A, a 36 year old doctor from Bhubaneswar, has been on COVID duty for over a fortnight now. With exhaustive work hours, a potential threat to contract virus and isolation, A already had a lot on her plate, until she stumbled upon an interview given earlier that week to a local newspaper. A popular newspaper, in an attempt to run a story on COVID warriors, had tampered with the provided information, to come up with a completely different story. It begins with her husband’s occupation, highlighting upon his struggle to run the household while she tended to her job. Whether or not the aforementioned statement is true, is not the crux of the matter. What’s essential here, is the reduction of a qualified health professional to mere gender roles. What’s essential here, is whether one asks the same questions to a male doctor.
Why is striking a work-home balance only consequential to a woman and not to her male counterpart?
In a similar story run by another local newspaper, two senior specialists from one of the leading COVID hospitals of a particular state, were subject to a rather insubstantial coverage. The headline unnecessarily pointed out that the two doctors are women, putting their credibility and the importance of the work in a juxtapose.
In 2019, Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer, and Abhijit Banerjee were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. Leading Indian media houses relayed the information by quoting Duflo as Banerjee’s ‘wife’. Duflo happens to be married to one of her co-recipients, yes, but that piece of information holds no relevance to her work or accolades.
Needless to say, such callous reportage is pure unethical journalism. However, the discrepancies on the part of the media, are but part of a larger system of patriarchy and gender stereotypes. While doctors all over the globe are pressed with monumental problems including the lack of PPE kits, constant exposure to the COVID virus, and draconian work hours among other things, the addressing of a trained healthcare professional as a product of age old gender roles, raises very important questions.
Simone de Beauvoir in her book wrote, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes a woman‘. Over decades, the sentence has been misquoted profusely; its connotation, deeply misunderstood. The statement in the question suggests that womanhood is not innate but a product of prolonged psychological and societal conditioning. This ‘ideal societal woman’ is thereby expected to play a multitude of gender roles assigned by the society.
No matter how far a woman progresses in her desired field, her value would always be gauged in relation to her ability to cook, clean, and rear children. Nivedita Menon in her book, ‘Seeing Like a Feminist‘ writes,
“The sexual division of labour has serious implications for the role of women as citizens, because every woman’s horizons are limited by this supposedly ‘primary’ responsibility. Whether in their choice of career, or their ability to participate in politics (trade unions, elections), women learn when very young, to limit their ambitions. This self-limitation is what produces the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, the level above which professional women rarely rise; or the ‘mommy track’, the slower career track upwards, while women put aside some of the most productive years of their lives in order to look after children.”
A report by the International Labour Organization suggests that women spend 4.1 times more time than men in doing unpaid care work. An analysis by Oxfam suggests that globally, women would have made approximately 1.3 trillion US Dollars if their labour is to be remunerated.
The concept of unpaid domestic labour is not novel. What we are looking at here, is a systematic invisibilization; a career narrative, shifted, stereotyped and twisted until it is palatable enough for consumption by the patriarchal society.
Sanchita is an undergraduate in English Literature, based in Bhubaneswar. She is the co-founder of a city based book club – Bibliophiles of Bhubaneswar, a core team member of Bhubaneswar Poetry Club, and a part of the organising committee of Film Society of Bhubaneswar. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.
Featured Image Source: The New York Times