Earning enough, losing more?

“But there exists an ego clash between couples where the women earn more than the men.

The cases we handle reveal that men are caught between their need to go with the times and suffering from a complex when their wives or partners earn more or are more successful than them. I counsel many wives who are brilliant and successful outside their homes but often humiliated, stressed-out wives inside their homes,” she adds.

Take the case of Anita Nair, a doctor who met her husband through a matrimonial ad. “My husband lived in the United States and was well-settled when I married him. But after I migrated to the US, I joined a large hospital and steadily did better than him. I neither aimed at competing with him nor used money as a weapon in our differences. After we had two children, as my income steadily exceeded his, there was a shocking change in his behaviour. He began to tell me that his mother, sister and the children were ‘his world’ and that ‘I did not count and had to remember ‘my place’ in his life. He humiliated me in front of visitors and said I was ‘grabbing his money’. His family took away the kids on the pretext of a family gathering and we filed for divorce after that incident. I also filed a case and got custody of my children. Now I am back in the US.”

Anita’s is not a unique case. The family courts in India are flooded with cases where the main cause of a divorce is a more successful or affluent and independent wife. A few cases illustrate this well. Kimaya Das works in an MNC as the head of the Human Resources department. She is highly respected for her work and earns a huge salary.

“My husband goes away for days without telling me and taunts me about being ‘a car and driver madam’ whenever he is angry. He shows his extreme bitterness by not eating with me at the table or sleeping with me in the same room. I would like to walk out of this marriage. I would rather use the time to get ahead in life.”

Esther Dias is a self-made entrepreneur. She started with a capital of Rs 20,000 given to her by her parents and built a business of creating mouth-watering desserts. Slowly but steadily, she began to supply her special desserts to major hotel chains. Nathan, her husband, began with jibes and taunts but soon, their differences resulted in physical as well as verbal abuse. Esther would cry herself to sleep until one day, she picked up her belongings and moved to a women’s hostel. Today, she owns a home and a small shop where her business flourishes.

These are cases of what we may describe as ‘aam auratein’ or civil society women.  “Such women exercise huge power and can be assertive,” says Nora Pareira, a counsellor, “How can a woman in such a category play second fiddle to anyone? She cannot pretend to be coy, shy and flirty like Bollywood heroines, who themselves are powerful, rich women in real life and set their own terms for their work and money. The media rarely portrays women in winning positions,” she adds.

And then there are those like Anil Joseph, a banker, who  jokes about his wife’s inability to arrange flowers in their home because “she comes late, eats and crashes out.” “The situation is getting serious,” admits Leela Phatak, a lawyer at the Family Court in Mumbai, “Anger, envy and a sense of failure take control of every argument between the couple.

The result is a constant tension because he perceives her success as a challenge. A man is threatened constantly by a woman who is financially independent and can even pay for him.”

While most men portray themselves as supportive partners who are proud of their wife’s power and success, it is the public portrayal of the alpha male image that is difficult to break away from, say social observers.

Stereotyping the role of a man in a household has made it increasingly difficult to replace it with the image of the woman as the one in control.  The latest brand of alpha women are the many young, highly-educated women entering politics, business and entertainment.

For example, 30-year-old Chhavi Rajawat, India’s youngest Sarpanch of a village in Rajasthan, recently addressed ministers and ambassadors from all over the world at the 11th Info-Poverty World Conference at the United Nations  on the Role of Civil Society in Fighting Poverty and Promoting Development. Chhavi has an MBA degree and has studied at prestigious schools and colleges in Bangalore and Delhi. She quit her well-paid job with Bharti Tele Ventures to accept the challenge of being a Sarpanch in her village to change its face.

There is no doubt that the future will throw up thousands of such young women who will break all stereotypes to change Indian society. We believe that men will need to learn to manage and balance their relationship with such a woman in their lives if they are to live happy, fulfilling lives.

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