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How are women's choices on career and home made? Why is it that only women need to make these choices?
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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It is easy to give in to patriarchal expectations from a married woman and lose your self in a marriage, but the path to happiness is in keeping your independence.
Marriage is often described as the joining of two individuals’ bodies, minds, and souls. Upon getting married, you are expected to share everything with your partner, including time, money, and all other aspects of life. Your life should revolve around your spouse from beginning to end.
But is it necessary to spend every waking moment with the spouse? Are you not supposed to have a life apart from your spouse? And do these rules apply only to women or men as well?
Although both men and women may face this situation, women are generally expected to give up everything once they get married. Despite progress in several areas, expecting women to abandon their interests, passions, and friendships to align their lives with those of their spouses is still considered the norm.
The rising numbers of single women choosing this life shout out clear and loud that patriarchy and sexism will no longer break or chain us.
Another book on singlehood? It seems to be the season for books on the joys and freedom of being single. But Demystifying and Dignifying Singlehood: Life Journeys of Single Women Across the Globe by Uma Jain is different. The book does not glorify or glamourise the lives of single women in any way. These are real stories – with the good, the bad and the ugly, all there.
The book tells the stories of 15 single women across the world. A feeling of deep understanding and empathy fills you as you read the book and understand the challenges faced by the women who are single – by choice or chance. Some of the women chose to be single because they faced discrimination and even abuse as girl children. Some others had abusive marriages and sought divorce.
The tag line ‘Crafting pathways on rough terrains’ on the cover page is enough to tell you that this is a serious take on the issue of singlehood. If it focuses more on the rough than the smooth, that has been the reality for the 15 women.
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