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The other day a friend of mine confided that her husband had lost his high paying job. He is the sole bread-winner, they have two children still in school and in this economy finding another job is going to be tough. It is a crisis of monumental proportions. I’ve always treated this friend with some condescension, mainly because she is a homemaker whose preoccupation is with everything in the domestic sphere. How can we talk about the doings in the business world, or high art, or literary developments, if all she is doing is planning the next meal for a finicky son?
I go shopping with this friend, or to the club, or for a walk, and we talk about our children and of course, the misdeeds of her servants, all of who seem to be villains of monumental proportions. Therefore I didn’t know how to respond when she gave me details of how her husband had lost his job. Suddenly her work and her role in the family didn’t seem so trivial any more. Now, on top of looking after her children, she also has to take care of her husband, and be an anchor for him.
No matter how disturbed she might be, and no matter how much more energy she needs to apply to balancing her household budget, she has to appear as calm, as graceful and as affectionate as always. She has to ensure that her children aren’t affected by the storm that has overtaken their home, while keeping her husband emotionally secure. She has to support her parents and in-laws and protect them from the winds that are buffeting their world. All this she has to do to prevent her world from falling apart, as it so easily could.
Her situation is hardly uncommon. We have all known of women within our own or someone else’s family who have suddenly had to become the domestic equivalent of Rahul Dravid, the proverbial wall, providing support to a crumbling edifice. Men take both success and respect for granted. When either success at work or respect at home is suddenly withdrawn, they lose no time in wallowing in their weakness. The end of the road for them might as well be the end of the road for the rest of the house. It is left to the woman to keep the demons of domestic destruction at bay, and she is usually the lone soldier in this battle.
If only society recognized this unique strength of a woman! If only we could claim credit for saving so many households from anarchy. But no. We aren’t allowed even the reward of recognition. Recently I attended a friend’s son’s wedding. The groom’s alcoholic father stood around in dumb acquiescence, meekly observing all the rituals. It was obvious to the most distant stranger that it was the groom’s mother who was the pivot around which everything was centered. And yet at the end, the priest asked her to touch her husband’s feet in respect, just as the bride had to do for her husband. I, too, stood and watched this insult to gender equality and didn’t register a protest except in my mind.
Beyond Pink writes on women's stories in urban India. They could be real or
I know this article is meant to be about gender equality but it struck an off-note with me. I find it surprising that there still might be feminists among us who feel condescension at homemakers, and need a crisis to value their worth. But that aside, the stereotypes made me uncomfortable. The paragraph starting: “No matter…” I don’t really see why she has to do all that. Why does she have to be the rock? The loss of income to the family is a crisis for her too, she could be allowed a few breakdowns. Why do the children have to be sheltered? Why does she have to protect the in laws? I don’t get it, entirely. I get that she would want to be supportive but I don’t see why she has to be such a paragon of virtue. If she is, then all credit to her but the way this was written seemed to be prescriptive or stating this as the natural order of things. I didn’t appreciate the stereotyping of men “wallowing” either. Or so-called “true strength of women”. Why essentialise?
Women find themselves becoming responsible for their families in times of crisis. It is not about virtue but necessity. As mothers, they do end up shielding their children from domestic upheavals. It has also to do with cultural practices. Indian women are expected to be rocks of tolerance, and their first response is to live up to that expectation. They are allowed very little space for personal trauma. It is a weakness of our society that women are not supposed to yield to their instincts as naturally as men.
Women also enjoy being the sacrificer in the family and easily fit into the role. I am like that too. The day I decide to splurge on myself I feel uncomfortable. Spending on others is easy. In my case husband also is the same and it doesn’t help at all. Society’s tuning may have a role but the culprit is the inner voice that keeps directing women to do or be like THIS and not THAT.
“It is a weakness of our society that women are not supposed to yield to their instincts as naturally as men.” very true and now as if domestic roles were not enough women are supposed to be a super woman else-where too.
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