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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Supreme Court asks why are mothers ignored?

Thank you Supreme Court!! And thank you Madhav Kant Mishra for stating the obvious:

Mothers hardly match the authority a father commands in official documents necessary to prove a person’s identity. While the father’s name prominently figures in government documents, the mother is usually given the go-by.

And you know what? This bias ties back to my favourite rant. Why do kids, even in today’s day and age always take their father’s last name? Especially, when their mother hasn’t taken her husband’s last name after marriage? 99.99% cases of women I know who haven’t changed their last names after marriage, have given their husband’s last name to kids. Why? why? why? They are usually the ones who take most of the burden of childcare, their lives- physical as well as social- change more dramatically than those of their husbands.

Then why do husbands get to be umbrella identity markers? And please don’t tell me about exceptional cases like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, we are talking of the norm here. Also none of the ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter because last names are just formality/ relics of bygone era’. When majority of children carry their father’s name and not mother’s – it is clearly institutionalised sexism.

Motherhood is all about sacrifice a la Gajar ka halwa!! However, when it comes to real power- mothers can go take a hike. Because from religious rituals to government documents to last names for kids to Bollywood movies to corporate policies, it is the fathers who rule the roost. After all, the word Patriarchy is derived from the all mighty ‘father’.

The petition, filed by journalist Madhav Kant Mishra from Allahabad, says ignoring the parenthood of the mother in government documents is in gross violation of the Fundamental Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. It sought an ordinance making the mother’s name compulsory in documents.

Why are we asked to name FATHER OR HUSBAND in every frikkin document: from passport to nursery leaving certificates to bank accounts to medical tests to pan card to voter’s card?

Because father ( or husband) is used as a marker of identity.

‘ Whose daughter/ son? ‘
‘This man’s.’

Sort of like when in ancient times a person would be first a part of the community/ caste/ village/ family and then an individual.

It would have seemed quaint has it not been 21st century. And had mother was also used as a marker of a person’s identity.

But it is done rarely. It is not ironical but outright fucked up that while a woman’s femininity is validated the most when she is a mother, her identity as a mother is not good enough to be acknowledged as a marker for her own kid.

She is not good enough to preside over any traditional ceremony, the kids almost always take father’s last name, and she isn’t considered parent enough to be mentioned in any official document concerning her child.

So hope that social, legal, official and cultural norms change to acknowledge mothers’ rights in meaningful manner rather than melodramatic lip service.

To Baby or not to baby?

So there is this new villain on American Parent-Sphere, my friends informed me during our weekly Gchat.

I am mildly scared of reacting to anything parenting/ baby related around my quite opinionated and otherwise very democratic friends. All other topics are usually hotly debated, but the moment it comes to kids-Bam!! Everyone’s nerves go jittery, everything becomes more personal than underarm shaving and the tender thread of Gchat threatens to spill in angry diatribes, wicked smileys and passive-aggressive FB status messages whereby everyone knows who is being taunted, but nobody can claim it openly.

The new villain is Chef Grant Akatz of Michelin star restaurant Alinea. He tweeted when a couple got their 8 month old to his fine dining establishment:

‘Tbl brings 8mo.Old. It cries. Diners mad, Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying? Ppl take infants 2 plays? Concerts? Hate saying no,but..”.

My friends were fuming about the inconsiderate hoity-toity ness of the kid-bashing, spatula wielding man who couldn’t tolerate a toddler screaming in room full of 78 other customers who had paid $ 265 per head to have a Michelin experience. And I am not talking of the tyre here, but a truly exclusive, need-to-book-weeks-in-advance experience.

I am almost always very pro-mothers. I believe that motherhood shouldn’t cost any woman experiences that other people can avail of. I believe that motherhood is as feminist an issue as any.

I am not baby friendly, but I get along very well with kids.

And I have never publicly declared my annoyance at inconsiderate parents. So, my friends assumed that I would support their argument that by banning kids from restaurants would effectively ban their mothers ( since it is mothers who overwhelmingly care for infants).

And yes it is true. But the answer is definitely not subjecting other people, who have zero interest in your kids’ developmental needs or whatever it is, to your unruly babies/kids.

