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Here's why I agree with Reshma Saujani's views about hustle culture and working mothers not being prioritised at workplaces.
I recently came across a reel on the gram where I saw a woman speak about the toxicity of the hustle culture.
I followed more of her. The woman that I am talking about is none other than Reshma Saujani, the Founder and CEO of Girls who Code, and, Marshall Plan for Moms.
To be honest, I had not heard of her before. But the more I saw her, the more I agreed with her.
It also made me see things from a different perspective. There were things that I already knew – women are paid less than men, motherhood and childcare is seen essentially as a woman’s job, many women think about giving up their career (or putting it on pause) post childbirth, the hustle culture is toxic for our mental health. These are common knowledge.
We also know that inequity exists at workplace, we know about workplaces being extremely male oriented, and we know why that happens. But we don’t often think about the solutions to these issues.
What I never considered was how women are being absorbed in a culture of work ‘of the men’ essentially created ‘by the men’ and ‘for the men’, which is why it doesn’t work well for us women.
For example, think about workspaces that include childcare. Can’t think of many? Why are there so few workspaces safe for little children and toddlers, and not mother friendly at all? Why can’t mothers work in the corporate world?
The idea that this could be a distraction or an interruption at work and reduce efficiency is utter nonsense. A parent, man or woman, will work to the best of their ability only when they know that their child is in safe hands.
Not all families can accommodate child care or afford a nanny. Not all families live in a joint family system. And not all families are comfortable leaving their child into someone else’s arms.
Patriarchy existed in the work structure since a very long time. Work spaces are not child friendly because traditionally, men did not have to take care of the child. A few days of paternity leave, which is a basic right, is also a privilege in today’s world.
These few days of paternity leave is a game changer in a mother’s life when her husband is around to support her in the first very difficult days post pregnancy.
However, when the man goes back to work and the woman is still stuck with breast feeding and changing diapers and being sleepless for the next few months, depressive episodes and postpartum blues are bound to be more intense.
Pregnancy changes a woman physically, emotionally and mentally. And to expect her to be the same person again is a cruel, unfair demand.
Which brings me to my next point – the toxicity of male work culture.
Just because a workplace is against sexual harassment and takes your existence seriously, it doesn’t mean that it would take your mental health into consideration too.
Overworking is not winning. There is nothing to be proud of about sleeping less and earning more. And there is no point in not demanding equal remuneration as your male colleagues, just because you’re earning enough.
There’s a reason more women were laid off during and post COVID than men – because even with all their work ethics and meticulous work and efforts, women employees are considered less profitable and more disposable in times of crisis. Women workers are taken more casually.
Women, who had to take care of homes, had to take care of office work from their home too, and there is no pride in that because they didn’t deserve to be laid off.
They deserved that job not because they were women but because their earning mattered, their efforts mattered. They deserved another chance. And this culture doesn’t give another chance – especially to women.
And what kind of kids are we expected to raise amid this hustle culture where vulnerability or taking breaks is not acceptable? Where we need to keep revering a narrow definition of success?
In Reshma’s words, “Mothers are broken right now.” And, I agree. Our system is breaking them.
While money can bring success and buy us social status, there has to be a line drawn somewhere. Success at the expense of what? It’s not just your work that is bringing you all the money. It’s the dire and tireless competition with male colleagues who have been fed a separate and very different social narrative from you.
Childbirth is still a very big deal to be accepted, today’s world doesn’t even recognise or consider period pain. And so the best excuse for all of this is – quit, work from home, work less, juggle and balance your home life and your career life, pick up a hobby. A better term for this is to ‘diversify’.
What if women do not want to diversify? What if women enjoy coming to office and having that sense of independence? What if women deserve another chance with their kids as well as their work? What if this brings men closer to their kids and families too? Why is emotional and soulful nurturing seen as a threat to toxic work culture?
Women are not in the workforce just to keep themselves busy – they work because they like to work and earn and be self dependent. Yes, in many cases women earn less than their husbands, but that doesn’t place the husband on the pedestal.
These women are as ambitious and as driven as their male peers. And this is an extremely hurtful, insulting and sexist angle to the entire debate. Women, with earning or rich husbands, are as relevant as any other woman in the workforce.
And sadly, many of these women are asked, rather convinced, to give up work because their child needs them more than they need their job.
Reshma, in a podcast with Steven Bartlett, spoke about this one incident where she had to speak in an event with Fortune 100 CEOs. She was given a time slot to speak between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Before she even went on to speak, she was told how many people avoided that slot because it was ‘intimidating’, as Gates and Buffett were sitting in the first row. All the while Reshma wished she had more than ten minutes to speak because she had so much more to say.
And so just because most of us women are not a part of that circle, we fail to dissect every unearned, undeserved privilege that most people, especially men, on the top have.
This feeds the propaganda that we are not good enough or worthy enough or smart enough and that we do not belong in the top tier. But it is not about whether we are prepared or qualified or ready for an event in life.
It’s more about selling us their propaganda – a book here, a course there, when it should be about you being yourself and being a natural leader. Why should we be force-fed someone else’s formula?
With age, what defines success and happiness for us also changes. In today’s world a lot of women have to choose between work and family, while men do not have to make this choice. A lot of women are delaying pregnancy or opting out of it for this very reason. Again, men do not have to make this choice.
Women are expected to be martyrs. And it’s important to talk about the sacrifices that women have to make to meet the unreal expectations. All the while failing to fulfil the commitment we need to make to ourselves.
Working mothers, have it worse, when it comes to mental health crisis, for this very reason. And single working moms have it the worst, I think. They have to keep driving at work, all the while meeting the needs of everyone else in the family and at work as well.
According to Saujani, this placing yourself last on the list of priorities is the leading cause of mental health crisis in working women – this entire #girlboss culture is not a bad ass badge of honour if it is depriving women of their basic right to take a nap or to take some time off.
And before men complain that this is how it has always been, that men sacrifice too, that men surrender too, that men prioritise others before themselves too, let’s relook into this whole culture then.
Sacrificing yourself is not fetching you any brownie points, sacrificing yourself is only depriving you of your basic rights, while you’re unaware of it. When we are not committed to ourselves, we will always fail to be committed to our work and our people as well.
The happiness that money will buy, thus, will always fall short of everything that has a soul, and a life. And working moms, across the world, are at the core of this unseen loss right now.
Image credit: August de Richelieu on Pexels
Mostly writing, other times painting. Here to celebrate little wins. I am on the same page as you, just a different book - you read mine, I'll read yours.
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