Father’s Day

Today is Father’s day. Hurrah. Get that electric shaver for your dad pronto if you love him TRULY DEEPLY REALLY.

Father’s day simply doesn’t pack the punch reserved for Mother’s Day. It is to be expected of patriarchal cultures where motherhood is put on pedestal, but very little real powers are vested in mothers. It is not very different from having a WOMAN’s DAY in a male chauvinistic society. After all, patriarchy is defined as ‘system of society or government by fathers or elder males of the community’.

This research report is not a highly insightful, but an interesting read about Asian Fatherhood. Nothing in it will surprise an average, middle class Indian.

Indian middle class fathers in their thirties and late twenties are different from their own fathers. They want to be part of their kids’ lives in more intimate manner. The heavily gendered parenting roles are still firmly in place though, majority of fathers believe that women are naturally more suitable for childcare. The parenting duties might not be as strictly drawn as for earlier generations- but in essence they are the same. Father is an authority figure while mother has a more nurturing and administrative role.

I had read a paper about how having a kid increases and sometimes introduces traditional gender roles in American couple, who might not have had a very gendered relationship before the arrival of child. There was a comparison with the Swedish parenthood and as usual, the Swedes came out with flying, gender-neutral colours. It would be interesting to probe the gender dynamics in modern Indian parenting further. I suspect marriages turn more gendered after the arrival of the child in India.

Notions of middle class fatherhood have changed since Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan simmered at each other with angsty father-son conflict. Or since Simran was whisked off to India by her baritone India loving dad as soon as he learns that she is in love with someone. These days we see fairly diverse popular representations of fathers in media-signalling the change. We do see pally, intimate and gender bending fathers, be it in ads or in movies. Though there is still a huge gap in what is expected from a mother and a father. On screen fathers are more likely to worry about buying an insurance and mothers about their child’s nutrition.

I live in an area hugely popular with young parents- thanks to five top-notch schools and gated communities. In my housing society, I have seen one father who regularly walks the child, feeds her dinner as she pounces around after dogs and cheers her during evening skating sessions. He works from home. Other than him, be it picking up kids from school bus, skating sessions, stroller walks or other public events are managed by young mothers. My friends with kids tell me that it is mothers who are active parents even at upmarket schools. In my extended family, there is no doubt who is the primarily responsible for the child. It is almost always the mother.

Does this mean that fathers love their children less than mothers do?

It would be stupid and erroneous and sexist to say that. Having a child changes the life for a man and the love he feels for his child can not be underestimated just because he lives in and is shaped by a patriarchal society. Gender roles do define parenthood, just like they do virtually every aspect of society. That doesn’t mean that fathers’ love for the child is in any way inferior or less important for the child.

Not that it was in earlier generations. Expressions and social norms aside, a father, almost always loves his child more than anything else in the world.

My father is batty about kids and used to dance and sing as he fed us. Even today he is a master entertainer for small kids with his fantastic stories. Because my mother is an inhumanly efficient workaholic- she almost always has done what traditionally fathers were expected to do. From repairs to finance to driving to taking major decisions in family. My father, a hopelessly inefficient academic took a backseat. My mother always bended stereotype of a small town, middle-class woman. And my father is remarkable that he was never jealous, insecure or worried about his wife. It is not that he has no fault- but whatever gripe we have with him as as a ‘person’, not for his gender. We have always idolised our mother, but as far as love and commitment goes- my father was/is no way less than her.

One doesn’t need a day to celebrate love between kids and parents. It is one of the strongest bonds one would ever have. No electric shaver needed. Love, care, understanding and joy of being with family is all it takes for father to feel loved and honoured.

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Mothers’ Day #4 : Give them a break yaaaaarrr…

Ahhhh… hullo mums …I fully sympathize with you when you open the papers today and breathe a sigh to know you are like the most important person to the entire nation. And as token of our gratitude everyone is offering you a 50% discount on all cuddly, fuzzy, motherly things.

Hand that rocks the cradle and all that.

