1. It delegitimizes my scholarship and presumes that if I study Hinduism because I am dating an Indian man, I must be unable to do so in an academic manner. I shy away from some feminist rants, but I will say that if a man becomes involved with a woman from the culture he studies, it is seen as an extension or byproduct of his work, not as the reason for his study, nor does it negate the work he has done.
2. It assumes that the basis of my career choices revolve around the person I am dating. If you don’t see why this is insulting, I probably can’t have a reasonable conversation with you.
3. Perhaps most importantly: There is a much less offensive way of bringing this up if you really must know. Here’s the question you ask: “What got you into studying Hinduism?” Yes, I’ll likely know that the real question is “Oh, as a white woman, are you studying Hinduism because your boyfriend is Indian?” Yes, this is still better than outright asking. The reason is because one question is more open, the other simply presumes an answer that is insulting for reasons I already outlined.
4. Even if someone were to study a culture or religion because their significant other is part of it, the resulting scholarship is not necessarily invalid or inferior in some way.
5. Seriously. I can’t state this enough: my identity, my choices, and my scholarship are not completely based around the men in my life.
I try to be very reflexive when I feel I am facing sexism…and I must say: no woman has ever asked me if my boyfriend is the reason I chose my area of study. The unfortunate result of my experience has been a knee-jerk reaction where I try to give a disclaimer about having met him after I began my study. I’m still not sure of what the most appropriate response is, when I attend an event with my S.O. and talk to a colleague who goes “Ohhhhhhhhhh, Hinduism” and I respond, “No, completely unrelated.” I don’t wish to offend someone who is influenced by their partner’s background–I don’t think that means they are incapable of good scholarship, nor do I presume that’s their entire identity.