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I log in to my Facebook account and am urged to ‘lean in‘. Another article tells me how I can’t have it all. Another talks about what regrets await me should I leave the work force.
I type away dissecting, analysing, weighing in on all of them.
I should be clear in my mind by now. But I am not.
I am stuck on the word choice. Choice. It implies I am in control. Perhaps I am. But if I am, why do I feel so conflicted? I look back to the point when I had just finished college. A fire burned in me. I was ready to take on the big, bad adult world. I marched in to my dad’s boss’s office, a single sheet resume in my hand and walked out with a job. A couple of years later, the incessant talk of marriage and what it meant to be a wife filtered into the recesses of my brain. As I started a new project, thoughts strayed. “Would I be there to finish it?”. “Perhaps I will be married by then.” “What if I had to move away?”
Nobody placed me under duress. I was acting as I was supposed to. As family and prospective in-laws expected me to. Happily trading my identity for his. I would start anew. Build a career from scratch. And I did.
Then the stirrings started again. “What if I became pregnant?”. “I would like to stay home for the first year after the baby is born” “Will we be able to manage on a single person pay?”
I turned down challenging assignments. I lived in a world of perpetual what-ifs.
“Perhaps we will conceive if I took a break?”
Few more years flew by. “What if we got the call about being matched with the baby when we are on vacation?” “Should I take a break once the baby comes home?”
Babies came and they thrived. The guilt came uninvited and unobtrusive.
“Perhaps they will eat well if I fed them.” “I want to be home to see them off and be there when they are back”
The voice in my head is all mine. It is shaped by the role models I have had. The silent messages I imbibed watching people around me. The verbal and non verbal messages I received watching media and the society around me.
I wonder why I am conflicted because my decisions are being judged by the voices in my head. Because they do not fit the mold I want to belong to. The choice we are speaking of here only seems to apply to me.
As the spouse and equal partner in this adventure called life, these questions and what-ifs did not plague my husband. Quitting or not was never an option. He did not have to uproot himself when we got married. I did. He did not have to be worried about getting pregnant. I did. He did not think taking a break to raise kids or nurture them was expected of him. If he lent support it was lauded.
So, as I grapple with the ‘to work or not work’ choice. I find it loaded. Unfavorably.
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great piece…the eternal question. no easy answer
Thanks Aparna. No easy answers but I am hopeful we as a generation of new parents are raising children to balance it out.
Wonderful article. I don’t totally agree with the last few lines though.
My husband is a feminist, not the kind who would shout slogans or do marches, but the sort who does not think any work as man’s work or women’s work, who is ready to give up a job and stay at home and have me go out to work, who doesn’t want to share responsibilities, because he thinks that there is nothing like “sharing” responsibilities, it’s all work that someone has to do…and guess what…he doesn’t have choices either, rather I find that his choices are as equally loaded as mine.
We can just hope that when our kid grows up, he will not be judged if he wants to give up a full-time job and nurture a kid, or for doing any cooking or cleaning or taking up a not-so-manly job.
Arunima, I hear you and what you say is perfectly valid. When I wrote this piece, all I was mulling over was this. Why do I feel a conflict when I take stock of my life and career? I talked to my husband and given that both of us are equal partners in our relationship, I was amazed to find he had none of the misgivings or conflicts. Digging deeper I realized almost all the judgement came from my mind. It was shaped by the lessons I had imbibed watching family and society around me. I am not blaming anyone or saying men have it easier. All am saying is that given my particular set of circumstances, I feel the weight of responsibility for my children to be heavier. It is all in my mind. I am actively trying to unlearn all of the things I have absorbed without realizing the impact they have on how I think and react to events in my life. It was more of a reflective piece.
Totally agree. As women, we feel guilt more deeply than men do. Men just are “cooler” (just couldn’t find a different word!) about things. Just need to learn that from them and unlearn the social stereotypes we have absorbed all these years. 🙂
Arunima, Glad to have this discussion. I do think it goes deeper than just having an unruffled attitude towards balancing career and family. A lot of it has to do with the impressions we are raised with. Personally I feel men take it harder when they are let go than women are. Again this is just based on my experiences and not a generalization. I feel men feel pressured to be providers – of fiscal security, food and shelter. Women feel pressured to be nurturing – feeding, taking physical care. Today my career seems to mean something so I debate internally whether or not my decisions are good/bad based on what my expected behavior should be. Anyways, am rambling. Great to hear your views.
It is the bug in our heads that sends us, women, on a guilt trip. It is we that take on more than we are capable of handling. I did it and I see the next generation doing it. If the husband makes himself a cup of tea we feel elated that our husband is different but we may never feel inclined to sleep till eight in the morning and let him look for something to eat or drink. We cannot break free and that is why we are never happy with the choices that we make.
Haha! You hit the nail on the head. “If the husband makes himself a cup of tea we feel elated that our husband is different but we may never feel inclined to sleep till eight in the morning and let him look for something to eat or drink.”
That in essence is where everything goes awry. 🙂 I was away for a week and agonized over what my husband and kids were feeding themselves despite knowing I have no control or access to fix things should there be a need.
Loved Hip Grandma’s comment too..
Even i realised very late that “its all in the mind!”
We need to be happy with what we do and not bother about what society thinks..
i agree that women’s choices are not easy at all and involve multiple considerations..at the end of the day what matters is whether you have peace of mind!
Absolutely Sri. It all begins in our mind. If we can unlearn what was drilled in our heads over the years, we can make a new start.
exactly the thoughts of millions of us I am sure… I don’t ever understand what is the whole noise about when men help their wives or act a little sensitive.. I mean come on they are supposed to do it because it’s family and they have to share it equally… when a woman does it .. it is her duty.. when a man does it .. he is God.. strange ideologies we live in seriously!!!
Reminds me of a dialogue in English Vinglish “When a man cooks, it is art, when a woman cooks it is duty.” On the flip side, I wish I saw more women take on fiscal responsibilities and actually do their taxes themselves. 🙂
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