No need for policies that can actually help you as a person you see. Or change in society. No No… if you demand that you are not saintly enough, and consequently, not motherly enough.

Your son can get you a tube of Volini or your daughter can gift you a package of spa. Music channels can play some obligatory Maa focused songs in non prime time to appease you.

All over the world , from president Obama to Shahrukh Khan can sing your praise for doing the ‘most important job in the world’. What more do you want heh? You are a mother now. Behave. If you don’t, your kids could turn out to be a terrorist, sociopath, plain old bores, people who scratch their crotch in public, immoral sluts, rapists and god knows what.

Dr. Edit Schlaffer’s contention that mothers have the power to stop the radicalization of their kids troubles me. Despite of Women Without Borders’ credentials.

Because too many times I have heard this ancient Indian adage “ Tumhari Maa ne tumhe kuch Sikhaya nahin kya??”

If, as Dr. Schlaffer says, the mothers have the power to stop the radicalization, logically mothers are to blame if the kids turn out to be radical. They didn’t do enough to stop the kids.

As if Dawood Ibrahim would be volunteering at Welfare of Stray Dogs , if only his screwed up mother hadn’t pushed him into crime..

So, why are we blaming the mothers for their kids’ violence? Hulllooo, is Osama Bin Laden’s mother going to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted??

I fully agree that mothers are, more often than not, the most influential person in the life of kids.. And I agree that they do have a huge influence on their kids’ future. We just have to look around to see numerous cases of women who pull their kids up socio-economic ladder by working hard and literally sacrificing their entire lives doing that.

As a sister and wife of men raised by feminist mothers, I also know that mothers do influence their kids’ set of values and beliefs big time.

But the problem comes when culturally we expect women to hold the agency of their kids’ future disregarding the social influences on kids.

It places an inhuman burden on women. Along with the arduous physical labour, and the childcare : they are also expected to mould human beings for future in a socially acceptable way.

Society and kids themselves are ready to blame mothers if anything goes wrong. Or if the mother doesn’t fall into clichés of acceptable motherhood.

So, a woman can not have limitations. She cannot be flawed or weak when it comes to her kids. She has to be pillar of strength, morality and flawlessness. Any small act she commits can be a responsible for what their kids do for the rest of their life??

She shouldn’t have ambitions higher than her child. She should not be a ‘person’ over her identity as a mother.

So Margaret Thatcher was not a great mother: so what???? Do we know how Manmohan Singh is as a father? No. Do we want to find out?? No.

There was an entire drama around Ajmal Kasab’s last letter to his mother in Pakistan. Several reports speculated about how his mother must have looked the other way when her son prepared to commit one of the most heinous crimes.

How much power and agency did she have?? Forget as a mother, even as a person??

And lets say, even if she did have power, how can we claim that her sanskaar caused her son to turn into a terrorist?

Whichever way you see, mothers can not escape scrutiny.

It is a tough burden to bear!!!

But maybe that spa visit for four hours at 50% reduced rate can lessen that a bit??

Mothers’ Day #3: Spooky Mother Kid pairs in movies

Last night I couldn’t resist picking up the movie Babycall starring Noomi Rapace… ( Noomi is well known for playing Lisbeth Salander …Pls watch her in the original Swedish movies – there are 3 of them, yayyy- and not the total crap Girl With The Dragon Tatoo that Hollywood made. She is divine)

Anyway, this movie Baby call is predictable and so so. She is excellent though.

And that made me think of all those mother- kid pairs who feature in Horror/ thriller movies.

A mother and kid pair moves to a strange place. Male figure is usually missing/ gets killed off early in the movie. Kid starts to see strange things. Mother has to protect herself and the kid from that eerie presence. Or the live menace ( usually a violent husband/ lover). Or kid is dead and comes back. Or mother is dead and comes back.

Delicious formula for a touchingly thrilling movie.

So today I want to do a countdown of my favourite Mum-Kid pairs in horror/ thriller movies.

1. Shining

Scary talented kid + screetchy mum + dozens of dramebaaz ghosts & crazy dad= One of the best horror movies ever.

