Posted by Sucharita Maji
I began our conversation with “So, how would you define femininity?” and a 31-year-old, Bangalore based software professional surprised me by saying, “For me, it is to be bold and to chase your goals”. She kept on sharing how she has established herself in a male-dominated industry by breaking all the existing stereotypes and working hard. The conversation inspired me and I started feeling impressed since ambitious and strong women earn my respect by being who they are.
Almost after one hour of chat and coffee, she shocked me by saying she might consider quitting her job for few years after her motherhood. I asked her, as well as myself, “Why is motherhood perceived to be identical to womanhood?”, “How would ambitious women deal with the add-on responsibility after motherhood?”, “Will they compromise their work, if yes, how will they deal with the guilt?”
Here I come with some of the answers and unresolved questions.
Why is work life balance difficult to maintain for women?
Although the female representation in Indian workforce is worrisome and it often takes its position at the lowest end of the list of nations, one must admit that it has been changing towards a positive direction. Slowly, but, compared to the past, women have been going out to work now. But, does that change their fate in the kitchen? Sadly, the division of work inside the family is almost same as what it was decades back. Even if both the husband and wife work for same hours and contribute equally to the expenses, women are those who cook or take care of the elderly and kids.
I have found that women often say that since they have chosen the option of working, they need to balance more. In fact, husbands, no matter how much financial help he takes from his working wife, often boast about their progressiveness since they have ‘allowed’ their wives to work outside. They feel so proud of themselves for such ‘open mindedness’, that they rarely care to offer help in domestic work. Therefore, a working woman, with the responsibility of office and domestic work, gets no time for leisure and often feels absolutely exhausted from juggling their work and family.
How motherhood aggravates the problem
Motherhood is often portrayed and perceived to be a vital part, if not the sole purpose of womanhood. Where managing work and domestic tasks is itself cumbersome, tackling the complete responsibility of childcare deteriorates the condition.
Firstly, for many women in India, motherhood is not an option, it is a compulsion. The social stigma, blaming and trauma that a childless woman goes through, no one wants or dares to see that misfortune.
Secondly, due to media portrayal, child care is completely a mother’s responsibility. How many baby care product do you see where a dad is changing the nappies? Therefore, pretty much like following other role models, women also socially and culturally learn that a child is her responsibility and adds an extra variable to their work-family conflict. Men take a semi-functional role in this matter, where they take their kids for cricket or cycling when the mom is not home.
Third, mother blaming is quite common. Although no one can ignore the deep impact a mother has on her child’s personality and development, blaming every fault in a child to her mother surely adds an unnecessary demand and stress to the shoulder of mothers. Mothering is already a tedious job, the fear of not being able to be a perfect mother ( the way the media portrays) is surely one extra to that. This not only hampers a working mom’s work life balance but is also fatal to her mental well being.
Fourth, intensive mothering is still highly promoted in Indian society. This expectation from society and family often requires women to decide between family and career. Leaving job for motherhood definitely brings guilt and a sense of purposelessness since a busy working woman suddenly finds herself financially dependent, unimportant, and with lots of free time. Sometimes, she decides to rejoin, but the struggle of finding a job facing competition with freshers and re-learning everything are big challenges. These issues are nightmares for some women nowadays, since they are educated, independent, and want to work.
At the end, I must say, I find working mother’s running round the clock, she checks her kids’ homework and decides the dinner menu in the cab, she silently goes back to her laptop to check the office mails when her child sleeps. Since society has given so many roles to her, she has been juggling them with her tired hands, having absolutely no time for herself. I would love to see a day when parenthood would overpower motherhood and a mom would get a good nap.
Sucharita is a psychology researcher at IIT kanpur, who is interested in organizational psychology and gender. Besides being a coffee lover, she enjoys travelling, writing, and talking to people. She can be followed on Facebook.
Featured Image Credit: Youngisthan