Random Notes on the Role of the Modern Woman

Last week two news items caught my attention and had me pondering over society’s obsession on consigning women to traditional roles of child bearing and child nurturing. The first news item centered around Aishwarya Rai and a rumor on why she wasn’t able to conceive and with her not getting any younger, how her in-laws were worried about the impending delay in a new addition to their family. The second news item was how “People judge mothers based on work status.” The article centered on the notion that “People favor not only a mother, but also her child and their relationship when she is not employed outside the home full time …. People also devalue mothers employed full time outside the home, relative to their non-employed counterparts, and perceive their children to be troubled and their relationships to be problematic.”

It is evident that however beautiful, educated, mature and socially skilled a woman is, the most dominant aspect of her life (of course, after acquiring a husband) is to bear and rear children. While being a spinster or a single mother can earn society’s permanent ire and make you the biggest source of spicy gossip in town, the failure to have a child within a year or two of marriage, can make the “unlucky” married woman an even more endearing topic for social tattle. Having married late myself, I have been through both these stages in my life – the persistent questions on why you are not married “as yet” and then after marriage, “you should get pregnant soon because age is not on your side!” While marriage and pregnancy go virtually hand-in-hand in conventional societies like ours, the other angle in the triangle is pregnancy/children and the working woman status. So, it’s not just about getting married, and having children, but also quitting or taking break from your job because now society has decided not to look favorably upon the children of working women.

I became aware of this trend last year, when many young parents giving interviews for nursery school admissions for their toddlers, realized that while the mother’s educational status earned brownie points, the school administration was concerned about how a full-time working mother would take care of the child’s educational needs and whether there was ample family support at home in the absence of the mother. Children who spent time in day care centers or crèches lost some points in the evaluation process.

A confusing scenario; a messy state of affairs – women are supposed to be well-bred, educated and enlightened but at the same time their individual choices and career preferences have to be compromised in the face of pushy social norms. While men have always required women to work side-by-side with them – be it in farmlands, or orchards, or managing entire households and the finances while the men were at war or away on voyage – it is the modern trend of equal financial contributors that has added to the role of the women. In most families today, the burden of loans, lifestyle and spiraling expenses is forcing reliance on double-income and when this trend started more than a decade back, there emerged the concept of DINK – Double Income No Kids. But as women developed work-family life balance, social and familial demands on compliance to traditional child bearing and rearing roles were reasserted.

If we give it an unbiased thought there is nothing wrong in defining and demanding fulfillment of procreation related primarily responsibility from women; after all it is only a woman who can give birth and who can sustain a child and its needs in the first few years. The question, however, arises as to what is society doing to help women fulfill this primary responsibility! Taunts, discrimination, gossip, negative opinion, and unfair comparison will only make women resentful and defiant, making strong women assert their independence, and shrugging off their procreative responsibilities; or on the flip-side, women may succumb to the pressure and relegate to traditional roles with education, and awareness also become secondary, and slowly unnecessary.

Ultimately, both the courses of action are going to be detrimental to the social fabric. In fact the latter concept of women only as vessels of procreation has been described in Margaret’s Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale and the author does not draw a pretty picture. Atwood imagines a dystopian world, where women are denied pleasure, education, and freedom and are only sustained in civilized society by a system that needs them as fertile procreators.

Striking a balance between two discordant ends is always a challenge for any society. The position of the modern woman and the biologically defined prime role required to be fulfilled by her, has brought her into the spotlight. However, we cannot attain much by putting her in the spotlight, demanding compromises, and making her responsible for all the consequences. The right perspective would be for society to demand answers and resolution from within; by formulating rules and laws that make it easier for women to find a perfect balance between being a woman and being a career woman! Men (and women), who are in a position to decide and establish, should take stern measures in this direction, making working hours, working places, medical facilities, child-care facilities and work breaks favorable for women.

It would also make it easier for women to maintain a dignified front when faced by issues affecting their fertility, if other women in society nurture well-being instead of ostracizing such women. Even if we ignore the financial contribution that women are today making, we cannot ignore the part that educated and independent women are playing in uplifting the situation of the less privileged women and children. It becomes imperative in this context for women to support each other in fulfilling their predefined responsibilities while protecting the dignity and sanity of all those women who are also fighting against medical and social conditions to become mothers. Ultimately, most women are destined and determined to be mothers, but its society’s responsibility to make a fulfilling experience and a rewarding responsibility.

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2 Responses to Random Notes on the Role of the Modern Woman

  1. snigdha says:

    Very well put. Dont know what to say. having a baby is a perosnal choice but in our country it seems that the family is more keen on knowing whats happening in the bedroom. Its a personal choice of the couple and even more personal to the woman becuase not every woman would want to have a baby. Men like women should also start sharing the responsibility at home and that of a baby becuase its their job too. There are few examples where a father has quit his job to be a full time daddy but we need more such nukmbers.

  2. CS Tewari says:

    Extremely well said. Every aspect included. The dilema faced by a lady after marriage [if she is a working woman] is unimagineable. Even then she bravely bears the role of a caring and nurturing mother / loving wife / and a dutiful daughter in law. Hats off to each one of them, who shoulder this responsibility & I believe All Menfolks Should appreciate their partner, be very patient, supportive and faithful to them. Sharing home responsibilities, taking care of the baby and giving some rest to the lady of their house, would make everyone in the family happy too.

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