|HER WORLD||Sunday, August 5, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
ROSES & THORNS
the world like an oyster in her palm
women relate to each other: a psychologist’s view
To be or not to be a working woman that seems to be the million-dollar question. This question has held women in a frozen state of mind for decades in India. The decision, unfortunately, does not lie only with them. It lies, first of all, in the hands of the parents of young women who decide whether to educate their daughters adequately to handle various jobs or professions and whether to kindle the flame of ambition and self-reliance in their minds. As things are, this does not seem to be a stumbling block in a woman’s career path. Education is available today to every girl who is born in an enlightened family. Mothers and fathers, having read about or even experienced themselves what can happen to an abandoned wife or mother, feel that education and the ability to earn one’s own livelihood is of paramount importance and therefore, they consider it their bounden duty to prepare their daughters for the battle of life. Social changes also encourage parents to treat their sons and daughters as equals in the market for education and professional skills. Results of examinations, from the school board to the UPSC, prove that daughters are encouraged and applauded when they achieve top ranks in such competitive examinations. The media too, gives successful women candidates prominence in its reports.
Progressively, the trouble does not even seem to begin when the educated young woman is ready for marriage. Many urban, upmarket families want their sons to marry educated and working, earning and ambitious brides. Their only conditions are that the money she earns must come into their family and that she should not behave irresponsibly or arrogantly because of her professional success or earning capacity outside the home. However, trouble does arise if she earns more than her husband, or is more popular among social circles or is more attractive as a person. This storm too, can be weathered by a woman who can do the tightrope dance of balancing her career, marriage and home.
The real test of a working, ambitious woman comes when she attains motherhood. While she and everyone concerned with her wants her to have children, no one can offer solutions to the problems she may face because of having young children who might require constant attention. '' My biological clock is ticking away," says many a career woman by the time she is in her late twenties. So as not to be cheated of the experience of motherhood, these women have at least one or two children. In large cities today, millions of working women leave their children to the care of professional creches, ayahs or servants or to their elder relatives. While the last option is the most viable and welcome, the other alternatives leave a mother constantly tense and insecure. When the workplace is faraway from her home, a mother’s office life becomes a nerve-shattering experience. If she belongs to the middle class, she wakes up early and cooks the family’s meals, fills tiffins, gets the children ready for school or creche and after reaching them to their destination, goes to work.
In an ordinary job, she is required to be at work at a specific early hour. Late marks, too much leave, unexpected absence on account of children’s sickness, parent teacher meets in schools, examinations and coaching for them, religious or family functions— all these hack away at her career progress. Constantly in tension, she is unable to do her best — neither as a mother nor as a worker. This situation comes about because in Indian families, despite the acceptance of working or earning women, the responsibility of home making and raising children belongs to the woman. Crushed by this double burden, a working mother faces criticism and acquires a permanent guilt because of which her self-worth is damaged over the years. Driving themselves beyond their physical and mental capacity, in most cases, educated mothers run the house, take lessons and follow the scholastic progress of a child and are ‘always there’ in case of any problems. Often, their job is thankless and frustrating.
When the children grow up to teenage, the situation changes. Many children appreciate the mother’s contribution to their lives and are grateful. "Mothers are best friends of children," say many teens. "They always put others before themselves and forgive any mistake with a large heart." But teens are teens and modern-day snazzy lifestyles which they hanker after, often give nightmares to working mothers. Late nights, extreme competition and the resulting mental depressions, dubious company, the freedom of the sexes and a lack of direction among the young are problems which working mothers have to face, together with their home and career responsibilities.
Working mothers, in the opinion of many children, are a blessing. "They are informed and more aware of our problems," says one collegian, "Because of the money they earn, children can grow not only through their formal education but also through hobbies, sports, travel, extra curricular activities, social life and contacts. A mother often builds up a business or professional success to hand it over to her children just as a father did in olden days. An earning mother can help to set up a son or daugther in a career or business and offer guidance on how to become a successful person in life. Her moral and financial support and courage are a ladder which her children can use for growth and achievement."
Children from upper classes say that mothers in high-level jobs or prosperous businesses offer a network of contracts and a very useful infrastructure to their children. Many prominent professionals like doctors, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs or designers initiate their young sons or daughters into their work area and offer a platform for expansion or great financial opportunity. There are numerous examples in India where mothers have guided and almost partnered the success of their children.
However, on the flipside are many cases where children, threatened by a mother’s success or personality, take a wrong turn in life and become insecure. As teenagers or later, they blame their mothers for being very career-minded and for neglecting their welfare. Young daughters-in-law find successful mother-in-law intimidating and competitive. Sometimes, a woman who wields impressive power in a business or profession, acquires an authoritative air and children, who are used to such an air of authority in the father but not a mother, find her assertiveness a disconcerting feature of their relationship.
