Why marriage is unnatural - Part II


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Category: Relationships Date: 15 May 97

The silence is shattering around us. And each time one woman breaks it she finds a hundred echoes. So it was with the piece “Why marriage is unnatural”. And here I am compelled to write a sequel.


The women said: “You wrote what was always in our hearts.” The men said: “You are angry.” How differently men and women think.


They trooped out, with the same exultation as if they’d finally come out of the closet. They did not chant slogans or carry placards. The response to the piece came in the form of a gentle but solid show of solidarity. They whispered their support (not for a movement against men but towards equality between the sexes) in rustling silk saris or chortled delightedly in linen trousers at the idea of men taking our surnames. Their voices rang out from firm teenage faces and lined mouths. Some of them said it made them happy that they were the “exception”, that they had good husbands and were making the most of life.


One woman, Catherine Long, wrote:

“...To make the most of life is so refreshing to be able to proclaim, but (she adds somewhat wistfully) one gets so caught up in the whirlwind of work, babysitters, etc that you can forget the purpose of it all.

“Women are the bread winners in many families in Trinidad but yet lack the confidence and self-worth to gain a fulfilling life.  There has been an apparent increase in domestic violence/murder. Is it too simple to believe that a lack of self leads women into situations where they accept domestic violence, be it physical or emotional.

“Tradition (or is it misogyny incognito?) has patterned us to expect our sons to carry on the line. What about our daughters? Are we to blame for this twisted cycle where, as mothers, we inadvertently nurture our sons to ‘get’ and our daughters to ‘give’? Do you think we can break this cycle and learn to have mutual respect and understanding within marriages?”


I wish I knew for sure Catherine, but I do know that by writing and raising questions, that you are in some way breaking the cycle. But Catherine and the other women who responded still have the luxury and time to read. Most don’t, and it was uncanny how many women told me their stories, not knowing about my article. Which then made me think with alarm - my God there are so many undocumented stories of “marriages” out there.


Last weekend in rural Trinidad, an elderly frail woman, obviously uneducated, obviously ill, in a gaudy dress insisted on talking to me. I murmured, tried to ignore her, wanted to read my book. But she was tenacious.

“You see that girl there (she pointed to the ‘maid’, a woman in her late 20s, dressed in a shiny satin dress - pink, so hopeful, so incongruous to her position in life) that’s my daughter. And these (she pointed to a six-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, neatly but shabbily dressed) are my grandchildren. Her husband aint any good. Even if he has $2, he will drink it. So I support my daughter, I give her what I can out of my pension of $300. She has to feed the children and send them to school. I tell her ‘go to work. I will take care of myself and the children’.”


No Husband


I look at her and we both think. What happens if you die? How will your daughter and grandchildren live? The appearance of respectability in the children (the neatly pressed clothes, the shined shoes), so painstakingly put together, moved me more than if they had on rags. So the daughter works for another pittance and together the old mother and the daughter bring up the children. No husband in sight.


Another story, a mile away, of a man who lived in a house owned by his wife, beat her up, abused the children, womanised and, finally, after his wife filed for divorce, left to live in another woman’s house.

“Is he supporting the children?” I asked a relative. “He doesn’t, and if he did he would feel he has free reign over her home. She’s better off paying the bills herself.”


Reading Cinderella to my two-year-old daughter, I thought this is all wrong, I must update it. So I made up a modern version with a more plausible ending, even though my daughter stopped listening.

“Cinderella was tormented by her mother and sisters. But although her life was so wretched, some good did come out of it. All the fetching and carrying for her step family made her strong. She was street-wise because she had to deal with all the ragamuffins and hustlers in the market place and no one could short change her. She became deft at making pretty hats and could turn out a Cordon Bleu meal for a duchess. She knew she needed money to be free so sometimes she would sneak off and work as a scullery maid and put it under her bed.