2. Dark Water

Only Japanese kids look that cute and only Japanese movies make a normal city apartment that scary. This movie makes you cry and want- to – shit – in- the- pants with fear at the same time.

3. Half light
I don’t know why this absolute gem of a movie is not popular. A grieving mother sees the spirit of her small son, but is not sure what he wants from her. Touching and gorgeously shot.

4. Panic Room
I am not a big fan of the movie but it is Jodie Foster kicking collective ass, and playing mama bear so who can resist?

5. Psycho

OK, I have huge problems with mama-blaming in this movie, that basically suggests overbearing mothers produce psychotic sons. But hell, it is still the best thriller ever made ( and this trailer narrated by Hitchcock himself is to die for).

6. The Others

Spooky house+ Nervous mum+ Cute kids: this movie still shocks you with its twist despite of dozens of copy cat versions.

7. Ju On

Japanese pair of blue spooky ghost kid with his blue horrific ghost mamma. Avoid the crappy HW remake and stick to the original scarefest.

8. We need To Talk About Kevin

Absolutely stunning movie about a mother who has mixed feelings about her sociopathic son. It is brilliant in its subtlety and I love the fact that the movie doesn’t blame the mother for the horrific act the son commits.

9. It’s Alive
A baby who kills and eats people, like from the time it gets out of the womb!! It is one of those movies that is so bad, so bad, so so so so bad… that it is good beyond words. I think pregnant women should avoid it though!!

10. Exorcist
The original scary kid movie that has been copied so many times that it is amazing you still want to look away when Regan turns her head 180 degrees!!

Ummmm… mothers and kids make a deadly pair for a horror/ thriller fan.

Lack of male figure is at the same time troubling and empowering I think.I want to see a movie in which a mother saves her kids even when her husband/ lover is very much alive.

Mother’s Day #2 : Cost of Motherhood

Couple of years ago, one of my team members’ maternity leave got extended because of a medical complication. By the time she was back, it was appraisal time. I rated her in the top three since she was, well, in the top three of my team for the last four years that she worked here.

I was shocked when the HR rep. told me, confidentially of course, to rate her lower. The logic was, that she had missed out on several projects and the appraisals are based on one’s performance in the last 4 quarters. Since the department has allotted budgets, this way those teammates who had worked hard in the last 4 quarters would get better raise.

This is an MNC , BTW, routinely called one of the best places to work for in the world!! I told the rep. off curtly and lectured her about how it was illegal to discriminate against women because they have been pregnant. I still kick myself for not lodging a formal complaint against the HR rep.

One of my best friends who has spent 18 years in HR in different industries in Mumbai told me that this is not an unusual sentiment.

This incident has stayed with me since it forced me to examine what truly is the cost of motherhood. And I mean the cost in hardcore commercial terms that I have seen in corporate India over the last ten years. I work in an industry that is more liberal than most, has several women in senior positions, by nature encourages freelance options, is dominated by some of the world’s topmost MNCs.

But what I see is nothing short of blatant sexism when it comes to mothers.

A disclaimer : I am talking about upper middle class, educated, urban Indian women who go out to work in organized private workplaces and get paid monthly salaries.

Mothers account for most of the Gender Wage Gap.

The infamous ‘mommy track’ is around us all to see, especially in India.

Since employers believe that mothers do not prioritize their job, mothers are routinely neglected for plum projects. Assignments that are challenging and would ultimately result in promotions/ raises.

Most workplaces do not want to invest in employees who have demanding priorities, like kids.

Mentoring and opportunities that are critical to growth from middle to senior management are rare for women in general, but more so for women with kids.

The invisible social code dictates that women should be happy to have a ‘flexible job’ that allows them to ‘balance’ their family life, mainly kids.

Many women themselves say that they prefer it. But how much of it is ‘choice’?

In absence of real options it seems like a compulsion. If men truly contributed equally to kids’ growth, would mothers hesitate to seek professional growth? (Numbers from truly gender progressive countries like Sweden suggest women continue to grow professionally at all stages thanks to a responsible childcare and social attitudes towards equal parenting.)

