experience hurt in similar ways?

Progressive hypocrisy

It makes me want to laugh when every Women's Day on March 8, some male writers talk about how our society is turning 'egalitarian'. It is a way of endorsing themselves as progressive men. But are they really, if they cannot even accept the fact that someone is divorced, without raising an eyebrow? And how can men and women who work in the media—supposedly, one of the most fair and balanced professions—be conformists even while they advocate for change? If journalists, who consider themselves intellectuals, still call their colleagues 'easy' women for responding to their emotional and physical needs, then one can well imagine how much worse other women, who are deprived of the right to education, work and to their own bodies, have it.

It is indeed a very, very unequal world. It is at moments when the men around you say, “Your marriage failed because…” that you realise it's going to be a long way before society will stop blaming women for everything that goes wrong in

their lives. It isn't feminist theories we should have been discussing all along but practically establishing women's rights, treating women like they deserve to be treated--as equals.

I finally understand the story of The French Lieutenant's Woman—why John Fowles' character chooses to become the outcast. Because, only as an outcast you sometimes see the truth. In Margaret Mitchell's words, “Until you've lost your reputation, you never realise what a burden it was.”

Tuladhar is a journalist with Kantipur Television

 

Published: 04-05-2014 09:59

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