Modern working mothers suffer from the frustration of always being found inadequate by their families. Notwithstanding their struggle to rise to the top of their careers, they unconsciously seek the approval of their husband and children. Very often, the children feel the parents, particularly the mother, have not done enough for them. In this age of upgradation of lifestyles, the young want to match their living standards instantly with those of the elders. And parents, feeling guilty of having more, end up giving to their children all the time, without expectations of any return.
However, in the end whether a working or successful mother is a bane or a boon is determined by how happy and fulfilled the woman feels and how appreciative of her heritage her children are. But as usual, such ideal situations are few and rarely found in society. In most cases, the mothers feel cheated of their credit and the children crib about sibling rivalry, a mother’s unwillingness to give her assets, presents and time for the growth of her children or grand-children and the eternal battle of greed and ego goes on relentlessly. Unfortunately, mothers being mothers, working or not, suffer the most in such situations because these problems come to them in the late years of their lives when there is little they can do to turn the tide back. The fortunate working mothers who have their family’s devotion, support and co-operation are the lucky ones who enjoy their familial respect and status and the security of their own hard-earned nest egg in addition to the comforts provided by the family.
Composed and calm, and handling a situation that could have been so volatile with the utmost finesse, Nirupama Rao, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, is a tough woman with a gentle demeanour. The excitable Pakistani media did accost her at the end of the summit, but they sent in an apology later.
The year was 1973 and the song was"Those were the days my friend,
we thought they would never end,
we will sing and dance
forever and again...."
Strumming these lines on her guitar, Colonel Menon’s eldest daughter, Nirupama, would lead all her coursemates of the 1973 batch in Mussoorie to an after dinner song and dance. She could well have been literally on cloud nine. She had topped the Civil Services Exams that year and also fallen in love with the handsome and wonderful Sudhakar Rao. Everyone agreed they were made for each other and knew if marriages are made in heaven then for both these lovebirds, Mussoorie was the heaven that brought Nirupama and Sudhakar together. They got married in 1975.
Born in December, 1950, Nirupama looks at least 10 years younger, sitting behind her big official desk. A pretty, slim figure with a Fendi frame perched on the tip of her nose. Wearing an elegantly draped-fawn printed georgette saree, complete with a mangalsutra. and a coral ring.. Her uncluttered desk and serene atmosphere, despite the aftermath of the debacle of the Vajpayee-Musharraf’s talk, speak of her ability to remain unruffled. Perhaps it was this calm handling of Pakistan’s excitable media that actually made them send an apology to Nirupama..
She has kept the diplomatic dictionary right at hand to keep reading as a part of learning. That is, each time she gets a breather between her non-stop hectic schedule of signing papers, correcting press releases, meeting VVIP’s and media stalwarts.
The room is impressive, with a few carpets thrown in and the exclusive ones lying rolled up in the corner perhaps for VVIP visits. A neat sitting area, a podium, TV and a computer constitute the rest. The impressive collection of books includes The Regional Security in South Africa, to Images of Taj Mahal to The Constitution of India, line up her bookshelf. A bonsai and a few green potted plants add colour. The piece d’art is a mural painting of three women, almost symbolic of the woman power prevalent today in our MEA.
Aamini is the eldest of the three girls of Colonel Menon, who retired from General Services in the Armed Forces. Like any child of the armed forces, her education has been spread over various missionary schools all over India like Hyderabad, Lucknow etc. She graduated from Mount Carmel, Aurangabad with history, sociology and English. Later, she did her postgraduation in English Literature. "At the age of 21, in the first try itself I made it to the Civil Services. The media was not what it is today and all one got was a small mention in one corner of the paper in 1973", says Nirupama. Her first posting as an I.F.S. officer was in pretty Vienna. Despite her ever-growing hectic official schedule, she has all the time to spend with her little "innocent, untouched and simple" 13-year-old son, Kartikeya — a class 8 student. Her elder son Nikhilesh has just finished his graduation in the US and is planning to do his Masters in Business Administration. Her husband Sudhakar Rao, an I.A.S. officer, is presently the CMD of Karnataka Urban Infrastructure, Finance and Population Management. Nirupama has had those two lucky stints of eight years and six years of being together with her husband in the 80s and 90s. It is now the case of absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Her demeanour is that of a woman in pursuit of excellence in her career. Perhaps, it is this capacity to attain perfect balance that helps her to keep her interest in western classical music and singing alive. She loves jazz, violin strings and 18th century music, which are her recipe for relaxation.
Wherever she goes, she collects old maps and books to add to her rare collection While, I am forming my impressions and opinions, she tells me that she loves observing people and she loves words — just words for the sound, the meaning, the expressions and the auras they create.
