Anna Quindlen, the author I pretty much idolise, once said,
“It’s important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders. It’s the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too. It’s the way we talk about and treat one another. It’s who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It’s a state of mind. It’s the way we live now.”
And of course you nod, because you believe it and can’t imagine it being any other way. Until you come across something like this giving us strategy on branding (link via Sairee) for women executives. I was rather horrified, reading stuff like -
Do not drag your family to work. No family photos, no screensavers, no drawings. Yes, yes, I know men have all of these, but who said life is fair.
Really? Not even a screensaver?! Hello third wave feminism! Would you like to come over and meet this author?
And what is this about not informing a supervisor early about a pregnancy or marriage? I would like to think of it as a matter of courtesy, not legalities. Just like my boss isn’t officially bound to let me come in 15 minutes later because of my physiotherapy, but does it out of consideration. An architect working on a 3 year project to build a hotel should give the company adequate notice to make alternate arrangements, right? Besides what is adequate notice? I don’t know. Some of us pop immediately and start throwing up, while others remain thin as a rake till we deliver and don’t have a day of anything wrong. What all of us do, is take time off after the baby and if you have an idea of it early enough, why not? This one however is just a judgment call so this isn’t a real quibble.
The next – no discussion on ‘feminine problems’. We’re obviously going back to the day when you couldn’t say you are having your periods. Excuse me? I understand if this was a blanket rule of not giving out any medical details. But I absolutely object to the whole ‘feminine’ problems line. Is it okay to say you have a prostrate problem then?
As for PTA meetings and sick children – as I type this, the OA is holding a feverish Brat in his arms, having taken half a day off from work. I took the morning off. A week ago the Bean got heat stroke and we both split the time, the OA taking her for a throat swab and blood tests (the doctor suspected dengue).
Not only do I find this kind of post a bit of a blow to feminism. I find it a very regressive way of thinking and a blow to the family structure. World over, we’re making a move towards a work environment which respects the family and personal life. So it should be completely okay for a parent (be it a father or a mother) to say they’re taking the day off for a sick child or the morning off for a PTA meeting. This is the India of nuclear families. A sick child cannot be packed off to daycare and neither can the maid attend the PTA meeting in your stead.
When we talk of work life balance, we’re making an obvious statement. That work is not life. There is life beyond work and we’ve got to start respecting that. Start respecting that not just for parents who rush home to a sick child but single people who have responsibilities towards their parents, friends and even themselves. Who might want to travel, volunteer for a cause, pick up an instrument, or indulge in a hobby.
I am disappointed with the kind of thinking we’re encouraging, by asking women to literally neuter themselves professionally. If its okay for men to talk about a ball game at work, why not for a woman to talk about her child? Heck, I know the OA and his colleagues discuss schooling and children very often. (I once did a post on the OA and three of his colleagues eating Happy Meals at McDonalds during lunch hour, just to bring home the toys for their kids. I miss you Southways!)
I respect them all the more for it and their reward is children who literally worship the ground they walk on. It’s not really a favour they’re doing their kids. It’s a favour they’re doing themselves, by remaining human. And by not living up to male stereotypes – jocks, workaholics, casanovas.. everything, but family men. Men who care and aren’t afraid to say it. Not to sound like a Raymond’s advertisement here… but you get my point. At times I feel sorry for men having to live within society’s narrow constraints and high expectations too. Only when I am not feeling sorry for women and their plight ;)
I don’t deny the fact that women are judged on these issues. But they’re only judged because the men are conditioned to never mention home and family at work. But that is changing. From the senior management guy who sits across my cubicle, telling me that his wife has managed to conceive 8 years after their first child and he is worried about her health to the big guy down the row I sit in, who I bumped into at every school last year, taking an hour off, just like me, to pick up admission forms. We’re all in this together. So we’ve got to learn to integrate work and life. They can’t be separate and at times, contradictory entities. And we’ve got to respect men and women for what they choose to talk about or display – as long as its not inappropriate. Yes, the woman with a picture of her twins pinned up on her soft board as well as the man with a picture of his wife peeking cheekily out of a shop in a Bangkok market. An acquaintance recently had a bad motorcycle crash. With his family in another city it was friends who took the next few days off from work to nurse him, get his bike repaired and deal with the cops.
And employers and HR executives alike, are going to have to learn to change, unlearn, re-learn and accept this new India, these people who are not just automatons at machines, but are parents, children, siblings, friends, lovers too. Work is just a part of our life. It is NOT our life. And this can’t be an individual’s move. Because if I refuse to take work related calls on my sacrosanct Sundays, there are sure to be other younger, more ambitious people who will take that call and do that job, leaving me redundant. Which is fine. Because in about ten years they’ll want that Sunday off and they’ll regret having shut that window in their own faces. We aren’t there yet, but it takes baby steps. And eac h one of us needs to walk that road. United we stand as the old saying goes. Otherwise its just the British divide and rule theory where they tell the single people that the marrieds/parents are taking a free ride… and the marrieds/parents are pushed into panic striken responses and longer working hours. Playing us off each other. Ensuring that none of us get a life. Giving us silly sops like TT tables and gyms in the office. Hello.. let us get out of work at 5 and go for a jog in the park, thank you very much.
It’s the rare person who stays young and single and free of responsibility for more than ten years of their working life. After that, whether you have kids or not, you yearn for a life beyond the Blackberry and the Q2 report. And if you don’t, heck, I don’t understand how you’re reading this blog! This is certainly not the place for you. It’s about time we united in an effort to stop work from pushing life off the table, neutering us, turning us into genderless, humourless, witless people. Go on people. Pick life. As for my sistahs – here’s to a table with a pretty coffee mug (no disposable plastic coffee machine cups!), pictures on the soft board, crisp cotton suits, floral shirts and bright handbags. We’re not men. We’ve never been men. We don’t aim on acting like men (perish the thought!).
I lead you back to the Anna Quindlen quote. This is the life we live. Men and women alike will earn, will cook dinner and will rock a puking child and soothe him. Telling us to camouflage that side is unfair and detrimental to us and to our society in the long run.
Disclaimer: I have not read this lady’s blog in entirety. I am only commenting on this piece. Because I am sure she is good at whatever job it is that she does – so no disrespect meant to her. But when a woman, and one who has risen to the top, tells other women to deny their femininity and that it is the only way to get to the top…. it is a sad, sad day.