Work – Family Balance

If you are a woman, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You could be a commissioner of police or a CEO of a Billion Dollar corporate a la Indra Nooyi. There is only one question the humanity has for you.

How do you manage your family with high pressure job?

Needless to say, a man in power is never asked the same question, because it is assumed, and correctly so, that there would be a supportive woman who would take care of his family. Sorry, ‘her’ family. Because while the family might carry a man’s name, it is the responsibility of a woman to look after it and take a step back when it comes to her career/ individual growth.

What is surprising is that many people would like to believe that in todays ‘post-feminist’ world, (a.k.a where equality is totally achieved and we don’t need feminism ya all), it is a ‘choice’ that women make.

Right.

It is hardly a choice when opted for by overwhelming majority of one gender. It is hardly a choice when that same gender has been conditioned for centuries to focus on her role as a mother/ wife/ nurturer. And when the same conditioning continues even today in mainstream cultural dialogue.

Choice requires multiple options. Economic, structural, social, cultural, medical.. the list goes on. And in our society, majority of women just don’t have them.

Even women who have some structural advantages, find it difficult to act on them due to cultural pressure to be the primary nurturer and Gajar Ka Halwa maker of the family.

If you state this fairly obvious fact, you would be bombarded with angry responses, even from women. About how ‘it is her choice’ to stay home and look after her kids. Or that they happen to ‘ like’ to be there when their kids grow. Or that they are against the crass materialism and inhuman work-pressure. Or that their husbands just happen to earn more than they do and it makes sense for them to quit the job rather than their husbands. And how dare you challenge their legitimate ‘choice’?

Majority of these responses refuse to take into account the overwhelming cultural conditioning, economic factors and inherent sexism in our notions of parenting.

While feminism is about wide range of choices for women, no individual choice can exist in vacuum.

The decision to stay at home with kids or reject the pressure to be ‘powerful’ would be actually be a true choice when a significant number of men also ‘have’ to take that option, thus rendering it gender-neutral. It would be a true choice when women and men have similar options and similar parenting roles. It would be a true choice when there are no ‘mommy-tracks’ or gender wage gap. It would be a true choice when women choosing not to have kids are not looked down upon as aliens. It would be a true choice when rather than phony lip-service, mothers are actually compensated for the tremendous work they do by birthing the child.

Until then, whether we like to admit it or not, it is hardly a ‘choice’ women make in a ‘blissful post-patriachal vacuum.’

So this comes as a fresh breath when a powerful man decides to make the ‘choice’ to stay home to spend more quality time with his kids and blogs about the unfair expectation of women to worry about ‘family-work’ balance, while men never get asked about the same. Powerful men making this choice and recognising that this choice doesn’t exist in ideological vacuum, gives it legitimacy in our world full of dated notions of masculine identity and power.

It also reemphasises that kids have ‘parents’ and not just ‘mothers’.

It acknowledges that fathers also care about their kids and can sacrifice their careers for their kids.

Millions of women have to take this option every day. We definitely need more dads making this choice and being aware of the gendering of this concept. It would not only ease the pressure on women but also bring a healthier and balanced notions of parenting in our society.

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Boss….

Oh I am sure you have already seen and ranted on this ad. It is actually so bad ( one who got what product is being advertised will get a gift of Manchurian Masala), that it is surprising for it to have hit so many nerves.

Perhaps its pseudo-realstic- pretentious progressivism-gone-horribly- wrong is the reason for the mass rants against it. And perhaps the fact that we are smarter in spotting sexism these days.

This is why I am going to link it and proceed to rant about it myself:):)

After years of ‘woman is the CEO/boss of the house’ useless-pat-on-the back trope, we get a ridiculously sexist ad that shows a female boss telling her subordinate-at-workplace husband to stay back to do extra work at office, and then proceeding to go home and cook him a delicious meal and seductively asking him to come back to enjoy the said food.

Lest you think this lady is somewhat cuckoo in her head- because didn’t she ask him to stay back herself? Short term memory a. la. Aamir Khan in Ghajini? Or someone with a split personality like Aparichit? ( Hey, these popular Indian movies are totally accurate in depiction of any mental disorder, OK? Don’t be so snooty).

Noo… you realise she is a good Indian wife, who makes it up to her subordinate-at -work husband by cooking for him. After all, aren’t we all Indian women supposed to do that? Get good grades, earn well, look pretty in short hair and go on to cook perfect meals for our husbands?