This of course means huge gap in the salaries between men and women, typically in their late twenties/ early thirties. This is the time when missus is busy keeping work-life balance for ‘her’ kids, while husband is busy climbing the ladder.

And why don’t as many men want to spend time with their kids? Many of my freelancer colleagues are men, and care for their kids’ daily school-play- classes routine. And I believe them when they say that even on weekends and holidays it is almost always women who ‘choose’ to spend time with kids on activities.

Since men around the world do not have to bother about ‘work-life’ balance, is it any wonder that they get to be the leaders in workplaces??

The increasing gap of salaries between spouses also means that when required, it is the woman who drops off the job market since her husband is making more than her. Not to mention, has a better chance of professional growth in future. So it is always the woman who is stay at home parent, and even if it is her choice, the choice is drafted by the social code.

The cost ( or benefit!!)of motherhood can not be calculated only in terms of money, I understand that. Neither is success in corporate world the only parameter of growth. Hell, success in corporate life has virtually nothing to do with talent , we all know that. We also know the glass ceiling applies to all women, all over the world and not just mothers.

But mothers loose out more if they are ambitious and want to go up the ladder. And let us not talk about a few women who rule the boardrooms. They are exceptions that prove the rule: Corporates care very little to groom and mentor mothers for professional growth.

So I think the next time corporates celebrate mother’s day with silly gift hampers from Body Shop, we should all ask them to shut up and pull themselves really up, heh?

Mother’s day #1 : Motherhood is not Gajar Ka Halwa… seriously!!!

12th May… Mother’s day… yet another day commercialized so that you can totally prove your love for mumma by shopping, shopping, shopping…

So I decided to celebrate countdown eshtyle by blogging blogging blogging and linking linking linking for the next four days…about Motherhood.

My first link has to has to has to be my absolutely favourite blogger IHM whose post on the new brat in her family is motherhood at its best, according to me. IHM Rocks, seriously!!!

My second link is for my Mamma – fan of gory horror, lover of shirtless wonders form Bollywood and absolutely the best person I have ever known!! This movie (Dark Water) is one of the most touching stories of mother-child bond. And absolutely scary in a way only Japanese movies can be.

Back from scary kids and brave mothers. Most of us love our mothers. All of us know and instinctively recognise that motherhood has been one of the central aspects of humanity. Mother-child is one of strongest bonds in our world. We know the hard work that goes into mothering. The physical and emotional demands.

We all coil inwardly when somebody does something mean to their mothers.

Matricide, or killing your own mother is a crime that has no name in many languages, it is such a horrific to be named!!

On the other hand, half of cuss words across languages are based on insulting ‘your mamma’.

Motherhood is also extremely complex. Many women suffer from postpartum depression. Mothers are expected to be selfless, sexless and overall ambitionless creatures whose top priority, it is automatically assumed, is their kids.

Many mothers are forced to give up their careers due to high expectations set on them by society and lack of support. Many who do not, suffer the guilt that unfairly expects only women to seek ‘work-life balance’. Some women ‘choose’ to stay at home citing choice feminism ‘choice feminist‘ reasons and invite heated debates.

Many do not want to be mothers and are considered freaks. Many feminists feel that the ‘cult of motherhood’ has made the baby the new chain around modern women.

Mothers are one of the poorest demographics in the world.Motherhood is also one of the key reasons for death in women.

Motherhood is put on pedestal, but when it comes to real rights they have very limited across several cultures, inviting the feminist critique that lip service doesn’t cost anything.

Mothers , despite of being the ones who invest the most in their kids, do not have much say in their future most of the times. Children rarely take their mother’s names. In Indian marriages, if the father is dead, it is the next male relative who performs the role of the parents. A mother has no role as a parent, unless accompanied by husband.

I do not wish to portray a dark picture here, but merely want to highlight how really challenging this touchy topic is. This mother’s day, I hope people recognise that mothers are people and not self-sacrificing goddess aliens from planet Gajar Ka Halwa.