Sunita (name changed) was in the second year of her B.Com course when she announced her wedding date.
We weren’t shocked. Since class 12, it was a given, she’d say, that her father would arrange for her marriage as soon as she was out of school.
And Sunita isn’t the only one. There were many others. My sister’s dental college had plenty of female candidates and their entire focus was to find a suitable wealthy man.
I often pondered at people’s perceptions about a woman’s career and her ambitions in our society.
I have never in my life seen or heard an Indian man quit his job in one city because his wife had a job in another. It is a given that wherever the husband’s job is, the wife has to quit her work and migrate to his city. And I know a lot of people.
And neither have I seen a man’s commitment to work being questioned if his children are out of line or ignored. Neither have I ever heard someone ask: “Can men have it all in the 21st century? A thriving career, children to look after and a stable house and a car?”
On paper, the Indian Constitution allows all its citizens to make decisions about their lives including the decision to have a career. Women, however, are not encouraged to have dreams, ambitions and a career. Most are actively discouraged, to be honest.
If you want to dream, dream about your wedding. If you want to have ambitions, aim for pleasing your in-laws and your husband. If you want to do something, do the laundry and childbearing and so on.
I don’t look down upon housewives – in fact, I deeply admire any and every work that women do. However, I get agitated when housewives point fingers at women who want to have a career and tag them as selfish.
Hence, I decided to write this post (although I have written about this issue from various angles earlier in my books, blogs, and other media).
Over the years, I’ve heard several presumptions of people about working women (all women work but in this article, by working women, I mean women who work outside their homes). Here are some of the weirdest things I’ve heard.
My sister once visited one of our neighbours – the man of the house had some government connections. My sister wanted to see if there were any dental vacancies at the hospital he had connections at. Two minutes into the conversation, the lady of the house asked: “Daddy ka business kuch thik nahi hai kya (Is there some problem with your father’s business)?”
At first, she could not connect the dots. What did her dad’s business have to do with her job? Later, she understood what the comment meant. Needless to say, she never returned.
Some people in this day and age also propagate education and it raises my hope in humanity. But just as they open their mouths and say, “Kal ko agar divorce ho gai to (What if there’s a divorce tomorrow)?”, all my hopes are washed down the drain.
I mean, why do women’s lives have to be shaped by the actions of men?
Why can’t women study and have a career because that is every human being’s basic right? So close but so far.
And there is also this assumption that if a woman wants to work after her wedding, she might be planning a divorce.
Thanks to the gazillion films and TV soaps that helped create this stereotype against the working woman. Men use this excuse aplenty in order to keep their wives imprisoned. They say that when a woman goes out of the house, she’d attract unnecessary attention from men and God forbid, she may choose to be with someone! Wouldn’t the earth collapse at the mere thought of a woman choosing her own partner?
And as far as concern for harassment goes, housewives face a lot of harassment and abuse, so no arguments there.
This is where the title came from.
In my locale, this is a trend. Wealthy women show off their talents by doing businesses as a hobby or to show off to their friends. In fact, in 2015, The Securities and Exchange Board of India had mandated a rule to appoint more women directors to ensure compliance with the New Companies Act of 2013 in order to enhance female gender representation on boards.
Guess what happened?
“Instead of appointing women who bring expertise to the role, promoters of some of India’s biggest companies have opted to put more family members — wives and daughters — as directors. That dilutes the very purpose of giving more representation to women, and to help break the glass ceiling that has long held them back from reaching leadership roles.” – Huffington Post
Ultimately, instead of deserving women actually getting a seat at the table, wealthy women from wealthy families were brought in as a hobby, box-checking the regulations and no real advancement happened.
If you think all young women studying in Indian universities are there because they have high ambitions and will be entering the workforce, think again. The astonishing motivation behind their education is “to get a guy from an educated family”. In my neighbourhood, there are about 50 families, all located in a posh colony, all with government jobs and medical/engineering degrees. And the majority of kids are girls. Out of these 50 families, only two are working. One is me and another is a person a few years younger than me. The rest have all gone to colleges and a few have medical and engineering degrees, others have MBAs, Mass Communications and other languages degrees. But all sit at home because their fathers do not allow them to work and many of them intentionally wait for a wealthy husband because “my character will be ruined and no man will marry me if I go for a job.”
This is a very obvious one and common one. Since women are considered to be someone else’s property, why invest in their education and their dreams? It’s the son who will bring money home to us. Hence, let’s spend on his development and desires.
Like that bad character stereotype, this line of thought has also been derived from the gazillion films and TV soaps where working women are portrayed as selfish. In fact, any woman with any desires – who wants to do something for herself – is selfish. While men being workaholics and ignoring their children is natural and worth sympathy, women, on the other hand, are pointed out as culprits and held accountable for their children’s faults.
Hey, I thought it takes two to make a child?
When you do come across families where women are not discouraged from having an education, and the would-be groom is not the first priority, the concept of education and women’s ambitions are not a priority either. It is mostly about money and careers chosen by their parents. If they want to pursue a creative field, especially cinema and music, then it is once again problematic. Which brings me to the next point of ‘women-appropriate’ careers.
All jobs can be done by people of every gender. No arguments there. However, in our society, there is this notion that first of all, women should stay home to do laundry and cooking, etc. But even if they do choose to have a career, they should be only confined to certain fields.
I personally never got the rationale behind these ‘women appropriate’ careers but I assume they are based on the same patriarchal stereotypes – become a teacher because you stay around kids, become a nurse or a doctor because women are supposed to ‘take care’ of people, and other things where cooking and cleaning and taking care may be required.
Not only are these notions invalid but also extremely ridiculous in this day and age.
Women are subjected to all sorts of discriminations in our society and not having any control over their careers and their dreams and desires is the most underrated and the least talked about subject.
Take for example a man, any man. His entire life is circulating around the fact that he is a (enter occupation).
His career is his identity. I have never seen an Indian man introduce himself as, “I am the husband of or the father of…”
But more often than not, women are just someone’s mother, sister, daughter or wife. Their entire life circulates around family. Remember the perpetual bua ji from “Lipstick Under My Burkha”?
And those who choose not to base their life around family (like me for instance) are considered a myriad of things.
I have always lived my life with one suggestion from none other than Virginia Woolf herself: “A woman must have money and a room of her own.”
Thus, a woman’s career or her ambitions can be fulfilled if she is striving to be self-dependent and is keen on keeping her own room (space, a domain, an area where she works).
To end, I would also like to echo Lady Gaga’s advice: “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.”