Note ladies, that she softly says ‘sorry guys, you will have to just do it’ when her team complains about the timelines. Those of you whose boss said sorry to you, before asking you to stay back after-hours, please stop reading the post now.

OK, now for the rest of the 99% of the mortals who have continued reading this post- note that she looks slightly abashed- especially when she sees the disappointment on her team’s face and even asks her teammate ‘how is it going’, with a kind and considerate tone( we don’t know he is her husband yet.) Because if you want people to like a woman, especially a woman in power, you have to show her ‘soft’ side,lest people call her a bitch.

She looks tranquil in the car. Soft. Pondering. Soft. Sensitive. Soft.

And then she launches into WIFE MODE by asking her husband ‘Rohit’ ( the 21st century default Indian male name that replaced the erstwhile ‘Rahul’ of the 1990s) about what would he like to eat tonight. Because the moment a woman gets a free moment after a gruelling day at work, she likes to think about her husband’s dinner. It is totally natural. All of you, who after a long workday DON’T sprawl on sofa watching your favourite TV show over food cooked by someone else, or at least fantasize about it, please stop reading this post now.

OK, I see 99% of my readers are still reading.

Voila, she twists her hair in a pony at home, ponders about the contents of the fridge philosophically and rustles up a decidedly Udupi looking Chinese meal.

Then Rohit – the same team mate forced to stay back for work gets a call from ‘Wife.’ He sardonically replies ‘ Aaj late hoga. Boss ne bahut jam diya hai.’ ( Biiiiitch!!!)

Wife, who turns out to the said boss( Creative minds!! fantastic idea!!! whatta genius conceptualisation), sends him the video of the meal she lovingly prepared for him.

NOW, NOW, NOW WE GET THE PRODUCT which paid for this ad.

Those who DIDN’T think that the ad was for electrical kitchen appliance or a new brand of Indo-Chinese sauce, please stop reading this post.

OK, now for the rest of the 99% mortals still reading this post. The wife whispers seductively on the phone, ‘Boss ko bolo wife ne ghar bulaya hai’.

Then, the airtel tune starts and you realise that this piece of shit was actually an ad for 3 G connection. You sit quietly contemplating thousands of years of human evolution and how you always hated that Airtel tune and how right you were to pick up Vodafone. (Because how can this brain-dead ‘modern couple’ even compete with a cute pug?)

For all of you who DIDN’T think this woman is quite scary with her short-term memory loss and split personality and Udupi meal, a round of applause. Maybe you haven’t been watching instructive movies like Ghajini and Aparichit.

And a moral of the story for the remaining 99% of mere mortals. Here goes. Quite unintentionally , the ad makers have hit on the exact disorder that our society suffers from. That women are expected to have two distinct personalities: Modern professional woman outside and traditional wife/ mother/ daughter at home. They need to have a short term memory. Wipe out the BOSS identity as soon as you leave office and slip into WIFE identity.

You can be a boss with a corner office, have short hair, wear Sonia Gandhiesque sarees, ride in a chauffeur driven car, earn more money than your husband. But you have to slip into the ideal Indian wife mode as soon as you are in private sphere.

Otherwise, the balance of power just might tilt and patriarchy will shake. SCARY THOUGHT!!!

The ad stupidly celebrates the schizophrenia of our patriarchal society and I won’t even link the garden variety dumb excuses of ‘ WOMEN LIKE TO COOK FOR THEIR HUSBANDS SO WHAT IS WRONG IN SHOWING THE REALITY WHAAAAAA WHAAAA’ thrown by the ad makers and supporters of this ad alike.

But the good news is, that the ad has ruffled many feathers. And people are debating the ad, which has opened up a dialogue about the double shift many Indian women are ‘forced to do’ ( unlike ‘choose to do’ according to defenders of this ad). This is good news that ads like these don’t get a free pass for being covertly sexist. A debate on this ad is especially welcome because,

Because it pretends to be realistic unlike hundreds of ads that show sparkling women talking about detergent or their kids schoolbag as if it was some life-or-death issue.

Because it pretends to be progressive by showing a lady boss and goes on to justify the prevalent sexism in the society by perpetuating the worst and most dangerous stereotypes about women.

Because showing short-haired-lady-boss doesn’t make you a progressive.

Because it refuses to show a powerful woman who doesn’t look guilty in front of her subordinates for doing her job.

