Women’s Day survey: What Indian women really want, feel and think

  • Poulomi Banerjee, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 08, 2016 11:11 IST
Are Mumbai’s women materialistic and Bengaluru’s liberated? The HT-Ipsos Women’s Day Survey turns up some surprising findings. (Tumblr)

If the test of a classic is in its enduring relevance through the years, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is definitely one. Today, the arrival of a single man of means might not send a Mrs Banerjee in Kolkata or a Mrs Bhalla in New Delhi scurrying to her husband to share the ecstatic hope of his falling in love with their daughter, as Mr Bingley’s arrival in the neighbourhood had moved Mrs Bennet to do.

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But education and economic freedom have not made a woman’s gender of as little consequence, or as small a part of her identity, as it should be.

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Often, it continues to be a factor in the kind of life she leads with marriage being as essential a goal as ever.

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“Most young women I interact with are not willing to allow too much interference in their choices but external factors often make them succumb to the pressure to conform,” says Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research.

An HT- Ipsos survey conducted among young working women across eight cities to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8 has turned up some surprising findings: Like, 80% of respondents felt gender had a played a major role in their career choices.

Graphic: Vignesh Radhakrishnan | Images : Shutterstock

“Academics continues to be the preferred career option for women because the structured hours leave more time for family responsibilities,” says Kumari. Thirty-year-old Sohini Roy remembers wanting to take up cinematography.

“I was discouraged by both family and those in the profession because it was seen to be not fit for a woman,” she recalls. Her subsequent decision to make a career in event management too met with little approval. Where mindsets have changed, execution became difficult owing to practical difficulties.

Graphic: Vignesh Radhakrishnan | Images : Shutterstock

Though 70% of respondents in the HT-Ipsos survey felt both they and their families would be comfortable with the idea of their living on their own it is often not easy for a single woman to find accommodation.

Roy has had to change houses thrice during her year-and-a-half stay in Mumbai. Author Rosalyn D’Mello, who lives in Delhi, believes a single woman is often viewed as an “outcaste”.

Graphic: Vignesh Radhakrishnan | Images : Shutterstock

There are also security concerns. And the pressure to marry never quite lets up. It is a part of 31-year-old social sector worker Anusua Ghosh’s life. While the decision on who will be her partner lies with her – only 5% of respondents in the survey felt they had least control over the choice of their sexual or romantic partner – economic stability is an important part of the decision.

“He has to at least earn at par with me for us to be able to survive in a city like Delhi or Mumbai,” says Ghosh.

Graphic: Vignesh Radhakrishnan | Images : Shutterstock

In this she is different to 60% of respondents who said they would be comfortable with a partner who earns less than they do. 76 per cent of Mumbai’s women, though, said they preferred partners to earn more. Kumari believes this might not be as materialistic as it appears.

“Men often find it difficult to adjust to the idea of a partner who earns more,” she says. For a well-adjusted life Madhu Kishwar, professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, appeals to women “to forget feminist rhetoric and use common sense to take life’s decisions.”

Graphic: Vignesh Radhakrishnan | Images : Shutterstock

And if, after balancing family and a career, you find yourself gasping for ‘me time’, you are not alone. Thirty-three per cent respondents felt they had least control over their free time.

But Kishwar believes it would be wrong to interpret the figures as a sign of women’s subjugation without conducting a similar survey among married men to find out whether their predicament is similar.


You define what you see in the mirror

Tannishtha Chatterjee, actor, on beauty

What is a woman? Do her qualities have any value? Or is she still judged only by how she looks. You know those thoughts that run through your head when you stand in front of a mirror? In an age of shifting pressures — on men and women — one thing that seems barely to have changed at all is the subject of women’s beauty.

It is absurdly defined by unrealistic standards and constantly supported by heavily-photoshopped images of only young women in mainstream media and entertainment. Standardized ideas of Beauty, especially in an industry where you are only judged for how you look, did not intimidate me.

Many people told me, ‘Bleach your skin; colour your hair; wear blue contacts etc etc’ but I always felt, ‘Why would I want to look like someone else?’

Tanistha Chatterjee in Mumbai. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

Of course, I would if I was playing a particular character but not when I present myself as Tannishtha Chatterjee. Everyone asked me to click pictures in a particular way. It’s called ‘sexy’! I did some of those as well — sexy pictures layered in make up. Even I could not recognise myself. But it just made me confident as an actor because it proved to me that if I need to I can transform myself to play a character.

But then I asked myself, ‘What is female sexuality? What does it look like?’ We are in a creative industry. Let’s have more imagination than the obvious. I wanted to explore whether the entertainment industry could have place for a female actor who sets a different standard of feminity and sexiness, and gain respect for the art she pursues.

I became an actress and worked on my art. Worldly success has followed, from awards to plum roles to international film festivals. And even in a world where so little is real, I look in the mirror and I see the real me.


