And What does you Husband do?

Every time I get asked that question, I flint a little, not knowing the intention of the person asking that question. And it happens in the most unexpected situations: when I am meeting a psychologist for the first time, or when I am at a yoga retreat, when I attending a conference, when I am at a job interview, and/or when I am talking to a professional from another field about psychology. Every time, without fail, I get asked the very same question by different people, “And what does your husband do?” In the first few times of being asked this question, I was stunned and would feel very odd at the prospect of answering this question, wondering what it had to do with my academic and professional background. I am not sure if this is just a Mumbai thing or if it is pan-India…but it sure seems bizarre and inappropriate to me; it seems very normal to the people asking it.

However, I am not surprised that this question is asked on almost a routine basis. I think the concept of “personal space” is still alien to the Indian psyche, where we are deeply rooted in a very collectivist and familial system, making others space, others business, our own. Although as a culture Indians are gradually drifting from this collectivist attitude, this concept of personal space has yet to seep into the personal and professional realms of people’s lives. This concept of personal space is absent even in the physical realm. To give you a simple example, every time I am standing in line either to buy a train ticket or what not, I find that the person behind me is unable to maintain a decent distance from me. Either their hands are touching my back or their bag is nudging my side, or they are so close to me I can feel their breath or smell the coconut oil from their hair. It is annoying!

In the USA, when I was networking with psychiatrists or psychologists, if I was a job interview, if I was at a conference, I was never asked what my husband did for a living. Even more interesting, now that I think about it, I was never even asked if I was married! My interactions with professionals were strictly professional and people never crossed the boundary between personal and professional. Was it that people in the USA did not inquire about what my husband did for a living because they did not care? Was it because it did not matter to them whether I was married or not? No and No! The people I met on a professional basis only focused on me, on my credentials, and what I could bring to the table as a professional.

I can’t help but wonder why I am routinely asked the question about my husband’s job and what he does. Is it because knowing what my husband does will reflect on me and my social status? Is it because people think I, as a private practitioner, I will not be able to stand on my two feet and will require the financial backing of my husband? Is it the case that, by knowing what my husband does, people will develop of certain opinion about me, irrespective of my own merit and experience? I have no clue.

However, these days when I am asked, with all sincerity and curiosity, “And what does your husband do?”, I respond and tell them exactly what he does with great pride, whilst also wondering that if Rochelle Suri were a man and was talking to a professional in India, would she be asked, “And what does your wife do?” I really have to wonder…


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. SFdave
    Jan 18, 2012 @ 18:42:00

    Are you honest and tell them he drinks too much and gets half naked at his own birthday parties?


  2. SFdave
    Jan 18, 2012 @ 18:52:31

    I’m great. The weather has been uncharacteristically beautiful (though we need some rain). Boys are hilarious. Things are getting better…7 months with no booze 😉 I need you two here to roll me into a karaoke joint and get crazy!!

    Miss you guys so much!


    • Dr. Suri
      Jan 18, 2012 @ 18:59:16

      I am so happy for you and so glad ha things are moving along. Good for you for staying on the wagon!! Yes, a karaoke night does sound delicious…..guess you will have to come to Mumbai for that. I hope it will be soon. We miss you and boys as well and think of the good ol’ times quite often.


  3. dorisbersing
    Jan 18, 2012 @ 20:54:53

    Of course they will never ask: “…what does your wife do…” As you know, throughout much of history, women have been afforded fewer rights in marriage, denied the ability to exercise their civil rights, received lower wages, and subjected to the societal decree that their sexuality is wrong and their advancement in the ladder of success in society and the professional world a sample of rebellion and disrespect to the norm. Despite this, women possess a unique set of characteristics that enable them to survive and persevere in the harshest of circumstances. Examples exist in a variety of contexts, including patriarchal repression in social, political, and religious contexts.

    Nice to be asked to respond with pride what equalitarian and fair husband you have…indeed.



    • Dr. Suri
      Jan 19, 2012 @ 15:07:39

      Yes, women still have to make a place in the 21st century, and it is more apparent in Mumbai than when I was living in San Francisco. It wasn’t so blatant there and, in a way, these experiences are teaching me that as a woman, I had it good in the USA. In India, we still have a ways to go where status of women is concerned.


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