I first heard this term ‘homely girl’ in 2002, when my friend Ritu got married. She was only 23 then. Her sister’s brother-in-law liked her very much and so proposed her for the marriage. After completing her bachelor’s, Ritu was married off to that guy. Later I came to know that the person liked her, mainly because she was homely. And indeed she was. She was a gentle-natured good looking girl, an expert homemaker, and could well mingle with children.
That was a long time back. I was very young then and did not give any heed to the concept of ‘homeliness’ then. Neither did I try to make myself a ‘homely character’ like my friend Ritu, acceptable to all members of the society. I thought it was just an old-fashioned concept meant for those who are eventually interested in making a family and not a career. I firmly believed that well-educated guys with modern outlook don’t believe in such a concept. But I was wronged several times later in my life. Even today, I see many urban guys in our society want ‘homely girls’ for marriage.
The first marriage proposal came to me a few years back. The guy was handsome and well-established. He was looking for a well-educated, well-mannered girl to marry.
I was a full-fledged working woman then. I had a 9-5 job. I had good career prospects too. After the initial chitchat, he declined me saying I am ‘not homely enough’ to be his wife and carry on the duties of a family. According to him, I was too career-oriented. I was offended. What does this mean? Can’t a working woman be a good wife or a good mother to her child? Can’t she take care of household activities as she is working? There are many examples in the society where a working and successful woman have also contributed much to her family and raised her children well. It all depends upon the understanding between the husband and the wife.
Several such encounters happened later where I was tagged as a ‘too much modern’ or ‘too much westernized’ or ‘too much career-minded’ either by the candidate or his in-laws. Some even said I was not meant to get married at all.
I started taking the matter seriously now. What is exactly meant by the term ‘homely’ by these guys?
As my parents were still looking for a suitable boy for me, I started getting worried. According to the definition of a ‘homely girl,’ as given by several senior members of the society, I am not the type. A tom-boy like me is certainly not a choice for these guys.
“You should start changing your tom-boyish attitude, dear.” My mother advised.
“But Ma, that is me! How can I change myself, my inner soul, just to get married to a guy whom I would be hardly knowing before marriage?”
“Your choice, baby.” And the conversation was over.
I resisted the very concept of being and presenting myself as a ‘homely girl’ in front of every ‘sambandh‘ that came. To my surprise, my parents did not complain about it.
Then one day, I met my ex-colleague Sourav who had recently got married to a beautiful girl. I came to know she was a post-graduate in English and a very good singer. Excited to know more about her, I asked him, “What does your wife do? Does she work anywhere?”
“Oh no, she is a ‘homely girl.’ She is not a working lady. And what is the ‘fayda‘ of ‘ghar ka bahu‘ doing a job? I earn enough to feed all the hungry mouths in my family. All she needs is to take care of her household chores and keep my parents ‘complaint-free’.”
The picture started getting clear in my mind.
So, it is like the girl has to be a well-educated one but cannot do any job? The girl has to confine herself in household tasks like cooking, dish-washing, cleaning rooms, attending to her in-laws, and forgetting everything else in her life? But that was only half of the picture. There’s always another side to a coin.
After about two years, I again met Sourav in front of the UPSC office building in my city. He was coming out of the building after submitting the UPSC examination form on behalf of his wife when I noticed him. He was looking a bit worried.
“What’s the matter? Is everything alright?” I asked him.
We had a long conversation on the matter while seeping over hot cups of chai at a roadside tea stall.
Sourav’s father was diagnosed with cancer one year back; He had to spend a lot of money for his treatment. He had almost become penniless. Moreover, he had recently become the father of a bonnie child. He was unable to manage the household expenses with his income. He now wants his wife to work so that they can both earn to support the family. Earlier, he was not supporting the idea of his wife becoming a working woman. But now the situation has compelled him to allow her to do so.
“I just want her to get a secured government job so that she can earn a substantial amount every month, that’s it,” he said.
“But,” he added, “I will not allow her to work if everything gets alright again.”
The other aspect of being ‘homely’ was revealed to me on that day. This is the other side of the coin then, aha?
So, ‘homely girls’ are like milch cows. Basically, that is precisely what most men seek – a girl as obedient as a cow. An educated maid who need not be paid or rewarded for fulfilling the duties towards her family. And oh, although she is not supposed to do a job and earn, yet, she should be a benevolent money-vending machine when his husband needs her to finance his extra expenses.
‘What a joke!” I thought. It is really painful to see that even though most of the urban guys are well-educated, their modernity is showcased only through their choice of dresses and high-end gadgets but not by how they think and feel about women.
Men are so insecure that most of them have a strange desire to appear macho in the eyes of a wife. Their in-laws, too, have a peculiar, baseless dislike to well-educated, established girls. Why? Because these educated girls are opinionated, and you can’t keep them cooped up in the kitchen. They will rebel.
In our Indian society, girls are often raised to be compliant and not opinionated like boys. On the other hand, boys are taught to dominate women in every aspect. Women are to be treated as commodities. Women are not supposed to raise voices against any ill-treatment shown towards them by men. A docile woman will never protest, but an educated, conscientious one will do.
Hence, the wish and the hunt for ‘homely girls’ continues until today. I am still waiting for the opposite to happen. I wish one day, more and more girls would have the guts to look for ‘homely boys’ to take care of the household chores while she would be working outside to feed the hungry mouths in her family.
Featured Image Credits: Amrita Sher-Gill