It is no mystery that we live in a biased world. A world which is driven by stereotypes. This word has become so common these days. It finds a reference almost everywhere now. Articles, texts, movies, blogs, interviews, etc etc. Why I still decided to write about it was because of how apparent it becomes in our daily lives. A few days back I had attended a workshop which talked about people’s life stories. The idea behind it was to discuss how everyone has multiple stories and how stereotypes reduce their lives to single stories. It made me relate this discussion to an incident which had I had witnessed some time ago.
I had enrolled myself in a course where I had met a woman. Since she lived nearby, we would go back home together. The classes would end late in the evening and she would always be in a hurry to reach home in order to be with her children. On this one particular evening, the session went on for too long and exceeded its limit by an hour. This woman got really panicked because she was worried for her children. This made me sympathize with her. Till here everything seemed usual to me. Here I had a mother who was worried for her children being alone at night. Anybody would feel the same, right? I could picture my own mother going through this if she was in her place. It seemed like a narrative I knew. I completely understood the reason behind her concern. What surprised (and angered) me was the reason behind her fear.
Soon I figured that apart from getting worried for her children, she was being troubled by how her husband would react if he learnt that she had not reached home on time. In fact, trouble seems like a very mild word to use here. She was rather frightened. Her anticipation of the husband getting angry kept increasing her fear of reaching late. What added to my absolute surprise were the ‘solutions’ being given to her by this other woman who was also travelling with us. She advised the former to buy a few vegetables so that she could go home and tell her husband that she got late because she was getting them, and not because she was attending the session. Why all of this appeared silly to me was because everyone at her house knew that she had been going for these classes and that travelling from one place to another, with all the maddening traffic, takes time! So why go through all this trouble of arranging excuses? It did not even occur to any of them to ask the husband to try coming home early so that he could be with the kids. I mean, couldn’t he do it for just one day?! I could not help but tag this entire episode as ‘senseless’.
It took me a couple of minutes to come out of this judgement zone and try to understand her perspective. As the impulsivity washed out, a new concern started to emerge within me. It made me realize how this woman’s (and of so many others who live in this world) life has been reduced to a single story. She was a mother (in this particular story) who was supposed to be home on time, so as to be with her children. It was her responsibility to do so, not her husband’s. Since of course she was a ‘house-wife’. Now on the face of it nothing appears to be wrong with this expectation. It is so harmless. But as I thought more deeply about it, I realized how limiting this ‘harmless’ expectation can be. Since she was a mother, which by the way is just one of her multiple identities, she was expected to keep her children above her own self. And that too all the time! I thought to myself, “So what if she got late today? Can’t she at times do things which she likes?”.
I soon realized that this happened because ‘self-indulgence’, in general and especially for women, is so shamed in our society. It is viewed as being selfish. What we fail to notice is that everyone in this world is selfish because its a natural human trait! But because we pedestalize being a ‘mother’ so much, after a point we stop considering them humans. We stop looking at them as being as prone to all these ‘negative’ traits as the rest of us are. Thus, we end up putting the weight of all the moral responsibilities on their shoulders. This is apparent from the characteristics of a mother which have always got popularized in the discourse. Some of these include, ‘all-loving’, ‘self-sacrificing’, ’emotionally strong’, ‘morally accountable’, and etc etc. All heavy words! These expectations somewhere get internalized which make women feel guilty about doing things for themselves. It is painful to know that some of them actually consider themselves as ‘bad mothers’ at the thought of putting them above their children and family. Even if it is just for a few moments.
Maybe after reading this one would think, “Its not that bad. Not every woman thinks so dramatically. Most of them are quite chill these days. They do so many things for their own self”. Well, I think this picture needs to be questioned by not just superficially looking at overt behaviors, but the underlying implicit ideology of ‘motherhood’ which we keep propagating in one form or the other.