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A deeply personal story of learning to say no and set boundaries on the expectations that everyone has from Superwoman.
When women work outside the home, their work inside doesn’t magically go away! Women continue to bear the ‘double burden’ of two jobs – resulting in immense stress as well as lost opportunities. Join Women’s Web & Breakthrough India in our special #Streelink series this month, as women share their stories on the double burden. You can learn more here and share your story.
One battered cape for sale. But no one would want to buy it: the cape of the superwoman. There are scriptures and scriptures that talk about women, their status and whatever but the only ones we were taught are: “karyeshu daasi, karaneshu manthri, bhojeshu mata, shayneshu rambha, Kshyamayeshu dharithir, Roopeshu Lakshmi, Satkarma Yukta, Kuladharma pathni.”
(The 6 qualities of an ideal wife, excellent at everything she does.)
This is also the stupid one that inspires movie makers…and feminist scholars.
A rather high benchmark and we try to jump it. Is it time for applause or is it an appalling time? Probably a bit of both.
How I hated Sundays when the kids ran out to play, Dr.D went to meet his friends and I would be cleaning the house like a scullery maid. I remember being full term pregnant with daughter two, when my live-in helper went on a vacation; the in-laws landed up, apparently to help me, but it meant cooking three meals when I would manage with a casserole. I had no washing machine, so there was laundry and dish-washing to be done; not to mention, ferrying the little lady to school and her lunch box, while nursing a broken leg with K-wires in place.
Looking back, I think somewhere, I enjoyed the drama and being the oh! long suffering bahurani…I must have given Nirupa Roy a run for her money. It only gets better! At the end of the day after making rotis for the in-laws and their great son I sit down to eat, but no one offers rotis to me, (wow, I get brownie points for suffering.) The MIL says “I do not like it. Plates that we eat in are piled up with the dishes we cook in. Can you wash the plates before you eat?”
I am clueless on why I did not raise the middle finger, or politely say no…let’s cut the crap, I would lose brownie points, so I did the dishes and then ate. After this, MIL pours milk for herself, sonny boy and my dear daughter; never mind that I am pregnant and supposed to drink milk. The brownie points convert to a tiara I guess. I was angry and full of self pity.
One fine day it occurred to me that the Saviour was not going to turn up; I was my Saviour –hallelujah, what an epiphany! I also realized that I could let go of a lot of things. The first thing I did was to plan my menu. Then I put in my domestic chores for the evening, my non-productive time. I taught my daughters to load the laundry machine, so I could delegate the job. I stopped ironing the family’s clothes – they could do it for themselves or wear crumpled ones. Next on the agenda was one room thorough cleaning per week – the rest got a run through and sometimes not even that.
The only thing I made sure of was that I washed the dishes before I went to sleep at night, so that I did not have to wake up to a stinking kitchen. When I could not handle the school bags and kids on my scooter, I started sending them by school bus.
I am not penalized for having a career…it is that my work is not considered worth it; if someone has to give up, it has to be me. I am learning to say no. I also realized that I am the person who chose to be a doormat. Being a doormat meant being good, and being good meant approval. My report card with Chitragupta gets a star.
What I also noticed is that by and large, many women continue to pull other women down. I do not how many of you remember film-maker Prema Karanth, the wife of theatre playwright B.V.Karanth. When B.V.Karanth was involved in an extra-marital affair, and even accused of burning the woman in question, I remember other women discussing, “Actually the mistake is Prema’s; she should have been with her husband instead of running after her career, he would not have got involved with an another woman then.” Wow, a man cannot zip it up, so his wife has to become the zip…what fun!
Then there are other stories I know. Kshama a doctor, works 8am to 8pm, while her husband works sporadically. She puts the bread on the table, but then she has to take the barbs because she makes her husband iron her clothes on time.
Dr.Anuradha, was a very good surgeon, and academically very sound. When they started practice, she was more popular than her husband. This caused issues in her married family. Her parents and parents-in-law insisted that she should give up practice, so that his ego is not hurt.
At the moment I am in a place where I have learnt to say no, to my kids. I have yet to learn to say no to Dr.D. I have understood that the cape needs to be burnt and the ashes need to dispersed into no man’s land.
When the sun goes down, I have to put up my boundaries and set my priorities. I have to delegate. I have to take care and pamper myself; I have to realize I am not a slave. A family becomes so if everyone were to contribute.