The trajectory of today’s Indian middle-class women goes something like this – Study well, go to college, be a graduate, get a job, find the right/ good guy to be a partner for life, enjoy marital life while enjoying a steady job and career, take on motherhood and then lean back.
A few generations back, the story was a little different, women who fought their way through sexism and gender discrimination to study and land decent jobs. These women (bankers, teachers, govt staffs etc) kept those jobs through marriage & children, through transfers to different locations, through almost everything until their retirement. Didn’t these women have the option to lean back? If so, why didn’t they?
I can only fathom the choices women had and how they exercised it.
It is foremost a mark of achievement to land yourself in a good job in the 90’s. When they did, their families (the one they were born into and the one they married into) considered it as such and supported these young women to pursue it. They definitely didn’t question “is it so important that you work ?” “is it more important than your kids?”. The economic condition of the then middle-class family improved with 2 incomes. It became a necessity to keep the job (even if it didn’t have much of a scope for career growth). These women, even if they did have other passions/interests didn’t waiver in their commitment to work. Their life took the routine of a 9-5 job and then family. They were/are superwomen who did manage to keep a job/career and a functioning family.
I could possibly attribute this sense of commitment and discipline to the Indian upbringing in the 60’s and 70’s. Most of the middle-class families did struggle financially to give their kids a good education, and some little luxuries. The qualities of modesty, hard work, dedication and devotion to one’s vocation, determination to finish what one started were instilled in them. For them taking care of their family became a motivational factor to achieve in studies and workplace.
So when these women who are now mothers to the current generation of women, raised their daughters. They gave them same values too and something more – choices and self-introspection.
The job or a career for women is their choice to pursue, to hold or to give up. It is no more imperative that they work to earn a living. It is to have monetary freedom and to have an equal footing as men in the society. The jobs these days are as varied for women as it is for men. And so are the stresses and challenges too. Long working hours, an unsatisfactory support system for mothers, unhealthy work environment are few of the reasons pushing women to rethink their priorities.
And so they do. They choose to lean back.
Women are leaning back to take a break to raise their kids.
Women are leaning back to pursue their hobbies and interests.
Women are leaning back to pursue entrepreneurial avenues.
Women are leaning back to rethink the life they envisioned for themselves.
The men in the women’s life need to mentioned here. They are the ones willingly bearing the monetary ones. They are ones encouraging and motivating the women to choose what they want to do.
Although leaning back is okay. The underlying factors for that shouldn’t be ignored. We need to bring in a culture of lean in. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her bestseller Lean In : Woman, Work, and the Will to Succeed “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in”
We need to be raising hands and asking better work life for women, to bring in a system of mentorship and training, to bring in infrastructure that let raising a child to be easy to both the parents, while they work. Creches and day-care should be a norm in every office. If gender inclusion drives are done to bring in more workforce, a system should also be set up to encourage and retain them.
It should not be women working in a man’s world. It should be a workplace for all!
Finally, to all those women who in spite of everything, still are at their jobs, enjoying their work, having a kid and managing a household. KUDOS!! and a HUGE shout-out to you all!!