Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The "Superwoman" Syndrome

The modern Indian male, specially the one who sees himself as liberal, agrees that women taking up paid jobs outside the home is a natural progression. What goes unstated is that traditional gender roles inside the home must remain undisturbed.

Middle and upper class women stepping out of the home, entering the workforce, are seen as "liberating" themselves. They would gain economic freedom and hence some measure of liberty. However, in many Indian households individual freedom counts for little and your business is everybody else's business. So often, the money women earn is not even their own. The freedom they hoped for often does not include control of their own finances.

Women born without privilege always knew that "work is liberating" was just an adage without much truth to it. What kept women bound to home and hearth, for centuries, is male domination and that remains unchanged.

It's been a revelation to upper class women that they step out to their jobs only to return to a second shift  at home, doing most of the housework. Of course, most upper class women have the option of hiring less privileged, poor women to do their house work. However, overseeing this housework is almost exclusively women's work. The home and its upkeep has traditionally been the woman's domain and so it remains. We are stuck with binary gender roles and men continue to be the dominators. The power rests with men.

Women may work in paid jobs outside the home, whether out of choice or necessity, but their primary role remains that of the house keeper and the nurturer. Added to this is the myth that the ability to "balance" a professional career while being a nurturing home maker comes naturally to women. Multitasking is now considered a basic virtue every woman must possess. It's the elusive mirage every "working woman" is supposed to seek, if we are to go by innumerable self help books and umpteen women's magazines. Indeed, many women have taken to the "superwoman" tag with great pride.

Where does this leave women who choose to be single or unmarried or childless? When playing multiple roles is the norm, no wonder we as a society see single women as incomplete, flawed, or awaiting the right moment or man to come long, at best. At worst, they are looked upon as scheming and selfish.  

Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that Indian society is still centred around the family. The individual, her choice or her privacy don't count for much. Having restricted myself to traditional gender binaries, I am not discussing lesbian or queer women or the rest of LGBTQI spectrum so far.

If Indian women want true liberation, not just a partial one we must look beyond traditional gender roles. Men need to step into the kitchen, take on the child care and care of the elderly and sick. This will not happen overnight if we suddenly demand it of men. We must begin with mandatory teaching basic life skills, both at home and in schools to children of all genders. May be have a basic qualifying test and link it to issuing of citizenship documents like passports or aadhar or voter IDs? It's time we began in earnest. Women can then finally relax and learn to let go. We don't have to be superwomen. Not all of us, anyway.

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