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?


  1. Nice blog, Laksha.

  2. I am confused too.

    I work from home, it makes things worse because the daughter believes that "amma's work is not as important as appa's". And so, when there is something that she needs to do, amma can easily switch off the computer and come.

    It seems horrible to have to explain to her that work is work, no matter where we work from.

  3. lakshmi - I hear you. As it is, we live in a society where a woman is somehow expected to subdue ambitions and goals once marriage and children come into the picture and women who choose to place importance on their careers are portrayed as vamps and neglectful in many media representations. Working from home - oh, that's a completely new difficulty in the equation. I bet it's not just your daughter but also older relatives that do not take it seriously. Why, I have male, single colleagues who used to comment "part time!" when they heard that some mom was wfh for the day. Hopefully things change by the time our children grow up...

  4. Hi Laksha, just found your blog through a write-up at Apu's. Great write-up.

    I dont have any kids but if I did have a daughter I'd advise her to stick to her choices and try not to feel guilty. Our mothers, I think, realised how useful it is to be independant and that is why they pushed us. We, on the other hand, tend to feel guilty about not staying home with our kids because our mothers did! Our daughters wont feel that guilty about having a career because their Moms did not stay home. The first break from centuries old traditions is probably the hardest and things will get easier with time. In the West, already there are better mechanisms to accomodate mothers in demanding career fields (good day care facilities, options to work part-time for a few years, etc.) and hopefully this will soon happen in India too.

  5. That's what my mother has been doing for the past 26 years of her marriage. As the disposition turns out, she travels for 100 kms everyday and alas someone expects here to come home everyday and STILL do the chores.
    Perfectly resonant post atleast for me.

  6. got here via Apu and loved your post. I was a SAHM for 4 years and just got back to work last month thanks to the recession. i hate it!

    my mom was a working mom who pushed me to build a career and i owe her. but she is also the reason i chose to stay home all these years. i knew i wanted my kids to come home to a mother.

    i have a daughter and i dont know what to teach her. do you think we need to teach or do you think they simply pick up what they want from our lives and make their choices?


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