Friday, August 15, 2014

Apologizing for success



My culinary skills as those of you who have read my post on this  know, are nothing to wow about. The husband has now started taking digs at my cooking in rather creative ways!! Watching the new Airtel ad where the wife  ( who is also the boss) churn out a great dinner while she waits for her husband to  finish work and get home, he asks  me slyly “ When are you going to cook a dinner like that for me”!!  

 “ You will have to wait until I become your boss” I tell him !! 

“ Or you should have married your boss” quips junior, (joining forces with me for once)! 

“Okay, ladies, why are you both being so nasty” he says throwing up his hands in the air and trying to end   a discussion that he was obviously being edged out of !!!  “Well it is a stupid ad” says the daughter ending our argument for the evening!!

But stupid or not, the ad is obviously creating a lot of talk in both social media and in general conversation. I understand there was even a TV talk show about it!!  Controversial as it may be, the ad has obviously achieved its objective of getting the attention that it sought  for!

While one can dissect this ad and discuss the issue about how we  Indians seem to reduce a woman’s caliber as a wife to her prowess in the kitchen, I would like to look at this differently!! I think the ad highlighted something that we see in all successful  Indian women to some extent. It is this thing called “Guilt”!! 

As working women we try to bend backwards to do things for our  families that we might otherwise not worry about much.  And, where the husband is concerned, I find that many of us tread like we are walking on egg shells. This is particularly so if we are very highly qualified and hold jobs that pay more or are more demanding in terms of leadership requirements when compared to our husbands.

I remember an anecdote that was shared by my late mother in law.  There was a feeling in her family that her youngest sister had the habit of “ordering” her husband about.  Apparently, she took her sister aside and told her “ Look at me, I am a doctor and how humble I am in front of my husband. You should also be like that “ . I don’t know what her sister had to say about  this, but  what struck me was the way she tried to teach her sister to imbibe the “culture of guilt” !!! I sincerely hope her sister (a lady of immense character and substance) told her off saying “ Oh, I am just an ordinary government officer, so I will behave the way that comes naturally to me”!!

I don’t know if it is a survival instinct that we women have imbibed to cope with success in a patriarchal society but we seem to make this thing of “trying hard to please”  our men into a fine art! I refuse to believe in this thing about “leaving your crown behind”!! If we have achieved success there is no need to apologize for it ! If we have an opinion about some matter that comes out of our knowledge and experience there is no need to hide it to just to massage the male ego! 

And let us get this straight, being a wife is not about being a great cook or housekeeper!!  Cooking is  not a skill that every woman has. Why can’t we bring into a relationship other skills that would help the family? And why cant we be acknowledged for these non traditional skills that we might bring along? For example, neither me nor my husband have great financial management skills but over the years, thanks to my work experiences around operations, we found that I deal better with finances- whether it is negotiating  for an investment or managing something. It has therefore fallen into my role function. I try to do it as best as I can seeking his opinion whenever required.  I think he appreciates it and almost seems relieved that he does not have to bother with this now.
  
I think instead of celebrating the Indian woman’s  “multitasking” abilities and “schizophrenic” existence  trying to  balance her ambitions on one hand and living up to the expectations of her as a woman on the other,  it might be better if we start looking at her as someone whose family is proud of her because of what she does- as a professional and as a human being.  
And more importantly, we should start giving her the confidence to feel that it is okay to be successful. It does not in anyway threaten anyone. It is only then that we will be able to shed this burden of  guilt that we carry around us apologizing for being successful!!!

8 comments:

SG said...

I don’t see the lady apologizing for her success. She wears 2 hats. One hat at work and another hat at home. Even Indra Nooyi comes home and cooks for her husband, 2 daughters and her mother.

I know this is an advertisement and they have taken some liberties. But in real life, the upper management will never allow a spouse to be the boss in the same department.

Anilkumar Kurup said...

Stereotyping women for long, isn’t that the problem?
As for a man, he sees the culinary skills of his mother extended or need to be extended to his spouse. Might be a psyche skewed in favour of the male.
Education, financial independence and the guts to stand up to social inequities may be erasing the anomaly you mentioned. Marital relationship and its nature is changing with the independence women enjoys through being educated and financial security that brings.
I feel multi-tasking must be complimentary – mutually shared and enjoyed. That is what marriage and marital life is all about, has to be.
BTW it is a fact that mothers and daughters gang up against the poor husband, the father!!!!!!!!

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ SG you are right about organizations not allowing family members to work in the same department especially in a boss - reportee sort of relationship. About wearing the two hats- I think women are expected to wear a million hats outside of what they wear at work!! And it is worse if like Indira Nooyi it is the crown!!! It is almost like we want to prove that we are the same "humble" woman . I never see men in senior positions do that. So there!!! Why? Obviously a sort of guilt that may be they should not be getting all this success!!

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Anil, true, marital relationships are changing today with more and more men taking on roles that they were hitherto not doing!! But there are still tasks that fall on the woman's shoulders -cooking for instance!! A man may cook for relaxation or as a hobby or even as a survival issue when the wife is away or while living alone but they would rarely take on the responsibility of taking the cooking over completely - and let me tell you no woman will hand it over to her husband either!!

SG said...

I beg to differ with you when you say “never see men in senior positions do that”. I don’t want to talk about me (even though my name appears in Wall Street Journal now and then). When I come home, I cook the dinner. Why? It is my way of releasing my tension and stress. Hobby. My wife is tired of telling me not to cook. Now she is reconciled. She watches Nathaswaram and Mundhanai Mudichu when I am cooking. She likes it. I love it.

Remember, former Defense Secretary (Minister) Donald Rumsfeld? His wife, Joyce, said in an interview: My husband is the perfect person to arrange our dishwasher. He will never allow me or our kids to do that job. Even when he comes home at 1 a.m. (during Iraq war), he will eat dinner and then put the dishes in the dishwasher before he goes to bed and wake up at 4 a.m. to go back to work.

Divya said...

People say they are broad-minded and they allow the women of their house to work - yet the woman is expected to be able to balance perfectly between household chores and her duties at work - men have the freedom of only focusing on one....I liked what you had to say about the "culture of guilt" - we, women, are actually made to feel guilty about prioritizing work over domestic responsibilities...

Well-written post, indeed! It made me put on my thinking cap :-)

Meera Sundararajan said...

@SG I am happy to hear that you share household work. But men like you are in a miniscule minority especially in India. You say you cook dinner when you come home. In India people would prefer to employ a cook rather than having a man cook as a regular task if the wife is otherwise busy at work. Women are raised to feel guilty about anything that makes them think that they might be doing something that gives them more "credit" / "enjoyment" etc. I have seen women completing all work at home even if they have to take two hours off on a weekend to visit their parents. At the back of the mind is the thought ( which we ourselves may not even acknowledge) " I may be neglecting the family so let me cook and complete household chores before I take off for the afternoon". They justify it as organizing their schedules and being responsible. But I have seen a lot of men who just spend time with the guys and come home whenever ... I am talking about the majority and not exceptions.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks Divya for stopping by. All of us are "guilty" of feeling guilty at some time. No one is to blame it is just the way we are ..

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