A Matter Of Choice, Or Is It?

Posted: July 27, 2013

Login to Facebook on any day and you will see at least one post in that day’s feed that tells you about the choices that women have to make. The choice to work or not work, the choice to bear or not bear kids, the choice to marry or not marry, the choice to travel or not travel, the choice to lean in or lean out (since that’s the latest term now-a-days) and so on. Makes me wonder; isn’t it better to be a woman and have all these choices, than to be a man and not have any of these?

I know at least two guys who want to have these choices, but don’t. Society traps them with the expectations of what a normal male should be, behaviorally as well as economically. Here’s looking at a few of them.

Men or women - who has more choices?Study more or study less – So you just completed your graduation and couldn’t get a great job. Are you now wondering whether to study further, or maybe go in for a masters abroad? Well, if you’re a female, chances are that you are given this choice. But if you’re a male, and that too from south of the Narmada (I’m still showing after-effects of reading the Shiva Trilogy), chances are you don’t have this choice. If you’ve not already landed the best job in town, hook or crook, loan or scholarship, you study more. (The trend is now catching up in the north as well) Unless, of course, you want to handle the long list of relatives who ask you why you are not yet working at one of the top MNCs.

To marry or not – Ladies, you thought you were the only one not given a choice when it came to marriage. Well, here’s some news, the guys are not given a choice either. Just a quick mental exercise – how many females do you know in the age group of 30-40 who are not yet married? Now how many men do you know in the same category? Not too much of a difference, is there?

Kids or no kids – This is one place where the balance does tip in the favor of women. Because, men just aren’t created to produce babies or breast-feed. But if you thought all that pestering for kids by parents, relatives and the dozens of well-wishers happened only to you, well, men get their fair share of it too. In fact, a friend once confided how he was given “tips” by the “well-wishers” in his family on how to make sure they have a kid in the next one year. As for the break after having a baby, maybe guys would do it, if only it was more accepted in our country. I know an ex-colleague who worked from home for quite some time after their first baby was born, while his wife joined back to work. Of course, this was not in India.

Office or home – This one you have to admit, we women have a choice, but men just don’t. Society, relatives, friends, they will all hound them like a pack of dogs till they are forced to get back into the nine-to-five routine, whether they like it or not. And the poor fellows don’t have options of freelancing, part-time, or work-from-home either. They might be born nurturers, but they are forced to “go out and do the man’s work” (pun intended).

To travel or not – As females we have many reasons for not embarking on work related travel; kids, in-laws, PTAs and so on. I have seen an ex-colleague refuse to travel on a weekend since there was a school project to be handed in the following Monday. I am not judging her. We’ve all had to let go of those travels since there was some other work to be completed during that period. Indeed, I am myself guilty of it. But it just makes me wonder whether men can ever give the same reasons. Expectations straightjacket them to be always be available for any travel, cocktail parties and business dinners, or risk being the outcast.

Lean in or lean out – Men are forced to lean in. A guy who leans out at work goes out of the door. Society makes excuses for a female who leans out. One may argue that this is changing. But in my experience, I have generally found people more accepting of a woman who doesn’t want to climb the corporate ladder, than a man who isn’t pro-active enough.

I know I’m raking up quite a few outbursts here. But honestly, just put away the feminist cap, and for a moment think. Is it really true that we don’t have choices? I agree that in a patriarchal culture like India, a lot of what I have said above come as rights to men. But have we considered whether they want it or not? Men are as trapped with choices, or the lack of them, as we women are. Society puts all people, men as well as women, into pre-defined brackets. The irony is, it’s only women who are trying to break out of these.

What society needs is more men who show the inclination to break these boundaries. For it to be a fight for equality in the true sense, women as well as men should fight against societal norms at large and break the gender stereotypes that shackle them. That is when equality would be really meaningful.

It’s like a friend of mine once said, “I would be glad if my wife wore the pants in the house, provided people let me wear the apron in peace.”

Note: These are totally my own thoughts and I would love to hear your take on them.

Pic credit: Thriftvintagechic (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. Very well written. And very apt points too. While women hv their problems it’s not like men don’t. Reading a balanced outlook after ages

  2. I am in two minds about this. Yes it looks like men have fewer choices than women (at least in well off families, cos in many other families, women too *have* to work). But, I don’t think we should forget that women have fought very hard for more choices – many professions were formally or informally closed to women until 30-40 years ago. These have not been handed to women on a platter.

    So, my question is, if men want to have the same choices, including the choice to not work, where are the men fighting for the right to more paternity leave, the right to leave work at a decent hour, the right to share household work equally? I’m sorry but I don’t see too many men articulating these, or fighting for them.

    The women who do fight for a sane family life invariably do lose some steps on the career ladder. The day men are willing to make those sacrifices (and in large numbers) is when they will have the same choices.

    • True Aparna. That is why it is ironical, that women, so frequently known as the “weaker sex” is the only one trying to break out of these shackles. Men are, with the risk of generalizing here, mostly content to play the roles that society has handed to them. The few who want to answer the call of their heart, rarely get any support from their own clan.

  3. Interesting views!!

    My hubby once told me he is bored of corporate life and wants to do “organic farming!”

    As you mentioned, he may never be allowed by family and society to choose this option..as everyone expects a man to do a full time “proper” job..

