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  • Writer's pictureThe Curly One.

Do you know the Shoe Washing Rule?

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Women are born with an invisible ankle monitor that goes off at every tiny misstep or failure or anything that society considers unfeminine or unconventional. And trust me, there is a lot that is considered not feminine enough. Apparently, laughing wholeheartedly in front of strangers is an insolence as per the unwritten laws of our finicky society. Do I really need to say more?

Of course, I have been privy to the ridiculousness of patriarchy that is ingrained in our society. I have seen it, experienced it almost every single day, been thrashed down by it countless times, detested it from my very core, and, to some extent, learned to ignore it. Yes, you read it correctly. Learned to ignore it. It could sound anti-feminist to many, but it is what it is. And there are moments when, even though I want to retaliate with all my might, I have to let it go. Not because I am indifferent or lazy, but because each one of us has to choose our battles. It is impossible to fight them all. After all, we are only human with a limited reservoir of strength and patience.

Even after 25 years of constant conflict with this ubiquitous yet incorporeal enemy, patriarchy still manages to baffle me. My latest encounter, as hard as it might be to believe, was while washing shoes. After the muddy monsoons, most of my footwear needed a good scrub. So one evening, as I was taking them out, I noticed dirt on some of my parents’ shoes too. I took out theirs as well and started soaking them all in soap and water. As I was doing this, I could sense the anxious eyes of my housemaid prying on me through the kitchen window. I neglected it and went on with the scrubbing and cleaning of the shoes.

When I was almost done, my housemaid came running towards me with a worried expression and asked me to never wash the shoes worn by my parents. She even went on to offer to wash them herself if need be. I was utterly puzzled. Those who have a housemaid would probably know that those moments when they voluntarily offer to do some labouring work are rare and disbelieving.

When asked the reason for her generosity, she introduced me to yet another law in the doctrine of patriarchy. She told me that my parents would fall from grace and be considered culpable of great sin in the eyes of the Almighty if their unmarried daughter were to wash their shoes. Instead, I should serve my in-laws after marriage (wash their shoes, massage their feet, etc) as doing so will sanctify my life and enlighten their path to heaven.

I could not budge or utter a single syllable. Patriarchy had struck yet again. The parents who had raised, fed, and educated me, and made me worthy of anything at all would be entitled to eternal damnation if their grateful daughter were to clean their shoes. On the other hand, the very same daughter would enjoy the luxuries of heaven if she would do the similar chores for her husband’s parents.

At that moment, my feminist rational self disintegrated as shattered glass feeling defeated. The depths of the roots of unfounded beliefs that condemn women to a life of servility sans individuality bewildered me. Is there an end to this? I could not even wash a couple of pairs of shoes without being confronted with the harsh realities of patriarchy; let alone protesting bigger issues like the need for a male child for shouldering the financial responsibilities of a family. Battling patriarchal and sexist notions is a debilitating full-time job that could even leave you shunned. And it is not easy. Nothing about patriarchy is easy. Even ignoring it is exhausting.

So what do we do? We soldier on. I, for one, have made it a ritual to wash my parents’ footwear every month now. It gives me a sense of surreal happiness. I am a daughter and that too, a proud and grateful one.

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