Thursday, July 19, 2012

Women's work: Career or just another job?

So the other day me and my friend were chit chatting about my exit interview form, and I was wondering how to go about "being honest in a good way" (if you know what I mean!). According to my friend here, I was being  unnecessarily apprehensive about being honest, and that the exit interview questionnaire was my last opportunity to vent out any and all frustration accumulated in the last 6 years.

Friend (let's call him Mr. X): "Ohhhh Sonu, what do you think, in this stable full of cattle, do you think anyone is going to even bother to read what you have written? And even if someone does, what will they do? Some HR, working from home since her (note the feminine gender used explicitly here for the HR and in context you're about to read later) baby is too young, will call you, ask you a couple of questions for formality, do yes no to your answers, and then call over! All she will think during the call with you is, 'Ohh my baby, I have to change the nappy, and then my husband-the manager-is going to come home for lunch so I have to cook lunch also, let me just finish off this interview quickly', and once the call is over, she'll go, 'Yes!! I have completed my 8 hrs task for the day, let me update my timesheet!'"

Me: "If I was 10 years younger, I would have hit you hard on the face for saying that!"

X: ????

But frankly, (and I'm really falling short of an apt word) WTF.

Before I put forth my views, I want to clarify that this is not another essay on female superiority nor am I a feminist who thinks of men as MCPs. I also do not intend to jump on the "mahila mukti" bandwagon. To be honest, when I think today about my possible reaction to this around a decade ago, I guess the reaction that I would have had given is quite over the top and to a certain extent, immature. Back then, I would have probably concluded that X was another pig in the ocean of pigs on this planet. 

But today, my reaction to this was, surprisingly, different, and much more muted. More upset than ever, but definitely less vocal. Less vocal because over the years I have realized that no chest beating is going to make people listen to you and change their perspectives unless they see that power vested in your hands to change things around. Of course, this is not the point of discussion here.

It is interesting to wonder about the immaturity involved in X's thought process and perceptions leading to his comment. It would have been a good joke, if it was meant to be and said as a joke, but those statements were more inclined to be mocking and demeaning to the caliber of that lady. Not to mention the display of highly immature thought process of the 28 year old X.

All right, so these women marry people who soon get higher positions in a few years' time, or get posted overseas, which we refer to as "onsite" in IT parlance. And this is the focus here.

So what would, and should the wifey do? Stay back in India, or as true "partners," fly along with their husbands? The obvious answer is tag along with their husbands. Obviously because the family should stay together (otherwise what is the point in getting married in the first place). Another underlying reason is that, if the wife decides to stay back (for a long period of time), then she is bound to be asked questions by prying society. "Where is her husband?" "Why is she not with her husband?" "Oh, did he leave her - are they separated, or divorced?" "Does she not have any sense, leaving her husband all alone?"

So, not wanting to answer all these questions, and of course to keep the family together, she tags along. Around a year or so later, their pass to "phoren" citizenship is produced (the baby of course!). The wife, if working earlier, takes a break (in most cases since it ain't India to get low cost affordable nannies) and starts attending full time to the baby. In many cases some of the parents do come over to help, but that does not take the responsibility off our mother. A full time job of taking care of the newborn, and cooking for the husband (who either doesn't know how to cook or as in most cases, no longer wants to cook since the wife is available) takes all of her 24 hrs of the day.

In the midst of all this, many a time, and as the baby starts growing up, it is realized that the patriarch's lone paycheck is not really sufficient to cater to the growing needs of the house. So wifey steps in again, and takes up the "job" job again (yes, apparently that tending to the baby and cooking 3 meals a day didn't qualify as a job at all). 

So now, she has to change the baby's nappies, cook 3 meals a day for the family, and do her "job" job. And mind you, job, not career. Why is it not career? Arre, she is working from home every day, changing the baby's nappy, cooking the meal. She doesn't come to office to strut her stuff na. And she still has only 2 hands, 2 legs, and the same 24 hours that her husband has!

Hypocrites, aren't we? 

A man's 8 hour job is his career, his ambition, whereas a woman's 24 hr jobs (including her "job" job and the jobs at home) is just a job? What is wrong if a woman wants to work from home so that she can take care of the baby? Aren't they expected to do take care of the kids? Then why the fuss over managing multiple tasks all at once (and someone said that multitasking is a good thing to do)? Men commit the same blunders that women do at work, without multitasking home and work that women are simply expected to do, but which is conveniently forgotten about when one wants to crack a joke or two.

All I am saying is, we need to start looking at men and women as individuals more than as simply "men" and "women." A woman's job may not simply be her job, it may also be her career, just like a man's career. She may want her aspirations to be acknowledged and appreciated at work in the same way her husband's work is acknowledged and appreciated. It's time we start moving towards a more mature mindset of accepting that women-both working women as well as stay at home mothers-have full time jobs which are fully qualified to be labelled "careers." We may have not yet reached the maturity level as a society to accept a woman as major or sole breadwinner, but it's high time to get rid of our tunnel vision and the childish jokes surrounding them. Change in the mindset of men, women, and society are all interlinked and interdependent and all the three elements need to stop waiting for the other to change, and be the change themselves, to move closer to a more equal world.