Naresh Mehta, her colleague, was
candid in his appreciation of her non-fussy, easy and transparent way
of working. She is his first "lady boss". According to him,
she is in no way less than any man before her. As one of her
coursemate sums up:"if her predecessor was savvy, she is so
the world like an oyster in her palm
Recently, I have come across a few of my very emancipated, so-called feminists and with it male friends complaining! Their grouse is against women still cribbing when so much is being done to empower them in every sphere. Even among women themselves there is an heightened awareness about their rights. Men rightly feel that the female of today is a privileged lot and everybody is busy hailing the emerging woman power.
Woman, in her new avatar is riding the crest of a wave. Eminent personalities from all walks of life, sensitive poets, writers and the society at large seem to have an astounding faith in a woman’s capacity to take on the world today. It is being generally claimed that the new millennium belongs to women power. No wonder, this state of affairs leaves men — even the more understanding amongst them — sulking. While, the better amongst the men are making a genuine and sincere effort to bring about a change from condescension to admiration, the average male on the street is simply left gawking and gaping!
Not all men have taken kindly to this new equation between the sexes, where tables clearly seem to have been turned on them.
Sensitive men woefully aver that although women now have no cause to complain yet the harangue against men continues. My male friends assert that the (poor) man today is as much an oppressed and harassed creature if not more than woman. He is fighting a lone battle in the harsh world of today, bereft of understanding and sympathy.
A woman, on the other hand has everything going for her and holds the world like an oyster in her palm. She has the freedom and opportunity to go out and win the world for which kudos are showered on her. She may simply choose to stay at home and take it easy (men think so!) and nobody would raise a finger against her. The byword being: "Freedom to do what makes you (women) happy"!
A strong new wave of female chauvinism, countering male chauvinism and giving it a death-blow has taken over and men don’t know where to look! Among men, it is pure self-defence and even fashionable to go along with the new elite ideology. The concepts of inimitable male sexuality and machoism have taken a beating. Women have proved to men that they are totally independent, even sexually. They can even deliver a baby (thanks to medical science) without active male support.
Men are bending backwards merely to fit in. As a consequence, if you find women everywhere, you find men too everywhere. They are in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry; in the nursery minding babies and changing nappies. By and large, men have learnt to take pride in their new ‘around-the-house’ role! In fact, men are doing everything which a woman usually does with an aplomb — short of delivering a baby!
On second thought, many men want to make up for this too and be with their wives in the delivery room, almost going through the labour pains! Men are also breaking their backs, providing for their families in times of economic hardship. Paradoxically, when a woman goes out to work to share the economic burden, while also managing her share of household chores, she is at once lauded as a superwoman. On the contrary, a man’s efforts at contributing his own rite and help around the house are casually brushed off as nothing great but only as his duty.
Then there is this ‘my money is my money and your money is our money’ syndrome that most of the modern women adhere to. Men think it smacks of sheer hypocrisy on the part of women. Women wilfully take either an independent or a traditional stance when and where it suits them and poor (yes) men are mostly, only made use of!
No doubt the sensitive amongst the men are feeling terribly hurt and confused. Man who once was supposed to be the best of the creation — ‘measure of all things’ and the ‘miracle of miracles’, realises dejectedly that the world no longer belongs to him. It is now man who is looking to woman for sympathy. And this sympathy or support which is generally being denied to him. Man continues to remain an animal, an uncouth pig in the eyes of the most of the women despite making such a lot of effort.
Man should realise that women are
bound to overreact after centuries of oppression. And although it is
only a small percentage of female population which is able to act thus
yet what is basically needed is a positive change in the attitude of
both men and women to restore balance.
women relate to each other:
Two women walk into the hippest pub of Delhi. Their cell phones are casually placed on the table and they ask for chilled beer. They get engrossed in talking to each other. Conversation sparkles around topics as diverse as politics and movies. A confident camaraderie radiates from the table. An hour later, when the music pumps up, the women casually stroll to the dance floor, dancing in perfect synchrony with funky steps. They are having a blast and they obviously do not need a man to help them have it.
I am no feminist but I have discovered that there is nothing like sitting around with your girl friends and waxing psychotic about mean things to do to men that have wronged you. So man, next time you tell your girlfriend that you can't take her out, do not expect your girl friend to sound heart broken. She will probably say: "Okay, I will just go out with the girls." It is funny that a lot of men still think that when women get together they drink tea and watch soap operas. No, we also brag, burp, reveal things about you that you do not want us to, and we can also be mean. We can scheme, and we do.
