Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Are we born women?

One is not born a woman, one becomes one.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) The Second Sex (1949-1950)


This quotation made me think about the role of society in the making of a woman. True we are born as human beings but soon we are fine tuned by society and family into taking on roles and responsibilities as women. I do not want to start an argument about whether it was wrong or right on the part of society to do so or whether we should or should not allow it to do so. No. My take on the subject is different. Being a teacher of Botany I have tried to analyze the process of organic evolution. Nature has supported the division of labor even among unicellular organisms and the explanation given is the conservation of energy and proper utilization of available resources. Keeping this in mind I have tried to expand on the possible reasons for the role undertaken by women in society. If some of you prefer to think that this role was imposed upon women, I have no problem with that too. Either way women had a role to play and an important one at that. Let us never under estimate its importance.

The moment a girl child is born. a mother starts saving for her marriage expenses in most middle class homes. I remember the advice given by a co passenger - a retired IAS officer – when I was returning with my 3 month old daughter to Jamshedpur after having spent around 4 months at my mother’s place. “Start a Recurring Deposit in her name,” he said “Any small amount would do. It will come in handy at the time of her marriage.”

“People will give her gifts in cash and kind” added his wife. “Buy some silver ware or gold out of the money you get. Better you buy gold coins. You can make jewelry at a later date. Fashions keep changing.”

The couple meant well and they had probably done so for their daughter. My opinion in the matter was different. I had decided that I would rather invest in her education and let her buy gold or silver as per her choice when she started earning. Education was perhaps the best dowry I could ever give her. This brings up the next question. Why should the question of offering a handsome/decent dowry come up at all? Women are home makers and try as much as one may, it is going to take a few more generations for women to give up that role without feeling guilty about it.Is that not asset enough? But then a dowry given to the girl was perhaps her share in the ancestral property and the boys family had no control over it. With changing times dowry has become a status symbol to the affluent and a pain in the neck to the working class. That a girl would take charge of the family's well being was the main understanding in society. She'd become a part of her aquired family. This was a kind of division of labor accepted without a murmur till the first half of the 20th century. I was myself under the misconception that women went out to work because of financial strains and it was only when I started working that I realized that there is more to a career than the extra money that a job fetches. My husband tried to be helpful but I preferred to do most of the house hold chores myself. If he diced vegetables they were never done to my satisfaction. When he dried out clothes he either did not wring out the water properly or he did not spread them out without a crease and I did not like the way he folded them or stacked them in the wardrobe. He placed my saris over his shirts or mixed up my work clothes with party wear……..the list was never ending. Finally he gave up and let me remain, well - the WOMAN of the house. Despite this he has taken up certain chores and whipping butter from cream is one of them. Hats off to him! I find it a messy job and gladly let him take it up.

It is twenty six years since I started working and till my husband’s retirement I managed a lot of work outside the home. My college timings were such that I had time to go to the bank, attend PT meetings, pay the telephone bill etc. My husband had no problem there but why then do I have a problem when he offers to help? I wonder whether I was born a woman or became one. I remember my mother in law getting upset when my father in law suggested that I use up the brinjal or tomatoes first as they were likely to get spoilt fast.

“It is her household and she will cook whatever she wants to. Any suggestion will be made by me. You keep out of this. Whether she uses or throws out the vegetable is not your problem.”

I now wonder if it was her way of establishing her importance as the lady of the house or did she feel it was better that men stayed out of house keeping in keeping with tradition? With women taking up responsible jobs is it not advisable to restructure the role of women and arrive at a balance in the division of labor as required by the present days? If we started thinking on these lines there would be much less frustration and lot more happiness. Don’t you think so?

23 comments:

apu said...

"With women taking up responsible jobs is it not advisable to restructure the role of women and arrive at a balance in the division of labor as required by the present days?"

I think this is the key - willingness to adapt. The earlier division of labor certainly helped society as a whole, since homes perhaps ran more smoothly. Ofcourse they didn't cater to every individual's aspirations...we as a society are now more conscious of each individual's needs and rights, hence the old system wouldn't work, even if it had its merits..

Reg your question at my blog, you can keep up with posts at mine and all the other blogs you visit regularly, by subscribing to any feeder service, such as bloglines etc. If you have a gmail account, googlereader becomes the easiest option. all you need to do is enter the blog urls and u will automatically get to know when the blog is updated, by opening ur google reader.

sorry for hogging comment space :)

Altoid said...

Hey HHG

Absolutely, roles need to be redefined and willingness ,but first there needs to be a "coming out of denial" ceremony. Only then can there be some hope and progress.

