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‘Homely’ Girls in Times of Change


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Working womanAny matrimonial column in India makes mention of the ‘homely’ girl. This should be the most desirable community, if one were to go by the column square inches devoted to them in many newspapers. So what do people mean when they say ‘homely’?

“Most of all, families in India dread getting a daughter-in-law who will break up the home, or at least, the pattern in which the family has gone on before she got married and entered as a daughter-in-law. Maximum TV serials show vengeful women causing havoc in homes and families, (although the heroine of the serial is generally sweet and ‘homely’!) and families want to make sure they are not getting one of those ladies. That’s why they take the trouble to add the word ‘homely’” says Deepti, a young woman studying for a career in the civil services who is not uncomfortable with the ‘homely’ label.

If this is the motivation that makes people go for the ‘homely’ tag, it can’t be so bad. But the very mention of the word ‘homely’ makes another young woman most indignant and angry. “What do they mean ‘homely’? Its very clear that they want a girl who will be meek and obedient and listen to everything they say all the time. And ‘homely’ also means someone who doesn’t want a career – a girl who’s ready to cook, serve, and write the word ‘housewife’ against her occupation in a bank account form!” says a spirited Manisha. “My parents know better than to answer one of those ads for me!” she adds with emphasis.

Both Deepti and Manisha have an important point. Of course, families will try to protect their unit from being disturbed by the ambitious or manipulative daughter-in-law. So asking for a ‘homely’ girl, or one who respects the sanctity of ‘home’ is not a bad thing. But is this label just one more way to put down the genuine desire of women for a better life, or recognition of their talents and abilities?

“Even ‘homely’ girls go for jobs, or take up some work after their children are grown up,” says Deepti. “Its not that they can never work outside the house and kitchen – just that they give home and family more importance. In fact, today’s ‘homely’ girls are modern, they know computers, e mail and chat and things. But they will first see what needs to be done at home.”

For Manisha, it is often the so-called ‘homely’ girls who have the most negative effect on the home because of their unfulfilled personal ambitions. “Honestly, there are women in my own family who supposedly do nothing without consulting their husbands and in-laws. Yet these same aunts of mine show their frustration in other ways – they play the most politics, they keep driving their husbands and children to compete with other relatives where the wives are working women. They’re really hung up on status and prestige as well – nothing ‘homely’ about that!”

Looking at the strong emotions evoked by the mention of the ‘homely’ girl, it is obvious that this is a definition that is being challenged by the changing conditions of life in today’s metropolitan and small town India.

What are your own thoughts about the ‘homely’ girl? Does the label deserve to stay or go?

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Responses to ‘Homely’ Girls in Times of Change

  1. 1 Anju

    In the US, the term ‘homely’ means ugly or unattractive. (See this entry in the Oxford Dictionary: http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/homely?view=uk)

    Calling an American or Indian-American girl homely is a very bad idea.

  2. 2 Divya

    I am really impressed by this article, those women who live at home r always finding ways to disturb other people , they themselves do not live peacefully nor do they allow others, they are just like Empty Mind, Devils Workshop.

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