Divorced and dressed up?

Dear Divorced,
I’m part of a prayer group that gives me a lot of spiritual sustenance. We have quite a few divorced women in our group, as well as married ones and never married ones. It’s strange about the number of divorced women because divorce in India is so rare. It’s a classic case of serendipity and I’m sure I encountered them because I need the support. Like me they’re older divorced  women with grown up children.
What upset me was a comment by a lovely, compassionate, married woman, a full time working mother with progressive ideas. She said, about this beautiful divorced woman whom she prays with
“She’s always so dressed up – her jewelry matches her clothes, she takes such care with her appearance, she dresses like a bride…”
Why? What’s the reason for this unnecessary hostility? I didn’t like this comment about another woman. I also felt uneasy about my own clothes and matching accessories. I felt she was making a dig at me and became quite insecure about this. Are divorced Indian women supposed to wear mismatched clothes? Or hair shirts?
Yours sincerely,

Married women at Durga Puja

Married Indian women line up to pray to the Goddess Durga before her departure

Dear Puzzled,

I’m so delighted you raised this question. A lot of people would have suppressed their discomfort believing it’s a frivolous issue. If it bothers you it isn’t frivolous. Divorce is such a tumultuous event that it can leave one feeling very vulnerable to small insults, real and imagined. You can’t ignore them, and you don’t have to, it’s always better to work things through.
It sounds as though the commenter has picked up the cultural bias towards divorced women. Despite her education and job she’s overheard family or neighbours talking about divorced woman in derogatory terms and is echoing thoughts that she hasn’t filtered through the lens of her education and exposure to a different way of life.
‘Dressing up’ in India is seen as the prerogative of married women – women who have someone to dress up for. A husband legitimately sanctioned by society is someone you dress up for. If you’re young and single you may dress up a little, but not too much because, after all, you’re not supposed to be attracting male attention. The idea of dressing to please yourself, or as an expression of your individuality or mood is unheard of.
I’m feeling yellow today – so I’ll take out my sunniest top and wear it, just because I feel like. Isn’t a commonly felt sentiment.
Even the clothes you wear are an expression of your status, not your mood.
Once you’re a married woman you’re expected to wear all those ornate clothes that are part of your trousseau. Have you ever wondered why girls who have managed very well with their extensive pre marriage wardrobe are given an entire wedding trousseau in this day and age? Marriage sanctions the wearing of pretty clothes and much jewelry, in fact your status as a married woman demands it.
It follows that people with this mindset will wonder why a divorced woman has to dress up and will impute the most uncharitable motives to her. There is no precedent for divorced woman in a society that doesn’t acknowledge their  existence. The only single older women people know of are widows. And we know what Indians do to widows. Dress them in white, shave off their hair, banish them to the boondocks as inauspicious and feed them only vegetarian fare. Widows don’t need anything more apparently because they’re no longer useful.
That comment by your ‘compassionate, progressive’ friend is an indication of a backward mindset and there’s not a compassionate bone in her body.
Don’t let it affect you. Wear whatever you want to wear. If you want to dress up, go ahead. If you want to dress down, that’s your choice. Be strong and individualistic. Remember that those who want to talk will talk about you whatever you do. So do what you want to do.
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” says Dr. Seuss, and I tend to agree with him.
You may want to start a discussion called  ‘talking about other people derogatively’ in your prayer group. Generate a discussion that will help open people’s eyes to the inherent prejudice and lack of fellow-feeling in such remarks. What’s the point of praying together if you’re being judgmental about anyone who is a little different from you? Good luck.


About Kalpana

Trying to change the world one blog post at a time. I write. It's the best thing I can do. I am the Hanged Man, the Fool, the sometime Magician. Whether I travel in my imagination or in real life I write about it and show you pictures either through my photography or through the pictures I paint with my words. I read books and write fiction. During working hours I teach English as an Additional Language. I edit.

Posted on July 15, 2013, in bride, husband's name, oppressive customs, Smug married types, strength, therapy, tradition and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. In India divorce is generally seen as a woman’s fault. Her inability in keeping the marriage going, her inability in keeping her husband happy, her inability/refusal to adjust to the in laws, her incompetence in cooking and housekeeping, not good enough in different areas. “usme zaroor kuch khami hoga”. A divorced woman is seen as a defective product. All the judging is the prerogative of the husband and in laws, and a trial by fire for the woman. People will keep judging and commenting till something happens in their own family. Or will they? Not sure!

  2. I think the day when people understand that women can and should lead a life on her own terms will be the day when all this nonsense will stop. It’s appalling that women who do things for themselves are usually branded as selfish or have some kind of hidden agenda!

  3. subzeroricha

    Taking cue from Dr seuss whom I also believe is always right “nonne is youer than you”. But I also say a movement or an ideology is failed when people directly benefiting from it can only partake in it. If those who are single happily married or even widowed cannot come together to change this thinking then honestly the movement itself has no relevance. Its like politicians saying removing rti is a good option. Its quite cubersome when a woman herself cannot understand the pain of another. Well well sorry for the rant but I can tell you one thing things are changing and there is more to life than stereotypes. Perhaps blogs like yours can help change that for better 🙂


  4. Ufff, outrageous nature of our Society
    Ready to judge at the drop of a hat..who are they to judge how people should be?It is none of their effing business..Everyone has a right to choose what makes them happy and respect and love their self. Just because others have the EQ of a teaspoon range doesnt mean they exhibit it to the world and strut around.. U should bring such mentality to the fore and shame them.

  5. The mindset of our society is pathetic! 😦

  6. our society and its predujices!! The less said the better!

  7. the little princess

    sad state of affairs… 😦

    my guru says that dressing up is something that comes naturally to woman from the time she’s a little girl….so why should being a divorcee or a widow change any of that? sadly in a society like ours hardly anyone seems to concur.

  8. such a sad state of affairs!! :-/

  9. sigh! i wish a day will come when ppl shall shun such unwanted, illogical mindset!

  10. I love that Dr. Suess quote. Awesome post!

  11. It is so sad when you hear things like this… some people really need to understand that divorced is not equal to dead… and the worst part is the ‘judgement’ process by the married women..

    • Yes – divorced really isn’t equal to death, even if most Indians think so. Married Indian women are usually the nastiest towards divorced women.

      • married women could be feeling stuck in their marriage and jealous of their divorced counterparts who they feel are free from the shackles of marriage. It could be the “grapes are sour syndrome. Kaash mein bhi……..

    • suku07, you know why some married women are judgemental towards the divorced women? Because they feel threatened by them.

  12. The mind-set of the society is like that- it never kindly disposed to the divorced women. So, this trend of looking askance at the divorced women who are well dressed up continues giving lie to all the progress we boast we’ve achieved.

  13. OMG!! What a regressive society we live in!! Agree with the thoughts shared by you and the quote from Dr Seuss. You control you… you are you…

  14. I was once told “It is far better to be a divorcee than a widow. At least you can wear colours, go out, meet people and laugh freely.” The lady was a widow and she felt I was more fortunate. Sad commentary on our society

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