--altoid

vishesh said...

it is how people feel comfie.......each one has a set of virtues...the ones which are branded as social laws are more like a sketch....when it is implemented it needs to suit everyone......

my mom complains that she also has to go behind my father,sis and me picking up thing and also look after the office.....but she never stops doing the work...it is as you said you people won't like the way we do it....so you will anyway do it again :) ......

i don't like the concept of dowry....it is like selling people.....in all communities the feminine god is the most powerful....though hariharan is considered as the supreme.....

i always keep saying that religion has to evolve with time...i don't see it happening....something has to be done....we need unbiased leaders...maybe another akbar??

itchingtowrite said...

its abt one's comfort level. i too hate it when my hubby bums around in teh kitchen. he is not neat at all and leaves it a mess. so i prefer doing it my way... but he makes sure that he chips in other activities like cleaning the house.. infact he is more skilled in it

artnavy said...

i must plead guilty
navy cooks really well but i did not let him in the initial days of marraige since i felt that i shld be credited with being a superwoman- "she wokrs well, keeps home well, looks good and so on"
looking back very sexist of me

it is all about compromise and willingness to change i guess

Monika said...

as usual a beautifully written article, left me nodding to myself at every line :)

i agree changing and adapting is what we need. all my life i have seen my dad helping my mom in some defined chores which dont need to much special skills in the house like filling water, getting us ready for school in the morning etc and now even my husband tries to help me in every possible I do get irritated once in a while when he doesnt do things the way i like but then i remind myself that there are things outside the house that he doesnt like the way I do :) and we resolve...

Also, one more statement totally stuck a chord "Education was perhaps the best dowry I could ever give her" how very true, dowry is something which is really a big tabbo on our culture and high everyone starts thinking in the same manner. We had recently faced this issue in the marriage of the person very close to us... i wrote a post on that, do check it and throw some suggestions

eve's lungs said...

Conditioning in women I suppose is a major contributor . Willingness in partners is also equally important - my husband is an equal partner in the household to his mother's pride and joy !

starry nights said...

In my opinion I think we are born a woman. I think because all those womanly things come very natural to us, we have that added strength to pick up and keep going, not forgetting the multitasking.I worked in the house and out of the house untill I hurt my back.raised my children and did everything, not because I was told I had to but I felt it was my responsibility to keep the home running smoothly.I have to agree with you about the dowry.A good education is what I am giving my daughter and no money can take that place.I have not saved gold coins to make her jewelley, sure I will buy her some when she gets married but it was not a priority.

visithra said...

i think it has something to do with the natural born nurturing instinct that most women have - this is instinct is as loving as possesive n - when u interfere in this domain u will get protest ;)

Just like that said...

:-) Nice post.
I do get irritated with being the woman at times and automatically having all housework relegated to me.. But then, I get more irritated when I delegate work and find that it has been done in a slipshod manner or not in time for me to do the other tasks that follow.
Could identify SO well with that bit about the dicing vegetables and the spreading clothes without a crease! My husband simply cannot understand why I'm finicky about these things, and sometimes I can understand where he's coming from- after all the creases will be ironed away....
So instead of us fighting over silly things, I prefer to be superwoman- working, cooking and raising kid mostly on my own, with Hubs pitching in only when absolutely necessary. More peace in the house that way! :-)

Anonymous said...

//The couple meant well and they had probably done so for their daughter. My opinion in the matter was different. I had decided that I would rather invest in her education and let her buy gold or silver as per her choice when she started earning. Education was perhaps the best dowry I could ever give her. This brings up the next question. Why should the question of offering a handsome/decent dowry come up at all?//

It is because the daughter one produced may be the dumbest person in that whole district :-)
By saving for the dowry early you can afford to buy a husband of your chosen profession for her. :-).

It helps :-)

Hip Grandma said...

apu:willingness to adapt can go a long way in bringing about a balance in sharing of responsibilities.It would be good if society realizes that.things are improving though.

altoid:'but first there needs to be a "coming out of denial" ceremony'
you are right we women feel threatened when men enter our work areas.why are we so.Need to introspect.

vishesh:Not only your mom,we're all like that.Visitra has summed it up well.Leaders like Akbar may not get a single vote.UP elections have yeilded a leader who wants to take action against her opponents even before taking the oath.

ITW:same here.When I need help I specify the help required and stand there commenting how it shud and shud not be done.He leaves saying 'do it yourself' and then I grumble abt not getting help from him.
artnavy:compromises are needed in every aspect of life including sharing of house work.with responsibility in the workplace increasing this kind of balancing is required if one is to remain healthy physically and mentally.

monika:we need to change our attitude and let them help.i read your piece on dowry and found it very disheartening.


eve's lungs:please give your mom in law a hearty hand shake from me.people like her are rare,

Lalitha:You may have felt comfortable doing all the work at home and still attending office.I'd however advise you to allow your children to help.It will be good for them in the long run.

visitra:may be you're right.But men don't seem to have any problem when we help out in areas perceived as theirs.Or ,on second thoughts ,do they??must find out.BTW wishing your bloggers meet all success.

just like that:We women are hard to please and let us admit it.whether vegetables are chopped lengthwise or breadthwise they're going to taste the same.But I for one am not going to let go the opportunity of insisting that it cooks faster or tastes better when done my way!Alittle tiff once in a way helps as long as it is not carried too far.

anon:Dowry when it was started was meant to play a supporting to the girl during financial crisis and a share in the family property.It has assumed a different role in the lives of girls these days.If dowry was meant to buy husbands then does it not automatically imply that men offered themselves for sale?Think about it.

vishesh said...

lol :) thats true....and in chennai karunanidhi is celebrating his 50th year in politics...:)

Anonymous said...

nice article.

however, i wonder. let us say instead of hip hop gmom, hip hop gdad (or a 21st century dad) had written the same exact article (from his perspective). i can bet that no hole in blogdom would have been small enough for him to hide.