Because it reflects the pseudo-equal modern Indian marriage that women are calling out for what it is- a pseudo equal relationship built on age old stereotypes.

Because it champions the ultimate status of modern Indian man as ‘ boss in marriage’ and brushes his insecurities about the rising power of women.

And ALSO because it comes across as advertising CHINGS UDUPI SCHEZWAN CHAUPATI SAUCE and not a 3G CONNECTION.

There.

Creche in the office

Please help this excellent initiative by signing the petition by going to the following link.

http://www.greenpeacex.in/petitions/make-creches-at-workplaces-a-rule-not-an-exception?bucket=email3&source=facebook-share-button&time=1406290078

Most of the women in our society suffer serious professional downturn post childbirth. Many have to ‘choose’ between working outside home and caring for their children at home. It is hardly a choice when there is no other valid and sustainable option.

When women are put on ‘mommy- track’, we are effectively discriminating against women in general.

While my first question to humanity in general would be ‘why is it almost always a woman’s problem?’ , I am not going to ask it here. Because no matter what I believe about father’s and society’s responsibility towards childcare- I am realistic enough to know it is a tough battle. Which needs to be fought simultaneously.

As quite a senior employee in corporate sector, I have come across several examples of bright and productive women who would have continued and successfully so, had they got support from home and workplace. Many end up quitting. Many end up accepting projects and jobs that are never going to give them robust professional growth.

And the saddest part is that many women choose careers that are not demanding so that they don’t get into this conflict in the first place. Which means our girls are effectively being told to excel academically but choose careers with one eye on the baby.

Having childcare support at office is one step towards giving women more options. If we can make it happen at policy level, it is telling our girls that they don’t have to sacrifice their professional life for a baby. I know it won’t be so hunky dory, but it is definitely a step towards equality.

Please sign the petition.

The Monkey on the Gravy Train…

So you always know that people, well, most of them, are ‘KURSI KO SALAM’ types. They will be nice to you as long as they think you ‘are’ useful to them or ‘will’ be useful to them.

As soon as you drift away from the conventions of silly power play- they just delete you from their self-important lives. And hope that you’ll struggle like crazy to come back on track and hope that you can’t no matter what, and prove them right that disembarking the gravy train is leaving it ‘forever’.
They hope that you will call them ten times in sheer desperation, and they will not take the call and pretend to be in the meeting.
And they will laugh at you over drinks and claim how you were never right in the head anyway and hope that you are able to get some low-end opportunity which will bring you to their thick corner office door once in a while to get humiliated.

After all, you have seen them doing it a billion times to the best of the people and have seen these best people getting demoralised till they doubt their own capabilities.

They hope that you be the example they can quote till they are 80 years old. Example of how the worldly wisdom they live by is the ONLY way to live happily.

You have always known that since these people are almost always the most boring, and mediocre of the lot anyway, you are glad to be rid of them. After all, in today’s highly networked world, being away from ‘everything’ essentially means being away from people in that particular ‘thing.’

Some people surprise you because you naively thought they were your real friends. But the fact that you don’t miss them eventually, and they make you feel like a lost cause, makes you realise that they were just your bunkmates and all they ever wanted was to crib pointlessly as they licked as much gravy as they could.

You jump off the Gravy train a la Harrison Ford and relish the walk. And see the train from afar and see that it is, after all, just 2 tracks and a stupid train. And that it is just going round and round and round. And you realise that you are not missing the pace and you can see that the train is just there to take you forward and that it is not your life but just a stupid locomotive.

And you realise your own power firsthand as you walk, you drift, you bend down to pick up an interesting pebble, you sleep under starry sky, you make love to your dear ones, you drink crystal clear water, you play , you jump, you dive, you fly.

You look in the clear waters and you see your grinning expression and you realise- voila!!! You are a monkey. Not a human. You look around and notice, for the first time, that your loved ones are monkeys as well. The artists you admired- ditto. The people you adored- ditto.

You are a pack of monkeys. Why and how did you ever think you were a ugly,naked, no-fur, no tail human being? Were you suffering from some sort of identity crisis that made you believe you were a totally different species altogether?

And all the negativity, all the boredom, all the expectations, all the disappointments shed from your body as you run in fresh air with your pack, glad to be alive. Shivering happily to have discovered that you are a monkey- free from the burdens of so-called evolution to the hoity toity humanity.