“At first she thought the fairy godmother was just another cruel joke by her step-sisters but she did enjoy herself at the ball with the Prince. She was used to being disappointed, so having to walk home carrying the pumpkin instead of riding in it was nothing new to her. When the Prince came looking for her she couldn’t believe her luck. She really believed they would live happy ever after. After the honeymoon the prince returned to his pursuits - collecting taxes, hunting and riding.

“Cinderella had to manage the castle and the servants, measure the grain, pay salaries, and keep the books. When Cinderella got pregnant the Prince began carrying on with the young maids and cow girls. One of these maids had such a fetching figure and smile that he began to forget his duties in the kingdom. These also Cinderella took over. She was good at management. She’d done it all her life.

“But there was a huge revolt by the peasants and soon the Prince and Cinderella were quite poor. The Prince began to drink heavily for he still had some vintage wines in a cool cellar, and to forget his troubles he practically moved into the stables with the maid.

“By then Cinderella had two children and had to find ways to clothe, feed and send them to school. So unknown to the Prince who lay in the hay with the maid in a drunken stupor, she began to offer her culinary services for the stately homes she’d once dined in. She made hats as a side business.

“In this way she managed to take care of herself, her children and the Prince, and even her step-mother who had grown old and feeble and repentant.


Spiritual Liberation


“The day the Prince found out she worked as a Cordon Bleu chef (though not as highly paid as the male chefs) he beat her senseless for his honour as a man was at stake.

“But when he ran out of vintage he came for her money and took it, even her savings from her earlier days. He beat her again when he saw that a handsome young farmer brought her some tender artichokes and rare mushrooms.

“Cinderella treated her children differently. She expected her son to restore the family fortunes, so her daughter often had to make sacrifices like a choice piece of meat, and later secondary school so her brother could be successful (which he was - he now owns a chain of wild meat farms). Her daughter (who was brighter than the son) learned to give and her son, to take, to conquer.

“And so they lived, until the children grew up and Cinderella lost her beauty.

“To be fair, Cinderella’s son, when he married a doctor, was ‘a new man’. He helped with the children and gave his wife flowers. Except for a slight tendency to boss her about occasionally and compare her to his mother, he was an exemplary husband.

“The funny thing is, when Cinderella’s daughter grew up (she worked as chief housekeeper at a nearby castle and got paid less than the butler who was jealous of her ability and undermined her all the time) she believed, as she made coffee for the count (not in her job description) she would be rescued from the rundown castle by a prince.

“She really believed it but when she lost her job she practically had to rope the butler into marrying her ‘for security’ by having a child for him. (By now she didn’t believe in ‘happy ever after’ and blamed her mother for putting such notions in her head). But he left her and the child.

“So she took her child and went home to live with her mother, Cinderella. But Cinderella never left her husband. She maintained his honour and to this day if you go quietly in the night you can see the Prince lying drunk in the castle stables, with a younger prettier cow girl drunk on the wine he bought with the money he took from Cinderella.” THE END


So naturally the fairy story is over. Our knights in shining armour are killing us instead and making us hunt for food while they make us into prey. Damn right I’m angry. So imagine us chipping away for equal rights with little chisels at a force as formidable as the Berlin Wall - that bastion of establishment. We do it in big ways - the way Suzanne Sheppard did when she came out openly on being a battered woman to give courage and hope to others.


We chisel away at male domination in small ways: when we insist on equality in the home and the workplace, when we excel in higher education, when we are economically independent, when we forgo economic benefits and undergo hardship for spiritual and physical liberation.


When the Berlin Wall came down, the people weren’t as happy as they thought they’d be. In fact, more war broke out all over the Communist world. People, after being repressed for years, were suddenly allowed to give vent to their true feelings, to pursue their ambitions, to have dreams of their own. Maybe we’re seeing a male backlash to that. We need to call a ceasefire in the battle of the sexes but not before we get our equality. We’ve come too far to go back now.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur