“Are you married?” a male colleague at the Times of India asked me in 2011, pointing to the gold ring on my wedding finger. It was my first full-time job as a journalist and I was excited at the prospect of making tangible social change through my work. One week into my new role at the largest newspaper firm in India, I was not yet close to anybody on my team. So the question felt both intrusive and unwelcome.
But before I could even begin to answer, another male colleague quipped, “More importantly, are you happily married?” stressing the word “happily”. Both of them laughed at what they evidently felt was a witty comment at the expense of my personal life, and a few others, including some women, joined in.
I smiled and dismissed it for a number of reasons I won’t explain fully here, but including the unfortunate fact that as a woman starting out in a competitive industry, I did not wish to be seen as “aggressive”, “unsporting” or “threatening”, all of which I have been labelled as being for asserting myself. If anything, that small exchange reiterated the reasons why I choose to wear a fake wedding ring (or an engagement ring, as it is referred to in India).
An unwelcome suggestion
In December, the Afghan National Union of Journalists recommended that women reporters working in Afghanistan wear fake wedding rings to avoid harassment, a suggestion that was received with little enthusiasm by women journalists in the country, where I have been working for nearly four years.
Women journalists in Afghanistan face a multitude of challenges, including an overbearing patriarchy and barriers of culture and tradition.
I have been wearing a ring on my wedding finger since I was in college, in an attempt to avoid the uncalled-for attention I sometimes received from classmates, and later, from colleagues. For the same reason, my Facebook status has always declared “In a relationship”, even when that was not the case.
I had hoped the ring would act as an unspoken declaration that I was not in a position to respond to the advances of my male colleagues. Because, despite all my feminist beliefs, I came to realize that the phantasmal dignity of my fictitious husband was a stronger deterrent for many men who I came into contact with than respect for my personal space.
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