A monkey life. A monkey joy. You are a monkey who likes to jump and clap and eat the juiciest of fruits with the juice running down your wrist just for the fun of it.

You just enjoy being on your feet again and feeling the ground beneath. You sit tight with your loved ones and take deep breaths of pure, fresh, natural air.

You know you might need to ride the train again for a while,and spent some time with the humans- but now you know it is just a stupid locomotive and are cool about it.

And then one day you decide you are ready get back on tracks for a few more years. Maybe, hopefully, so that you can say goodbye to the train forever at the end of the said few years. And gather all the fruits and come back to the tree.

You strut back on the track like a drunken monkey Jackie Chan style, and jump on it fairly easily because you are not ashamed of falling down. You know if you fall, you will just brush the sand off your palms, laugh at yourself and jump again. You are now a monkey- relishing the jumping and not bothering about where you land.

And you land your springy feet on the train and swing on the bars and pick up the banana from your back pocket and sit on the roof munching on it, oh you do.

And then all those humans who wanted you to be the example of deviant failure notice you again. ‘Hey- look at her. How is she back on the train? She didn’t call us. We didn’t get to humiliate her. We didn’t even get that banana.’

When they see you back on track, back on the train, munching your banana- their ugly noses quiver with surprise that is soon replaced by envy which is soon replaced by opportunism.

They shamelessly extend the hand of friendship again. Precisely because you don’t need their freaking hand. And they want a piece of that banana too.

And then you laugh when they clamber all over themselves to get re-connected with you. ‘Hey,’ they think, ‘ she wasn’t lying when she said she wants a break from the gravy train and walk on her feet. She meant it. And now she got a better place on the train. I want to be her friend again. So what if I didn’t give a shit about her during one year when she was doing great interesting things which I have no interest in or comprehension about. So what if I don’t give a shit about her even now. She might be my ticket to the first class bogey of foren country and tax free salary’.

You are surprised that you are not bitter and disappointed in humanity. You are a fully developed monkey now. Willing to take most fellow humans as they are. A dumb species full of useless emotions and goals.

And they wiggle and they joke and smile their fake smiles and try to connect and make plans.

And you.. you just wave at them, bare your teeth in merry monkey smile stained with yummy banana pulp and go back to your compartment.

Knowing fully well that you will be jumping off it again very soon once you have enough gravy in your monkey tummy.

Pace..

Last one year has been almost entirely MY LIFE- AT MY OWN PACE.

And then the pace changed in the last month. Brother’s wedding, a job interview in a South East Asian city, negotiating the salary, coming to terms with a massive change in our life and preparing for it- emotionally and practically, long drawn banking work, a bad bout of cough & cold, a project connected to the job with day and night schedule.

It has numbed me from some gut wrenching changes in a not-too-distant-a-future. Will write about it when the time comes.

So far, I think I am coping well. I have not gone batshit control freak as yet. I blamed myself for a few things, but not for a long time. I have decided not to attach too much importance to the whole thing. Let us see.

Some good bagels, brother’s happiness in Pune, some excellent TV, lots of great sex and the dog’s increased hyper-activity due to slightly better weather have been the overbalancing factors in the balance sheet . The important side of the story. The only story that matters.

Getting back..

So I have started working – exactly 13 months after I took that blissful break.

The job will entail some massive changes in our lives which I will write about once confirmed.

For now, I feel a little tingling in my body going through emails and working on cleaning up the mess created by incompetent people and then trying to bring order to it.

Don’t get frustrated.Don’t take anything personally. Focus on money.

Is my hard-earned wisdom, which I hope sustains me for a year. I am not thinking beyond that. Life can be lived in random blocks of time and not linearly- another piece of wisdom for self.

The break was great and I was not feeling any dying need to get back. I started sending feelers a few months ago and got 2 jobs, fairly easily, let me be smug!

This one promises more excitement and fair amount of authority to do as I plan to. The other involves shitload of networking with dumb people and being nice to them! So it was an easy choice.

Some friends say I should wait for a even better one- blah blah- but I have decided to just take things as they come and not bother about what happens after a year, career path, where you see yourself in 5 years… la di ding dong da…

For now, I am not unhappy working, i.e., I don’t want to take a break already, although it has been only a few hours. Humph.

Stay At Home Moms and $$$

$$ value of a SAHM's labour

$$ value of a SAHM’s labour

Charts such as these which assign $$$ value to Stay At Home Mums’ work abound the modern American debate- from feminist blogs to Mommy blogs to conservative blogs to general controversy mongering headlines.

