Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dream for your daughter?

I am living the feminist dream - I am married to an utterly wonderful, non-chauvinistic man, who is not even aware while he is making them that his choices speak of equal rights for women. This post is not about my husband, but he is my excuse for why I have not had a single feminist rant on my blog so far. I read about issues women face and feel far removed from it all in my day to day life. Sometimes though, I read or come across something that shakes me out of my stupor and make me rethink my whole "I don't have a single reason to rant" lifestyle - what affects one woman affects all women as a collective and advocacy for women's rights cannot be dependant upon our individual life experiences - in that you can start advocating for a cause because of a negative experience you may have had, but you cannot stop because of one positive or continuing positive personal experiences. So here goes ...

I recently was speaking to a group of working mothers, most of us had cajoled, bribed and pushed our children into getting ready for a swim class and were exhausted and one mom started talking about how hard it was working and taking care of home and children and how going to part time hurt her career so she had to switch back to full time. What she said next made me sit up and take notice. She said " What do I tell my daughter about careers? I am personally at a point where I feel tired and exhausted and that I have completely wasted a good portion of my life following a dream that I am even debating that I needed in the first place. I could have just stayed at home, never had a career and hence never had a conflict of interest. Do I tell my daughter that she would have a better life if she decided to stay at home ?".
This stayed with me the whole day - how much our mothers influence our choice of life styles, career choices and life goals. I have sons and have never given much thought to their career choices or whether they will even have one. I hope I haven't been sexist in assuming my children would of course work outside. My own mother dreamt for my sister and me and she dreamt big. My grandfather used to joke that she had determined that I was going to get a Ph.D. at 2. Anyway, I wonder whether my life would have been different if my mother had decided to work outside, if she had become disillusioned with the inequities that exist in the pay structure based on sex, if she had tired of the constant battle to manage home and her job outside, would she still have pushed us as she did?

While you hear more and more about the stay at home dad, Woman is still largely the parent that quits her once loved job to look after her children. Woman is still the parent that has her career stunted because of a choice to cut back on responsibility or go part time. Woman is the parent that will hang herself out on a limb for missing bedtime because of a deadline. Woman is crying on the inside for giving up the opportunity to work in another country for two months while the mother in her thanks her for sparing them the separation. Woman is the parent that in many jobs earns lesser than Man for the same load of work - apparently, as a society we still are under the impression that women produce lesser throughput than men. Woman is the parent that has to learn to not act like a girl to be taken serioulsy - apparently, men will promote only if a woman is man like in nature. Woman is the parent whose choice is constantly reviled - her choice of working outside makes her seem uncaring and unloving to some and her choice to stay at home makes her seem antiquated and unambitious to another. Woman is the parent whose right to choose is constantly threatened - she must have her baby even if it means she will not survive the pregnancy to raise it. Woman is the parent who is under constant pressure to live the image of the "perfect mom" touted on any which magazine she reads. Woman is the parent who constantly has to maintain the perfectly spotless home, cook perfectly nutritious meals, coach perfect little soccer games, make the perfect presentation at work and have the perfect bedtime story. Woman is the parent that must be super-mom.
Little wonder then that my friend was confused about whether she wanted this life style for her daughter. I wonder what I would have told my daughter.

Do you have a daughter? What would you tell her?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Out of the mouth of babes ...

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think I will need a whole village and maybe the next ten to raise both of mine. Or atleast to answer questions I cannot answer and do not ever remember asking my parents. I don't ever remember asking my parents what marriage was - for the longest possible time (and this stymies even me how I was that ignorant for that long), I just thought my parents were siblings like my sister and I are, and that my grandparents were siblings too, this somehow reinforced in my mind because both my grandfathers had a "murthy" in their name - Ramamurthy and Krishnamurthy. Like I thought Rajnikant and Vijaykant were brothers (I know - I must have been a really lame kid) And then one morning, I woke up and I just knew what the whole deal was about. I just never asked my folks questions about stuff that I somehow knew would earn me a mild rebuke or at the very least some form of a dismissive answer. I stumbled into my own answers through incorrect assumptions and convoluted conclusions. Kids nowadays are different. And let's face it - we as parents are too. I would not dream of brushing off questions about marriage and babies and death as being too much too soon(or atleast I thought so). Hence the quandary - How much do you tell them? How much is too much? ANd on greater questions like religion and being a vegetarian, how do you teach them to accept that they are one while others around them are another? I obviously did not do a good job with the whole vegetarian shebang because one hiking trip, Vinay turns to the two other sole hikers - both white, strappy males in their 40s and says loudly, in English "Hunters! Bad hunters! Amma, do they eat the animals?" Needless to say, we cut our trip short.

Sample (on the subject of marriage):
Vinay: Amma, are you married?
Me: Uh huh. Yes baby I am
Vinay: To whom?
Me: Why, to your appa!
Vinay: Oh. Can you get married again?
Me: Oh no, I don't think so. And who would I get married to anyway?

Vinay: You could get married to Varun (this softly) or how about me?
Me: Oh baby, you will get married to someone else .
Vinay: Why?????

Sample on death:
Me(in a scream): Varun! if keep jumping off the bunk bed you are going to fall and break your neck!
Vinay: So then he will die?
Vinay: He could die, right?
Me: Er ...we would have to take him to the hospital and the doctor would have to give him shots
(Now the "shot" word used to be enough to silence them both for a looooong time, sadly no more) So again....
Vinay: But could he die??
Me: Hey! WHo wants candy??!!!!

There are many times I simply bow to greater experience and influence and I let his teachers know. And they have been absolutely wonderful, guiding me through some particularly tricky ones and handling some at school in ways that I would never have dreamed of but which have worked out beautifully. Like the other day in the car, on our way back from school
"Amma, do you know some people have babies. And then some don't"
"Uh huh"
"And that's okay" "And then some people don't want babies -for a loong time. And that's okay too"
I sat there in stunned silence while my heart was just overflowing with gratitude to his teachers for patiently answering my inquisitive child his incessant questions while injecting a learning of acceptance in him.
So they say it takes a village.
I'll bow deep to that.