Society and Single Woman ? Taboos and Stigma

As Madhumanti entered the crowded café, the Restaurant Manager came up to speak and usher her in while she waited for her guests to join her. The Restaurant Manager, let’s call him Paresh, was a Facebook acquaintance and Madhumanti had met him couple of times on social occasions. He sits her down and promises her to find a place while they chat. That he enjoys her writing, is quickly followed by the question what her husband does? Taken aback, she mumbles out that he is in Sales. This is followed by which company etc and how supportive it must be to have him for her to have given in to the passion of writing.

Saving her from further quizzing Madhumanti saw her guest arriving and got up to move to their designated table. Throughout the evening, while her guest and Madhumanti nibbled delicate tidbits and drank chilled lemon water, it kept haunting her - why couldn’t she come up with the truth… that she was a Single Mother taking care of her kids and that she did not have a husband. She was separated.

When Madhumanti recounted this incident to me I realized, most of the women still, can’t come up with the truth that they are separated or divorced or have moved on in life. A snippet of a conversation heard long ago in a minibus from Lenin Sarani to Ballygunge Phari came back to me….  “Separated or divorced lokeder na identity nei. They are neither married nor widowed, and it confuses people, jano to”, roughly translated as separated or divorced people have no identity, as they are neither married nor widowed and that confuses people.

I too kept wondering, what stopped her from saying, that “No, I take care of my own stuff, my family and my children?”  Is it the fear of social ostracism? Well, I won’t say I haven’t seen differential treatments being meted out to separated women, when supposedly good friends who regularly meet have also avoided them on all social do s which included their significant other halves or families. And then I have also seen people rising like a Sphinx above these. But clearly Madhumanti hadn’t and I kept pondering why and more importantly due to what reason?  Is it the fear of being judged?  Is it the fear factor that men or a fair number of them will now extend their hand of friendship, knowing that now she is single; which will atrociously be translated as Ready to Mingle? Or is it something deeper attached to the social stigma of being single and being judged about her lifestyle and why she is single?

I wonder do men face these similar questionnaires. If they are also asked what their wives do etc… or is it just the women? Just the women, who cannot be an individual in their own rights, can’t hold a conversation in their own rights and can’t be intellectually stimulating enough to not make people wonder what their husband do, or whether whatever endeavor she is pursuing and promoting will have a back up support? If separated, are the men too asked what went wrong or is it only the women who are looked at askance with calculations behind the ever ticking mind, as to what must have gone wrong?

Society as we call it, the common mass of people is strangely dichotomous.  Hypocrisy lies deep in the psyche. A single man who has refused the responsibility of children will be feted and lauded rather than a single woman who has taken the responsibility of the children.

We have aped the west in taste. the changes visible in us are all cosmetic changes. Deep down our patriarchal and archetypal values have not really undergone a change. We may look swanky and global but are we really global in our mindset till now?  Or are we still residing in the middle of the earlier century albeit with a veneer of sophistication? The recent movie Pink had raised this pertinent question, that shouldn’t women be taken seriously when they say No?  And it is exactly so that No one will take us women seriously till we change our own mindset, our own 360-degree view.

Before sharing Madhumanti’s story which in a manner resonates with a lot of other women, I was hesitant and wondered should I tread into such unchartered territory and hitherto untraveled waters? But I firmly believe what Maya Angelou said – “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

This was my untold story. I know a lot of women who have risen above this and built a fantastic life for them. How many do you know? Care to tell us about them? Let us laude and fete those Phenomenal Women, cause –

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.   

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,   

The bend of my hair,   

the palm of my hand,   

The need for my care.   

’Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.


Till then,

Love and Light