Why we should not glorify the multi-tasking abilities of women
They should not have to take on so many responsibilities, it takes a huge toll. It can lead to suicides and severe mental stress. Since social media and hashtag movements play quite a role in our lives these days, it would be productive to push the idea that rather than consider multi-tasking a virtue, women should get more help from their partners or spouses.columns Updated: Mar 10, 2018 17:37 IST
It is there, insidious and almost unnoticed, in many advertisements. The carefully coiffed mother who packs a healthy snack for her son, sometimes she even includes a loving note in his box, searches for her husband’s socks even as she prepares to go to work. This is what Betty Friedman in the 1980s called superwomanhood, the multi-tasker who runs a lovely home and manages a career. I was reminded of this when I watched the Oscars, when best actress winner Francis McDormand spoke stirringly of the need for diversity, for the many woman-oriented stories that are waiting to be written, and which must be financed. In the background, powerful women like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman clapped furiously to signal their approval.
They are indeed the superwomen, able to negotiate their own place in the sun, Harvey Weinstein notwithstanding. Such has been the power with which women like these have hit back that many men have been blown into oblivion, their life’s work and reputation in tatters. But the Indian superwoman’s trajectory is vastly different. I am not talking about people who have help and supportive families. I am talking of the woman who statistics reveal does at 9.8 times more care work in the home than the man. If their work was evaluated, it could run into the trillions. They have to look after their homes, their children, their husbands, the family elders and earn an income.
Is the pressure getting too much for women? Having to deal with the drag of patriarchy, social prejudices and family demands among other things, it is no cakewalk for Indian women in the workforce. For the majority of women, the workplace is either in the fields or in the unorganised sector. For those lucky enough to get a regular job, the task of managing that and family is overwhelming at times. Few women want to seek any concessions from their bosses to deal with their domestic compulsions, in fact, that would be seen as a negative. In many surveys, women have said that just getting to work causes them much stress. Public transport is often patchy, they face harassment en route, and late working hours leave them open to greater risk of violence. At the end of the day, many working women do not even have control over their salaries, thus disempowering them almost completely.
Apart from in a few urban areas, men rarely help out in household or parenting chores. Once again, I must revert to a recent advertisement. A mother who chastises her spoilt son for refusing his food is roundly set upon by her in-laws who are all eating while she is serving. The father-in-law, also eating, nobly ticks off the boy. And this is progressive advertising. When we do see a father taking over parenting duties, we are all praise for him. Why? Why are we not similarly breathless with praise when a woman fulfils so many roles?
In the first place, we should not glorify the multi-tasking abilities of women. They should not have to take on so many responsibilities, it takes a huge toll. It can lead to suicides and severe mental stress among other things. Since social media and hashtag movements play quite a role in our lives these days, it would be productive to push the idea that rather than consider multi-tasking a virtue, women should get more help from their partners or spouses.
We need a new social support system for women, one in which they can get help to look after their children in the form of crèches, help to deal with the stress they face every day, freedom from fear to going out to work or just into public spaces. Women should be made to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of if they cannot do it all. No one should have to do that. The argument that men bring home the bacon is not good enough, if women have to do that and all the other tasks. So, we should learn that it is all right to ask for all the help we can get, if indeed it is available to us. I wish that such a message would come from the powerful women who are spearheading the #MeToo movment. That is all right if you are not super achievers like them. Taking on fewer tasks does not mean you are a failure, it shows an acute sense of self-preservation.