- s.b.

Hip Grandma said...

vishesh:The Karunanidhi/Jayalalithaa rivalry reads like a thriller novel.The cheap paperback editiond that one bought for a rupee in the sixties.But in their eagerness to out smart the other person they seem to leave the public in peace.correct me if I am wrong.

anon(s.b.):why don't you write from the perspective of the next generation?I'd love to hear it from you people.

Anonymous said...

hhgmom,

you wrote:

"why don't you write from the perspective of the next generation?"

i probably phrased my response wrong. what i meant was, let's say, instead of you saying the following quoted piece ...

"My husband tried to be helpful but I preferred to do most of the house hold chores myself. If he diced vegetables they were never done to my satisfaction. When he dried out clothes he either did not wring out the water properly or he did not spread them out without a crease and I did not like the way he folded them or stacked them in the wardrobe. He placed my saris over his shirts or mixed up my work clothes with party wear……..the list was never ending. Finally he gave up and let me remain, well - the WOMAN of the house."

... your husband wrote the same as follows ...

"I husband tried to be helpful but Hip Hop Grandmom preferred to do most of the house hold chores herself. If I diced vegetables they were never done to her satisfaction. When I dried out clothes I either did not wring out the water properly or did not spread them out without a crease and she did not like the way I folded them or stacked them in the wardrobe. I placed her saris over my shirts or mixed up her work clothes with party wear……..the list was never ending. Finally I gave up and let her remain, well - the WOMAN of the house."

i wonder whether the comments would have been as approving of h.h.grandpop as they were when written by you! i am sure readers would dice him up for not working hard enough to meet his wife's expectation. wouldn't you agree? that, i contend to be double standards.

- s.b.

Sunita said...

"Education was perhaps the best dowry I could ever give her."
That is so true. Everything else will come and go but your education is yours always to use the manner to want.

Hip Grandma said...

s.b.:I don't think I agree.If those words had been written by my husband instead of me he'd have had sympathiseres saying 'the poor man does his best to help but this woman keeps finding fault.After all he is a man.How much can one expect him to do??poor fellow.Isn't it enough that he at least intends to be helpful.This I feel is the ultimate double standard.

sunita:this was a point that I had a tough time making people understand.I regularly had them asking me why I had to spend soooo much in a girl's education.I am sure they now understand.

hillgrandmom said...

"With women taking up responsible jobs is it not advisable to restructure the role of women and arrive at a balance in the division of labour as required by the present days?"
Totally agree. But we in India have a long way to go. I read an article way back in an American magazine (can't remember which one, but not a women's mag)where they had profiled the top women in the corporate world and almost all had husbands who had given up their jobs or took on jobs with flexi-timing, to look after their kids. I find nothing wrong with that cos I feel it's entirely between the husband and wife. But doesn't look like that will be accepted here for many years yet.

Hip Grandma said...

hillgmom:you are right.If parents encourage their sons to be helpful at home and not treat house work as mebial,it may go a long way in changing the mindset of the Indian community.

zeya said...

I am glad to have seen this blog. Your posts are great...
I liked your perspective. I always find it fascinating to hear elder's wisdom.. You folks are .. "been there done that " class for me :-)

Now on this topic, Which I think is very very subjective and controversial..
- Division of labor.. I know most of the working couples.. I think the degree of greed in Man and their families are growing worse and worse.. I can bet Working woman will appreciate any help she gets.. It s just that its not offered..Many Useless husbands waste their time surfing internet.. sometime even chatting.. Your generation was fortunate to find partner who even offer to share the labor... I am yet to see one genuine labour sharing Husband in all the couples I kno.
Dowry... Well lets put this put this day.. Every body wants soem free money.. Thats what I would say for these educated spineless men who actually ut them on sale.. Even the ones who say they dont want dowry.. They are just doing it becos they are aiming higher-paying gals for their guys.. Who would not anyway give them any dowry..
Education is best things a parent can give to any kid.. Be it gal or guy...
But i guess character is what There Man's parents to give to their sons.. Because what you asee around is.. Useless bunch of selfish people acting as husbands.. Forcing their wives to divide household expense.. and not taking any responsibility in any labour sharing.. And one more thing.. Why no one think.. about CHild delivery.. when MAN cannt share that..What they do to share the burden..

I guess women so better off without men...

Annie said...

these days women are taking up more and more jobs.this shows how much importance women are given these days.we should try and work hard so that we can be a good idol for those women who think they are responsible or worth getting a job.

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