What would be the Indian counterpart to this chart? Especially since labour in India is pretty cheap vis-a-vis United States ( ask Devyani Khobragade), how would this chart look like in Indian context?

This particular chart is hugely problematic because it compares salaries of professionals with SAHM who is clearly not executing these duties on that scale of professionalism. When you assign salaries for skills, there is an assumption that you execute them in a professional environment, have a financial goal associated with your performance which is appraised in financial terms.
Emotional feelings of all-powerfulness of mother aside, we can not take professional salaries and assign them to SAHMs without these parameters then.

So what are SAHMs truly worth, in hardcore financial terms? ( We had this debate a year and half ago when a bill was going to be proposed that would ensure housewives get a salary. )

Related to this and more important perhaps is to ask what of financial security for SAHMS in Indian context? Especially today, when financial dynamics practically dictates social and family life.

I know that many women ( I will not say ‘parents’ because the number of male parents who stay at home to look after their kids is too minuscule to consider here) do not stay home just as a replacement of paid child care, but to ensure that their children grow in healthy ( mental, intellectual, physical) manner. Many have no support system of parents/ grandparents to look after their child. Many do not want paid care to raise children because it might be unsafe or unsatisfactory. Many leave their salaried jobs for emotional satisfaction of being with their children.

So, how can we put price on what these women bring on the table? While you can not assign market value to everything, especially emotions and relationships, I firmly believe that financial security is paramount to Indian women. And if they are spending their prime years working hard, it should be recognised- in real terms and not Bollywood songs.

So let us not only sentimentalise about priceless experience of child-rearing, but also try to look at it from financial perspective.

Fair Labour and wage laws are sign of an evolved society and logic that some work is ‘outside’ these laws is dangerous to the people who do the said work.

I want to puke when people offer sentimental lip service about how women are sacrificing their lives for building the nation. The same people then leave these builders of nation to the mercy of their earning husbands and a vague notion of moral responsibility.

I am not even talking about the choice that women make to stay at home because they miss their kids. In absence of gender equality in parenting, we can not call something a choice when it is overwhelmingly expected of one gender. More often than not, society, culture and economic need expects women to be the primary parent and ‘choose’ between career and childrearing.

So, what about hardcore monetary security?

If something goes wrong in the marriage and the woman wants to leave her husband, the non-working-for-salary woman gets a pretty raw deal even when it comes to the same kids she spent her live raising. A cousin undergoing divorce is finding it tough to retain custody of her kids since she has no property in her name. In real life, the welfare of kids would require financial security which is not compatible with our divorce laws.

Tougher is the life of a woman who might not want to look after her kids anymore, and do something of her own in late stage of her life.

And what about women whose kids have grown up and do not require their mums as much as they did? What would be the financial worth of these women then?

And how is the performance to be appraised? What if an excellent mother’s kid turns out to be a thug? Whose parenting will be under scanner then? ( Rhetorical question this. For centuries people have blamed mothers for ill doings of their offsprings.)

While alimony, child-support and joint- investments exist , most women would find themselves in tough corner, especially middle-age onwards, if they do not have financial security that they can call their own.

When we say that the family- husband, parents, kids – would ensure that the woman who devoted her life for their comfort, we are putting the woman in dependent position. Because familial relationships may or may not be based on objectivity and fairness, how to ensure that the women get their due?

For this, we need to know what is their due in financial terms.

In absence of the same, the woman is dependent on her spouse to ‘recognise’ her work- both in terms of quality and quantity.

I am not writing this as yet another ‘mommy-war ke aag mein tel’ provocation. Women who work outside home do many of these tasks as well, and the ‘double shift’ is topic of another post.

For the first time in my life, I have formed acquaintance with SAHMs, thanks to the kids and babies who are attracted to Puppyjaan and want to talk/touch/play with him. As the babies coo, gurgle and wave their hands while Puppyjaan stands like a patient tiger; the mum and me usually chat with each other. I go to lunches with them sometime and this very new group experience always forces me to think about the tremendous financial punt these women are taking by leaving their jobs and looking after their kid full time.

I really do not understand how to put value to the work of women who choose to stay home. I also do not understand why 100% of stay-at-home-parents in my 21st century, Mumbai housing society are women. I do not understand how to make sure that child-rearing is seen as a specialised job that requires special privileges.

What do you think?