  4. My son in law took a break from work and relaxed for a month tried to figure out if he could start something on his own, read quite a few books that he had planned to and finally when he felt recharged went back to work. This was possible for two reasons – firstly he was living in America. He had enough funds to fall back on and my daughter was doing her Ph D and was entitled to scholarship money.

    The expectations of the Indian society was different before the market opened up. Money was tight and with women -or at least most of them- being home makers, the bread winner of the family could never take a break from work. Switching jobs or changing tracks midway was considered risky.

    Times are changing and so will society.

  5. Society traps men too, with expectations based on gender. And yes, we don’t hear their voices enough. Like HG said in the comment above, it is only recently that men could exercise these choices.
    Why should it be us versus them? Women (who have been at it longer) can give the men a step up, a platform… then maybe we will hear them more, and see more of them. We are fighting the same thing, after all. This is something we need to do together.

    • Agree that it is not us versus them, Arundhati, but the desire for more balance has to be strong enough for men to be more vocal about it is my opinion. Women can be allies sure, but men need to initiate their own fight for balance and family time, just as women did to be allowed to earn money and climb the career ladder.

    • But why Aparna? I see it as part of the feminist struggle. And it is in our own interest too – men being available for family more will lead to greater opportunities for women.

    • Arundhati, in any struggle, I believe allies can only help. Unless the affected group truly and dearly wants change, it will be superficial. That’s why I believe men have to fight the battle – with women as allies of course. Nowhere am I saying that women shouldn’t support or help.

    • Well you get to don’t hear their voices because men usually don’t say much either. In the choice between “speaking out their problems” and “shutting up”, the society conditions a male to just shut up and get on with it.

  6. Very well put. men do have fewer choices than they think they have. We shouldn’t put away our feminist cap to think about this, Arunima. In fact feminism is all about choices, for everyone. Men, women, and everyone else. Reality does not give us these choices, but as we work towards them, even when things often set us back, someday things will change. And no, this change may not happen overnight.

    • Thanks Sandhya. Your comment actually made me check up the definition of feminism! “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”(source:Wikipedia). So we will now need to define a movement for gender equality. 🙂

    • I had a similar reaction to Sandhya to ” just put away the feminist cap, and for a moment think”. It is feminists more often that not who raise these issues, with relation to men, as well, in my experience. I myself became aware of the limitations of both femininity and masculinity in feminism class.

    • I agree that men’s choices are limited. That’s why patriarchy sucks, for both genders. We would have a more productive and happy society if people could choose their roles based on interest and aptitude.

      However, within the delimited roles, the choices that fall into the male basket are typically the ones that give access to greater power in the public sphere. The roles women were limited to were restricted to the home, limited access to money and hence power. Women fought for their choices to open up because the power imbalance was so obvious. Men haven’t organised to fight for the right to exercise the roles traditionally associated with women because those roles were never associated with power. The ultimate goal has thus far been that everyone have a shot at the male universe.

      It’s only recently that the idea that someone might actually choose to eschew power and that that can be liberating is gaining currency. And even then, you have to be in a position of some privilege, normally across generations, to make the choice to stop pursuing power and money. Most people, men and women, don’t have that option.

  7. Except for the last point, the rest are quite doable for a guy…I have done those voluntarily :)…the last point, I can’t lean out even if I want to…it doesn’t come naturally to me at workplace. But IMHO, in today’ society, a guy who takes the less conventional or traditional route – studying less, travelling by taking sabatticals, uncommital in the 20s , women don’t find such guys appealing because women primarily equate traditional/conventional lifestyle to security which is very important to them..e.g. an successful male entrepreneur will mostly get married late such as the founder of shaadi.com…he got married at the age of 40 🙂 & most guys who are married in 20s they usually stick to tried & tested path, they are risk-averse…i guess that’s why women find them appealing…they are predictable!!!

    • @Kartik – Interesting to hear your views. Leaning out happens when a) you are not motivated by the work you’re doing, b) external commitments/factors force you. When it is a woman who leans out, it is mostly attributed to (b) even if the real reason might be (a). For men, neither (a) nor (b) works. About the quest for a “traditional” guy, not so sure. I’m surrounded by entrepreneurs, having worked for IT start-ups for the good part of the last 3 years. Off hand, I can recollect just 1 guy in my network who falls in the age bracket 30-40 and is not married.
      That said, if men are afraid to make different choices, as that would bring down their “eligibility factor”, then it’s just sad.

    • well, its not just about single guys…even married guys, if eventually,they want to take the road less traveled
      e.g. a guy wants to quit 9-5 job & start an IT startup/travel outfit,open a restaurant , start a winery or brewery…that would mean lot of effort & time focusing on the end goal otherwise you can kiss your dream goodbye. That would involve travelling to meet clients, working really late hours,unsteady finances translating to constant pressure. Would he be able to pay attention to his wife then? would he be able to call her like before? would he be able to take her out frequently like before ? Now the wife will be understanding of’course.But we are talking about months here, maybe a couple of years before he achieves his goal. Will she be patient to that extent ?

      To be an outlier(man or woman), you either sacrifice your social/domestic life or better yet,your partner is also ready to walk that road with you & be an entrepreneurial couple 🙂

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