By Pauline Gomes
Sometime back, I met up with a few old friends. There was a lot of catching up to do about each other’s lives. One of them recently had a child and was sharing her experience. She told us that she was at a job interview shortly before her pregnancy, and had to answer some very personal questions. What she shared brought back memories. I had had similar interviews with questions such as – “When are you planning to get married?” and “Are you planning to have children?”
Most of my women friends and colleagues have said that one of the inevitable questions during a job interview is about their plans for marriage and children. Sometimes, the interviewer poses it apologetically and goes on to explain how the project they will be handling is on a tight deadline, and they have to be realistic about whom to hire. I wonder if men are asked these questions and what is the logic behind this?
In the case of a married female candidate, this is the question that follows right after – “Are you planning to have children, and when?” The assumption is that she will probably leave her job after having a child, which means the employers will have to go through the entire recruitment process again.
This is often the case with many women candidates applying for jobs, especially those who are of ‘marriageable age’ or are planning their pregnancy. Do men experience this and are they expected to take care of children at all?
This scenario was true even before the amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017. The increase in the duration of maternity leave is perhaps a relief for many women. It may be much needed for pre and post-partum care for the newborn and the woman. In today’s nuclear families, most often women are alone in providing child-care immediately after birth. However, what if that scenario were to change? What if she had her partner to share the responsibility for longer than 15 days after childbirth?
Most of us have been socialised into believing that it is the woman’s primary role to take care of the household, including chores, family members and children. This is irrespective of the fact that she may be working outside the home too. Often, the pressure to be the caring wife, daughter-in-law and super-mom is far more because she is working outside the home. You can see the glimpses of this reality in B. P. Dakshayani’s life. Unfortunately, this situation is still true today.
Women are expected to be the primary care providers for their children. Therefore, they are perceived as burdensome, and this tends to become a barrier to hiring women.
Therefore, I feel the amended duration of the maternity leave can only be a welcome relief! Although, doing it all by yourself can be quite tiresome and exhausting. Hence, the need for paternity leave.
Are two weeks really enough?
As MP Rajiv Satav says in his article – after childbirth he was not expected to be involved in child-care. Today, more men would like to and are beginning to participate in child-care actively. However, the challenge is our social setting and mindsets that look down upon such men and question their masculinity. Consequently, men are discouraged from doing so. Men are often ridiculed for cooking or cleaning at home- imagine taking care of children too! God-forbid if he wants to be a stay-at-home father – the ridicule and comments will know no bounds!
What about single parents? Yes, both men and women can be single parents. This means that having both the Maternity Benefit Act and the Paternity Benefit Act become necessary.
I know someone who availed of this leave and went on vacation with other male friends. His reason – “My wife does not want me around. She says that I’ll be more of a hindrance.” Perhaps, it is an indication that it is time to reflect and try not to be a hindrance. Probably his distancing himself from child-care came from the silent messages and expectations to adhere to the accepted gender norms of masculinity.
It is time that we all stop encouraging assumptions along the lines of ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘clumsiness’ in men. As well as discouraging or shaming them for participating in household chores, taking care of and spending quality time with their children. I think we ought to encourage them to start taking on more of these responsibilities.
I believe that practice makes perfect, but unless the push comes from somewhere, the practice may never begin. Thus, having a law in place that pushes men to take on more responsibilities during child-care will also encourage a change in social mindsets and encourage such practices.
While we see and hear about more women working outside their homes, their participation rate in 2017 was still as low as 28.5%. The chances are that as long as partners share child-care responsibilities, this scenario is more likely to change, and families, society and/or the workplace may not view women and girls as burdens.
As long as we keep viewing the primary roles of women and girls as only homemakers, we will keep seeing them as intruders, misfits or burdensome at workplaces. We will continue to assume and expect men to not play a role in child-care, thereby actively or subtly discouraging them from taking on these roles. In this case, the introduction of a law on paternity benefit could go a long way in improving the chances of women being able to choose to work outside the home, getting better and dignified working conditions and being considered a capable employee.
Our mindset needs to change and move beyond seeing men as providers, less emotional, disciplinarian, distant father figures, etc. – all that hegemonic and toxic masculine gender norms expect of men. To that of persons capable of feeling and showing emotions like care, sensitivity, willing to and capable of taking care of their children and contributing to household responsibilities with their partners.
Pauline Gomes works at Breakthrough India as a part of the curriculum and leadership development team. She creates products and publications for training and community action tools and facilitates interactive sessions with adolescents, teachers, parents, development sector professionals among others. She has worked on sexuality, gender, disability and human rights.