In Tamil, we have a proverb that roughly translates into English as

If the mother-in-law breaks the pot, it is just clay . But if the daughter-in-law breaks the pot, it is made of gold!


This proverb is funnily (and sometimes very sarcastically) used to highlight the conflicts/difference of opinions between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws in the very early stages of a marriage.

In South India, arranged marriages are the norm and in such a setting, the bride typically takes considerable amount of time to adjust into the groom's family. Suppose, if there are any confrontations/ disagreements very early in a marriage between the bride and her mother in law and if the groom is highly supportive to his mother (and his family), this saying is used by outsiders/family members of the bride. In essence, they are accusing the groom for not taking the neutral ground and showing partiality towards his mother (the girl's mother-in-law).

Unfortunately, my research for an English equivalent drew a blank.

Any suggestions?

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    I can't find a source other than the many instances of it being used on Google, BiscuitBoy, but the first one that comes to mind is one rule for us and another for them (sometimes written the other way around). Mar 16, 2016 at 14:39
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    In a wider context, you may refer to a "double standard" (any code or set of principles containing different provisions for one group of people than for another)
    – Graffito
    Mar 16, 2016 at 14:51
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    @Lawrence - I'm sorry for the confusion. Partiality towards his mother is what I meant. Question updated
    – BiscuitBoy
    Mar 16, 2016 at 16:39
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    Can discrimination be fair?!!
    – user58319
    Mar 16, 2016 at 17:01
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    @user58319 - If we are talking about the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing(merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discrimination)
    – BiscuitBoy
    Mar 16, 2016 at 17:05

7 Answers 7


In "The Animals Sick of the Plague", the fabulist Jean de la Fontaine wrote:

Depending on whether you are rich or wretched, the Court will judge you black or white.

The original moral of the fable:

Selon que vous serez puissant ou misérable,
Les jugements de cour vous rendront blanc ou noir.

is sometimes translated as:

Thus human courts acquit the strong,
And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.

You might try: What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander.

This phrase is usually written as "What's good for the goose is good for the gander". It means:

What is good for one type is equally good for another type, despite any irrelevant differences between the types (e.g. man vs. woman)

So this reversal of is to isn't would mean that those irrelevant differences do matter.

  • You hit the nail on the head. I don't know why this answer isn't a jackpot.
    – user116032
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:03
  • @user116032 Because it's not used often enough. OP asks for an idiom or proverb. Mar 16, 2016 at 20:09
  • Ok, dumb me. Mother Goose?
    – user116032
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:19
  • @EdwinAshworth It is used very often here in the US both ways, maybe less so in the UK I suppose...
    – Skooba
    Mar 16, 2016 at 20:21
  • I checked before I commented. "What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander." has less than 2% of the Google hits "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." does. Mar 16, 2016 at 20:27

There is a quote from Terry Pratchett's 1987 book "Mort"

"There's no justice," said Mort. "Just us."

I have different forms of this used in senses similar to the one you describe; that is, to imply half-jokingly that some person or group uses one set of rules for "us" and another for "them". An example would be: "that's his idea of justice: just us."

Google searching suggests that variations of this phrase are in common use.


This is a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s arguable that what the Mother-in-Law (and maybe others who are on her side) is saying about the value of such pots and about how they shouldn’t be broken applies only to the Daughter-in-Law and not to herself, which perhaps could be paraphrased as (and have some relevance here):

Do as I (she) say(s), not as I (she) do(es).

Prov. Take my advice, even though I am acting contrary to it.

(from ‘McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs’ via ‘The Free Dictionary by Farlex’)

Another one that could perhaps be more easily stretched to fit your [family hierarchy] context is a quote attributed to both Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) (wrongly, in my opinion), the first woman to lead a Muslim country and Margaret Thatcher (rightly, imo), the first woman prime minister of the UK:

If a woman is tough, she is pushy/strident, if a man is tough, gosh, he’s a great leader.

(attribution to Ms Bhutto from ‘Feminine Fusion and attribution to Ms Thatcher [by Ms Bhutto herself] from ‘The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto’ by Yasir Hussain, via ‘Google Books’) )

Regardless of who said it first, this quote, although neither a proverb nor an idiom, is used to express and “denote unfair discrimination” (sometimes with less flattering (read: pejorative) labels used for tough women and a variety of different labels, always meant to be positive, for tough men.
To the extent that your questions requires an expression of unfair discrimination in the specific context of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law /son/husband tension/conflict, you could easily adapt it as follows:

If the daughter-in-law [If your wife] is tough, she is pushy; if the mother-in-law [If your mother] is tough, she is a strong [family] leader.


A saying that carry the same meaning of unfairness, but with a slight different angle is

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Luke 6:41)

or in a more accusing form

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:5)

Here the quotes from the bible hover around the fact that one focus so much on slight wrongs from others that we don't see our own faults, not necessarily through malice,though, it could come from "blindness" or ignorance.

  • The OP is asking for a phrase, idiom, or expression. This is scripture. One usually doesn't go around citing scripture as colloquialism.
    – Adam Hayes
    Mar 16, 2016 at 16:48
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    Not that this was the correct scripture to use, but scripture has a long history in common language. Ususally not the whole scripture, but references to it are still around: Good Samaritan, Mark of Cain, Whited Sepulcher (I don't use it, but saw this yesterday on this site), Doubting Thomas, David and Goliath sports stories...
    – BenL
    Mar 16, 2016 at 17:39

In a single word; bias, prejudice, favoritism.

In multiple words:

  • the deck is stacked against her (bride)
  • she's got a head start (mother)
  • blood is thicker than water¹
  • playing with a handicap (golf term)

1 - originally "blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb", indicating that chosen relationships are stronger than family ties. Currently interpreted as "bloodlines are thicker than other fluid relationships" or something along those lines.


Walking On Eggshells ... On Thin Ice

  1. Fig. to be very diplomatic and inoffensive. I was walking on eggshells trying to explain the remark to her without offending her further.TFD

  1. Fig. in a risky situation. If you try that you'll really be on thin ice. That's too risky. If you don't want to find yourself on thin ice, you must be sure of your facts.TFD

Knowing of the thin ice to stand on that accompanies an arranged marriage's new bride, she walked on eggshells as best she could.

Unfair discrimination (you mean favoritism?) is implied. Obviously, I hope.

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