Women in Bengali society are held in the highest regard, far more respected
and protected, in truth, than in the West. This does not imply the kind of
equality or participation in public interactions that are common in the West.
A woman will often be given preferential treatment in India at such places
as ticket counters. At meals, though, the men are usually expected to go first.
Feminine refinements are expressed and protected through numerous cus-
toms, including the following.
Modesty: The qualities traditionally most admired in Eastern women are shyness, self-effacement and modesty of dress and deportment. Self-assertive orbold tendencies are regarded with circumspection.
Mixed Company: In mixed company, Hindu women will keep in the background
and not participate freely in conversation. This, of course, differs among family
and close friends. When male guests are in the home, the women will appear
when it is proper. Visitors do not expect or ask to meet them.
Walking with Husband: The wife walks a step or two behind her husband, or, if
walking by his side, a step or two back, always giving him the lead. (In the West,
the opposite is often true.)
Serving Meals: At mealtime, women traditionally follow the ancient custom of
serving the men first before eating.
Chaperoning: It is customary for a woman leaving the home to always be accom-
panied, generally by her husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother, daughter,sister or another lady close to the family, or among a group of both men and women. Women in traditional areas rarely even walk across the street alone,unless they are older. Living alone, too, is unusual.
Moving in Public: Generally, it is considered improper for women to speak with
strangers on the street, much less strike up a casual conversation. Drinking or
smoking in public is viewed as a sign of moral laxity.
Shelter and Care: When away from home, husbands contact their wife each day
to express their love and inquire about her day.
Monthly Retreat: During their monthly period, Asian women do not prepare
food, attend social gatherings or attend the temple or home shrine.