‘Aww… it is a baby and babies cry..’,’Awww… he is just a kid’, or more annoying ‘ You also were a kid once’ are insensitive responses when someone points out that your offspring is, well, being a nuisance.

Since I am not a parent myself, I will not tell you about disciplining your kids.Or recite stories about ‘when we were also kids once and were mortally scared of our mother’s raised eyebrows when in public’. Because honestly, I have rarely seen a parent who takes these suggestions constructively. But when your kids are in public, you better. A pampered brat is cute only to you, not to others, even to the most considerate ones like myself.

And while you are at it, try not to take the baby to a fine dining restaurant.

And by YOU I mean both the parents. Bloody dads looking at the mum with a mixture of helplessness and embarrassment is not OK. People only targeting women for unruly toddlers is not OK.

It is very unfair that the wrath of people at inconsiderate parenting falls on women only. What is the dad doing then? Is his role to withdraw, smile and hope that the semen turns into a beautiful, accomplished 18 year old by magic?

In India, parents have more child-care support compared to western nations. But sometimes I find that mothers who can actually leave their kids back home, do not, fearing that the husband/maid/relatives will not take good care of them in their absence. I do think, in that case, maybe you better stay home rather than go and watch The Wolf of Wall Street with a 6 month old.

I would also be very suspicious of husbands who claim that they can not handle/ take care of their own kids to give mumma a break.

Most of the times, parents are quite unaware that their baby would not be welcome in certain places. And if they are made aware, even jokingly, most parents take it as an insult. I am not saying all my Gchatters are like that, but I sense resentment when anything that is not an outright praise for their kids is uttered, even in jest.

I compromise, by keeping mum. Or trying to change the topic. Since none of these people are my close pals, I have never felt a need to point out that the world doesn’t revolve around their kids. (I also shamelessly use our talk as market research!!)

So, most of the time, when people are throwing mildly annoyed glances at you but not saying anything, it is not that they love you screaming child, but they are nervous about your sanctimonious reaction. I am one of those people who will, at max, shake my head and take a deep breath at kids running around in restaurants/airports or kicking my chair or banging plates or speaking loudly in a movie. If an adult talks in a movie, I have no qualms about shushing them up directly or confronting bad behaviour like talking loudly on cell phones in fine dining restaurants. But I avoid confrontation with parents because of the general holier-than-thou touchy entitlement that many young Indian parents display.

Let me give you an example of my own non-michelin star lunch last month, with my new acquaintances from my housing society. All of them are women and know each other because they all take their babies for walk in the evening. I started chatting with them since all their babies like to talk to Puppyjaan. They suggested I join them for their monthly weekend brunch. I was game since I love the venue- a lovely British pub.

I tried not to look shocked when I saw three babies perched on their mother’s arms. I tried to smile when one of the babies threw a tantrum and started crying loudly as soon as we entered the dim, loud-music-playing pub and continued shrieking intermittently throughout our meal. I tried to interject between an angry mother demanding a baby chair and an angrier waitress pointing out that the establishment does not have one. I clutched to my beer, since I was frankly worried that the baby moving his arms all over the table would spill one if I ordered something in a glass. I had accepted that the talk would be all about babies, since all of them are in that group because of the babies. But what I wasn’t ready for was the mayhem – glasses spilled, food thrown around, loud cries and a very nasty smell that lingered due to the closed environment of the pub.

More cringeworthy was the blatant indifference of my lunch mates- They sensed that they were ruining it for everyone there, but they ploughed on since they were paying and had every right to be there and it is a kid after all and we all were kids so don’t be so stuck up…. They expected the waiters to coo and entertain the babies. They behaved exactly as if they were in their home.

Like I was shy to point out to my friends that the chef is right to expect his restaurant give quality experience to his patrons ( which doesn’t include a crying baby), I was shy to point out that young babies do not belong in a pub. These women could have left their babies with maids ( all of them have them) or husbands ( it was a saturday). But they chose to ruin the experience for themselves and others.

I fully support women’s prerogative to enjoy themselves, but the sheer nonchalance for others and a bleh attitude is not understandable. People do not spend thousands of rupees on a weekend to hear couple of babies in a pub.

I think women should have all experiences and I understand that in real world, motherhood imposes restrictions of women that are unfair. But the answer is not insensitivity at thrusting the kid at inopportune situations.

What do you think?