Every relationship is different

Rosalyn D’mello, writer, on love and marriage

I think, to a very large extent, happiness is not a major pursuit in Indian society. Most parents don’t want their children to be happy; they want their children to be settled. And there is a huge difference between being happy and being settled; and wanting someone to be settled and wanting someone to be happy. Most parents see their children, especially their daughters, as problems that need to be settled.

At 30, I am constantly asked by my relatives and their relatives what my plans are; what I’m going to do with my life, given that I’m choosing not to marry and in doing so, am being subversive of their expectations of me. Nobody will understand why you would choose to be in a relationship that’s not leading to marriage, that’s not leading to something concrete. I look them in the eye and tell them that I am actually doing what I always wanted to do: be a writer.

Writer Rosalyn D'Mello at her house in New Delhi’s Kailash Hills. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

And I already am what I always wanted to be: a fiercely independent individual. I think too many women over centuries have sacrificed their passions and their individualities for the sake of other people’s notions of what constitutes happiness. Every relationship is different, and women ought to exercise their rights to experiment with what suits them without having to blindly conform to what is expected of them.

It ought to also be okay not to marry and to decide not to have children. I prefer to call my relationship a partnership. It has taken us years of being together and negotiating our love for each other to arrive at this space of equality. Yet, I also love having my own space. I think all women should, at some point in their lives, have the experience of living alone. It’s tremendously liberating to have a space where one can simply be.


Making do with maybe

Pooja Dhingra businesswoman, on how to say ‘no’

I was having dinner with a friend last week when her phone pinged and she looked at the screen and cringed. “This colleague of mine keeps asking me for a favour,” she said, “and I just don’t know how to say no.” How to say ‘no’. It seems like a particularly tricky issue for women.

And I think, for many of us, it goes back to all that smiling and people-pleasing we were taught to do as kids. Possibly, it also has roots in all the self-sacrificing we grew up seeing as mothers juggled work and home, or kids and husband.

Pooja Dingra in MumbaI. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

When I started my business I felt the need to say ‘yes’ to everything. I didn’t want to upset anyone and I thought everyone knew better. After a couple of months of doing this, I realised that my dream patisserie with six sigma standards would never be possible if I didn’t take the reigns.

That meant saying ‘no’ when ‘no’ seemed like the right answer. I have found that it never helps to replace ‘no’ with ‘maybe’. It just wastes time. And don’t do the entreating explanation. By all means offer a reason if you feel one is called for. But briefly, unapologetically, and with a view to moving on via an alternative. And this doesn’t just apply at work.


A room of one’s own

Ranjini Chatterjee, graphic designer, on her space

I live in an old ancestral house with my mother. My room is my zone. I need my space, my ‘me time’. My mother knows and understands this. I am a night owl and the wee hours of the night or morning are the most peaceful as my house is on a noisy street and traffic horns blare all day!

I usually watch a film every day on my Mac, which continues till about 3:30 am. This time is precious to me. Nobody is around to knock on my door or call me at this time. My mother was stricter with me in my 20s — we couldn’t close the door if a boy visited. With time, there are fewer ‘No’s’.

Graphic designer Ranjini Chatterjee at her office in Kolkata (Samir Jana/HT Photo)

I may set up own separate living quarters someday. It’s not a big deal and my mother should be okay about it. I’ve stayed entirely by myself earlier when I worked in Delhi so I am aware of the difficulties. But consider this: my one-room barsati in Delhi was a favourite party-pad for all my friends.

When it rained, I would just be out on the terrace with no one around. It’s difficult to explain the peace that brings! I feel claustrophobic if I don’t get my space. I keep a busy schedule so when I need time for myself, there are things I need — like coffee. On a Sunday, that coffee might become a can of beer or a glass of wine. I also unwind with a cup of tea. Having tea in the middle of the night with my mother is really precious to me too. (As told to Paramita Ghosh)


Speak up to create a better world

Riddhi Shah educationist, on speaking up

Almost 12 years ago, I had developed a clearly chalked out vision to change the education system in India. I knew that what I’d experienced in my school was so special that it demanded to be shared.

Today, I’m standing exactly where I want, doing exactly what I want to. Here’s how I did it: “Do or do not. There is no try.” This quote by Yoda summarizes my attitude. In my opinion, nothing matches up as fuel for doing something in the world, as emotions do.

Riddhi Shah in Mumbai. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

Start small and eliminate all chances of failure. Failure doesn’t teach you more than success does. Why fail then? Rely on no one and nothing but yourself to quench your thirst to DO something.

Step one: identify YOUR thirst. Step two: identify what will quench your thirst and don’t compromise on it. Step three: go quench your thirst without waiting for encouragement, permission, invitation or approval. Actively deny help from those who undermine/mock/hurt you so that the fruits of your effort remain palatable. Gain experience, whether or not you’re getting paid for it. Do what you were made to do and give birth to a better world by speaking up!


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