Recently, I heard that a young couple who had gotten married fairly recently were expecting their first child. My first reaction was, “Of course I am not surprised. The girl is not working.”
This reaction and all the judgment it involves set me thinking about the fact that as an educated working woman, I have spent so much of my life trying to fight the social role of a conventional woman, which is usually imposed on us, but at the same time, I am replacing one social role, with another, and judging a lot of women by whether or not they measure upto it. My new ideal woman is someone who has a fairly decent education, is capable of working. But this is only a superficial description. Underneath, I also assume that she will be aware of family planning, willing to follow family planning and capable of doing it. If anyone therefore got pregnant right after marriage, she was not really educated or concerned about a job. That a woman, educated or otherwise, may choose to have a child soon after marriage is not a possibility I was willing to grant anyone.
In that way I exclude many possibilities for educated women. I wonder why someone would choose not to work (even if she has no commitments like children). I wonder why someone gives up a chance for a productive job to dabble in some kind of hobby. Actually, I exclude many possibilities for myself. Though there are times when I find the dual responsibility of motherhood and a job physically and emotionally exhausting, I don’t even consider quitting. There are days when I feel, I would love to not have to do a job, so that I can read all the amazing books which this well stocked library possesses, but I know that is totally fantasy. There are days when I feel I want to quit all these jobs, and pursue yoga seriously, but again, I know that thought is going nowhere. I dont mean to say I work unwillingly, but I acknowledge that my decision to work is not wholly a ‘free decision’. At some level, it is influenced by my expectation that a woman should work.
This is not just my expectation. A scan of matrimonial ads will show that in most cases prospective grooms desire working women, preferably, professionally qualified. A lot of recently married women tell me something like, my husband would like me to work, So I will settle into the new place and start looking for a job. He does not want me to be a house wife. Now I wonder, and I want to ask them, “Do you really want to work there, or do you just think you want to or your husband wants you to. Would you prefer to settle into married life without the additional responsibility of finding a job. Would you prefer to pursue some hobby which you never had the time to for now. Would you continue to value and respect yourself if you dont take up a job. Or will you feel like an underachiever every time you hear of a career progression of a friend or erstwhile colleague.
So is this where my personal empowerment has led me? Replacing one set of ideals with another. It was far easier fighting the other role of an ideal woman as a ‘good and dutiful wife, mother, daughter in law etc etc’. It is so much more difficult to fight this role, since its something I created myself. I will need to shift my empowerment drive to a higher gear, where I really make free and informed choices, with no pressure to fulfill any social role.