How We Devalue A Woman Who ‘Put Her Career On Hold Over A Husband And Children’

If homemaking is not career enough, then the question that needs asking is why do we only value those things that can be monetarily quantified, and which women were deliberately kept out of for centuries?

A person who was privy to some personal sharings of mine in a women’s group, used them on a public post to attack my stand on the news about Bangalore girl students fighting one another publicly.

Did I not put my career and education on hold over a husband and children, they asked, did I not place my husband on a pedestal too? And if so, to please not to question the ethics of ‘silly, hormonal teenagers’.

One would want to dismiss these allegations, but they raise important questions that deserve to be broken down; reflected upon.

To address the last part first, I deeply disagree with the dehumanisation of teenagers as silly and hormonal. All humans have hormones and all of us at any age or gender can be described as ‘hormonal’. Women are constantly accused of being slave to the moods caused by hormones. For centuries, men have deemed the possession of a uterus and menstruation as reason enough for women to be unstable and sub-human. A whole word ‘hysterical’ was coined to be weaponised against women.

So to use the same thing to describe girls and young women feels like a long walk back in time. Yes, they are young with limited life experience. But then so were Greta, Malala, Disha, Nodeep, Muskan. Teens, like adults, are capable of great things and not so great things, hormones notwithstanding.

As a cis woman, I personally would be wary of using words like silly and hormonal to dismiss acts of egregious violence and the deliberate intent to cause grievous injury. Remember, after the brutal Delhi gangrape and murder, where one of the perpetrators was a teenager, the laws were changed to include the trying of minors as adults if the crime was heinous.

A society built on the unpaid, unrecognised labour of women

To come to the main part, the personal challenge of, ‘Did I not put my career, my education on hold to raise a family, be a homemaker?’

The person who wrote this is aware of my sadness at things not playing out the way that I hoped they would, they are aware that the consequences of not being economically sound as a homemaker worry me deeply, and their ill-informed questions actually point to the bedrock of patriarchy, to pit women against women.

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It’s extremely sad that a woman choosing to be a homemaker, a stay-at-home-mother, is told that they have put their careers on hold. That’s how patriarchy teaches us to devalue another woman’s contribution to humanity *and* the GDP.

A mother’s work is equal to 2.5 full time jobs

Do we really ever put our education on hold as mothers? Just that alone is the job of 2.5 people according to a survey I read. On top of that if you are the mother of a child with special needs, a child with chronic illness, the amount you have to educate yourself to advocate for your child,… does that not count as a continuing education?

I taught myself about ADHD, anxiety and depression, read books, spoke to counsellors and therapists and doctors relentlessly to understand how the illness plays out.

I learnt to play the penny-whistle to be able to teach them a musical instrument.

I learnt badminton so that when they played at a competitive level, I could understand their POV.

I kept up with pop-culture to be a part of the world they were growing up in.

I learnt about queer rights to understand their sudden shift into inclusive vocabulary. Was this not worthwhile education?

Why parents should not be underestimated

There was a couple named Michael and Augusta Odone, and they had a son named Lorenzo, an exceptionally bright kid. Suddenly at age 6, Lorenzo was struck down by a mysterious illness and began degenerating rapidly till he became vegetative. Many tests and doctors later, Lorenzo was diagnosed with ALD, a degenerative disease with a life expectancy of 2 years from the onset of symptoms.

Neither of his parents were doctors or scientists, and yet it didn’t stop them from learning more and more about the disease destroying their child. They butt heads against doctors, scientists, politicians, till they knew more about the disease than any highly educated scientist or doctor of the time. They combined their learnings and self-education to invent the first and only medicine ever invented for ALD and called it Lorenzo’s Oil. And miraculously Lorenzo’s symptoms began to disappear; eventually he was able to swallow on his own and lived upto the age of 30, 22 more years than the highly educated scientists predicted.

It was not able to cure him completely, because by the time Lorenzo’s symptoms appeared, it was already too late for him. But thanks to the efforts of these parents, babies are now screened at birth for ALD, and started on Lorenzo’s oil right away if the children have the markers.

Is a parent, any parent, afforded the privilege of putting one’s education on hold?

Let’s talk about the economics of being a homemaker and SAHM

Because I was dissatisfied with the material, mass-production kind of education being offered by the school, I chose to homeschool my two children right upto college.

To be a good teacher to them, on top of my daily work, I also attended a teacher’s training course. Which means on top of a homemaker’s salary, I deserve to be paid an actual teacher’s wages too. These are not careers enough?

It’s being alluded to that I have no business commenting on silly hormonal teenagers because I did the same. What do we say about history, what happens when we don’t learn from it? We are doomed to repeat it. If we were a species that didn’t learn from each other’s mistakes, build on each other’s learnings, wouldn’t we still be trying to make fire, reinvent the wheel?

We do know what would happen to the economics of the world if homemakers demanded to be paid. India has a savings rate of 33% of the GDP of which 70 % comes from household savings. This requires one person to be a homemaker and effect that change by doing those roles for free which would have titles like Chef, and Chief Wellbeing Officer, Nurse, Teacher, Housekeeper, Therapist in the workforce, and be paid good money for it.

If homemaking is not career enough, then the question that needs asking is – why do we only value those things that can be monetarily quantified, and which women were deliberately kept out of for centuries?

When all systems attack a woman for any of the choices she makes- SAHM or going-out-to-work-mother, homemaker or professional, married, single, widowed, choosing to get pregnant or choosing to terminate one, or choosing to be childfree, the requirement is to dismantle those systems. Not attack a woman for choosing them.

Image source: a still from Cutting Chai from Modern Love Mumbai

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About the Author

Hema Gopinathan

Hema Gopinathan left a blight of a corporate career to homeschool her two children. A teacher trained in the Waldorf/ Rudolf Steiner pedagogy, a writer, an artist, a crocheter, Hema spends half her time in read more...

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