Mother and Patriarchy

Bhaswati Bhattaccharya

We all want to be in an imaginary state defined by perfection. We all have a particular idea of it. Some of us would want a world free of terrorism while someone else would wish for the end of poverty. The wish list can be endless!

When I think of such a world, I think of something which not all of us shall consider, but the impact of which could lead to so much positivity around. I want to talk about a personal example, which could speak for so many more people, an example of someone closest to me and the battles fought, in silence and acceptance.

Gender as a theme can be analyzed in various contexts. I would want to put forward my perceptions of gender exhibiting and supporting notions of patriarchy, in ways that are generally acceptable to society. Being a “woman” entails being looked at and expected to behave in certain ways which includes sacrifice and compromise at every step of daily life, something generally not expected out of male members.

Let me take the case of my own mother here. Also before any kind of misunderstanding crops up, I would like to state at the very beginning that my father is the most supportive husband one can ask for. The views expressed here do not in any way claim anything against the male members of my immediate family, as I have been extremely fortunate to deal with the best of the lot.

The foremost point that makes me take the issue of my own mother is how her work goes unnoticed and hence becomes “invisible” in so many contexts. As a working woman, it has always been considered extremely normal for her to look after her kid’s homework even after eight hours of stressful work at office and prepare dinner at the same time. However, the same is not expected out of any male member in the family as they are “not supposed” to cook after a long day at work. Somehow it is accepted like an unsaid norm. Not to hurt any male sentiments here as I know there would be many loving men out there who would probably cook for their wives (my father being one of them). Coming back to the topic, for a girl who has always been brilliant in academics, there was never any support given to her for pursuing her education for which she had to stop at her bachelors. After her bachelors, she was never encouraged to start working as women in the society aren’t supposed to go out of the house and engage in any kind of occupation (the justification given). Even when she was a teacher in a secondary school right after her graduation, her decision to work in the school was not supported. But when she left her job as a teacher and joined the bank, it was totally uncalled for by everyone around, as working in a bank was considered worse than teaching- which is still an acceptable profession for a woman. Teaching involves handling children, something which women are born to do and should be skilled at. It is better to be a teacher for a woman than to engage in any other kind of occupation, especially the ones which involve interaction with other men on a daily basis. Also, the social valuation of a woman does not necessarily change if she is working.

All kinds of work done at home by her which includes cooking, cleaning, looking after the family etc. are considered “non-work” which is again a notion carried from home. There is an inherent assumption that she is a domestic creature, willing and supposed to do all such kinds of household chores. There is also the concept of “workplace vulnerability” that comes up for working women like my mother. Even today, there are no proper toilets or crèches available for women at the workplace. As such, she has to come home as early as possible each day to make sure her children are doing fine.

If I look at the institution of marriage, it again brings with it a variety of norms for the bride to be. A working woman in certain societies is still not acceptable as household work is what women are best suited to do. Earning as much as the husband becomes a matter of challenging the “masculinity” of the man of the household, and it is widely tried to be prevented. A working mother would mean jeopardizing the future of the children and the family as a whole, as she will not be able to fulfill her domestic duties in the best way.

So what would be an ideal state to me in such a situation? An ideal state would be for every woman to cook when she wants to and not out of compulsion, be it as a student, a working single woman or a married woman. An ideal state would be one where every girl can continue her education with the support of all her family members and the society at large. An ideal situation would be no women sacrificing her promotional exams as that would require her coming home late and not be able to look after her children. An ideal state would be one where women themselves can have the liberty of choosing their own life course, without accepting compromises at each step because of what they are “supposed” to do. A woman should never give up her desires and fulfill all her aspirations. Consumption and desires should not become entirely social in character for her. Such social norms make people of different cultures behave in specific ways, even if it is not realized consciously at times. Since society accepts it, it is considered correct and hence is continued for generations.

Whatever little “being independent” I have become has been because of the constant inspiration from my mother. My parents have never questioned me over my decisions, be it career or any other personal goals I’ve wanted to achieve. This makes me feel extremely fortunate especially when I am aware of my surroundings to an extent. Why am I writing this? This is because all these instances have been witnessed by me ever since I was a child, in ways I could not comprehend in the beginning. As a child and up to my teenage years, I thought this is how things work out and are supposed to be. All of us tend to not question the things that go on around us as it becomes a way of life. I would want everyone around to take note of such realities and start slow to create huge changes in the end. Better late than never!

“That’s one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.”

Neil Armstrong

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