Increasingly, as newly-empowered women define their roles, unleash their ambitions, sharpen their decision-making skills and celebrate their financial freedom and develop a world view, they do not need validation. The ones who understand them are other newly-empowered women who meet them on a common platform of empathy, shared experiences and an exhilarating sense of power. In the olden days, women provided female bonding of sorts, supporting each other essentially within the threshold of male patriarchy. Later the kitty party (much maligned by men) system worked as a medium to socialise. Today's female bonding is different. Women are getting together not as victims but as women celebrating the upwardly mobile spiral of sisterhood. There is no classical definition of female bonding. Unlike the male buddy system, female bonding sanctions a lot more, letting it all hang out, both emotionally and intellectually. The sharing of secrets is what actually bonds two girls together. When you date that hunk in college, whom do you confess your attraction to? Your mother. No. it is probably the girl who has been sitting next to you in class for the past 10 years. From the first date, to the first kiss, to the first night spent at his place, your best friend is privy to all the details, things which would make the men in question freeze over if they knew they were being relayed at regular intervals to their girl's closest pal. Girlfriends listen carefully when we want them to and most of the time they can sense our feelings even if we do not say a word.
Urban living has a lot to do with why we tend to rely on girlfriends. There is no family nearby to lean on. Relations are better left alone. Boy friends? Well they aren't going to understand why we hate that co-worker with the loud laugh and who keeps going to the boss's cabin on the smallest pretext. But girlfriends will, and probably narrate their own experiences as well. Women connect emotionally over things they feel, while men connect with things they do. "Yes girlfriends can bond beautifully and provide that rich emotional cushion that siblings or your spouse sometimes cannot.
"They will always answer an SOS, make you laugh and give you space and the best thing is that you get to choose them," says Archana Raghuvanshi, who herself believes in female bonding. The beauty of friendships is that you can always add to it, while your family structure is more rigid and fixed. We choose our friends because we like them and want be with them. So one automatically starts off on an equal footing with them. The 20s are the key period for women to move out of the family, become independent and form deep friendships. These friends do not judge or typecast you, they treat you as an adult, allow you to grow out of the younger girl role. Friendships build on shared experiences and with more disposable income and newer options, women are doing things like going for holidays together. "It is much easier to do things with girl friends than it was during my older sister's time" says Dipika Mohunta , interior designer from Delhi. Lately , she along with Minakshi, Vatsala, and Ekta went to Julicote, near Nainital. They said "We needed to get away from our family, work, and office. We were having no time for ourselves and going there was like therapy." Look around in pubs, discos, meditation camps and you will see groups of women hanging out together, out of choice, having a great time doing it. They are not apologetic about their success or guilty about spending less time at home or scared about making a grand entry without a man. A group of ladies enhances the standard of a place, a group of men can sometimes make it suspect.
As Pinky Keith rightly says: " For years we learnt to deny ourselves, we were conditioned in the most liberal households that our feelings were not as important but now it is alright to have feelings and a point of view and to express these strongly and I guess there are people who are willing to listen without judging , especially other women." Even writer, Anne Wilson Schaef author of Meditations for women who do too much says: "Women are moving beyond seeing other women as competitors for the goodies to understanding that as women we have mutual concerns and experiences that we need to share."
In a male-dominated workplace where men outnumber women but where more and more women are making their mark, female bonding helps them in counteracting male aggression and domination. They give tips to each other to help them not only to survive in that environment but also to forge ahead. Biologically and emotionally women are different from men so it's only through female bonding that women find an expression for their ideas and creative urges in a way that can best be understood and appreciated.
So does female bonding spell the end for men. Not at all. If men are willing to be supportive and nurturing and sensitive to female needs, then the 2001 women are willing to take them along on their exciting journey of self-discovery. But they neither need them for their sense of identity nor for their sense of self-esteem.
Psychologically speaking, female bonding involves that maternal care and support that their mother (when they were young) may have given. These bonds act like a legacy of nurturance that leads them to turn to each other for affection, advice, practical help. In the process, many petty conflicts and differences melt away easily. Bonding also provides them with needed protection from the problems they experience from the outside world. Female bonding does not mean undermining male patriarchy, nor does it challenge the patriachal status quo. It is all about connecting to one another of their kind.
Earlier on, women forgot their own needs and became absorbed in the needs of their family, children and spouses. But it is not the same now. By exploring her thoughts and feelings with her friends, she discovers where she wants to go. When she begins sharing, she is not always aware of where it will take her, but she trusts that it will take her where she needs to go. For a woman, sharing is a potent process of self-discovery.
Many times, men get frustrated with women simply because they do not understand this. They, knowingly or unknowingly, interfere with this feminine process (which was earlier repressed) or they judge it as a waste of time. A man who understands this is able to nurture and support a woman through non-judgemental listening.
When a woman is upset, her first need
is to be told that it is okay to be upset for a while. She needs her
friend to lend her a sympathetic ear to listen to her feelings without
trying to fix her. Through sharing her problems in a non-focussed way,
she feels naturally better. Her feeling of being overwhelmed
diminishes even if all the problems remain unsolved.