In the 21st century, we propagate the idea that women can have it all – but years of conditioning have led many women among us to feel shame and guilt if they decide to pursue their ambition, including the women who have managed to find the courage to step away from the mould.
My mother recently opened up about how she feels disgusted with herself for giving her life up for her children and husband. It took her an instant to substitute ‘disgusted’ with regret and guilt. I asked her why, and she spoke about how although my dad earned well, she should not have left the quest to find her purpose in life. She pointed out how she is more qualified than a friend who has been a school principal for the past decade and spoke of the possibilities that could have materialised for her had she stayed on her path.
Coming from an orthodox family, where my Nani had to argue with my Nana to even accord basic education to my mother, the significance of a good education and the criticality of being financially-independent was strongly ingrained in her. But then she was married off at the age of 19 alongside her elder sister, my Masi, because who wants to spend money twice on weddings?
Did my Nani also feel like she had wasted much of her time on kids and it was best to get her youngest daughter – my mother – married off early so she could maybe have some time to think about herself? Who can deny the possibility?
On social media and everywhere else, we encourage women to speak out about the issues they grapple with. But how do women, who see glorification of their roles as wives and as mothers everywhere from TV ads, movies and newspapers to within their families and communities, break free from the mould and decide for themselves?
In any society, one can argue that there is no perfect time to do anything and maybe our mothers can now take up the baton and find their calling. But even if they somehow manage to do that, how do they overcome their guilt, regret and disgust as women who want to do better for themselves while constantly juggling several roles and responsibilities?
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Not just that, women are also expected to excel at all these different profiles, considering we go with the assumption that women are great multitaskers (which I vehemently believe is another tactic to extract as much labour from women as possible).
Even in Western countries, every time a woman is depicted on screen, it’s either her glorification as a mother and her regret for not being able to take time out for kids. Or if she is happy, she constantly battles feelings of inadequacy in her workspace, because well, modern women are great multitaskers and we are continuously feeding into the myth of an exalted figure who can do-it-all and most women are fanatically trying to keep up with this mythical woman. Yes, maybe modern women (whosoever those are) can do it all (this is a debate for another day), but what about the women who raised the modern women?
I used to believe that my father made a lot of sacrifices for me. Financially, he would earn his buck with hard work, work double shifts on most days and then not spend a penny on himself.
But over the years, I realised that my mother’s sacrifices started even before I was born.
She was expected to prioritise her husband, then her kids and now, well, her rightful bitterness has started to show. This over-emphasising over a woman’s role as a mother and a wife not only disregards her other roles as a friend, daughter, her own person, but also undermines the work that fathers do in child rearing. I am not even a mother and I have deep resentment for this world that men have created by manipulating women into believing that a good woman is the one who takes care of her family. They have built a society that benefits from this constant exaggeration of a woman’s role while men get away unscathed with everything. Women have seen the incessant glorification of their roles to such a level that they feel asking for help and getting help will take away from that and even make them bad human beings.
The hidden resentments and an utter lack of self-care has led to degrading physical and mental health in so many mothers and housewives. Housewives are the largest group after wage labourers to commit suicide in India. This vision of being the perfect mother and wife is so deeply entrenched in most women’s minds that the idea of putting themselves first is alien to them and only comes up years later when they have lived half their lives. By then it’s incredibly difficult to train their mind to think for themselves.
There is no need to cheer on the compromises women make on an everyday basis at the cost of sabotaging themselves. It’s only instilling in our children and our communities that women are here to serve us. A quote from an article I once read comes to mind:
“Self-sacrifice should not be the currency of love.”
Rashmir Bagri is a lawyer from Bangalore and a graduate of NALSAR, University of Law, Hyderabad.
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