September 08, 2008

Striking the Fine Balance

THE PRESSURE TO WRITE has been mounting. Guilt at not writing has been increasing steadily. But as a not-so-young mother of a small child, I am continually battling either illness of some sort or domestic issues which mean a series of chores! Add a demanding job to the mix. Sleepless nights, throbbing sciatic nerve, acidity — my physician gave me a wry smile and said classic symptoms of stress. Sometimes I am convinced that being feminist hasn’t helped.

During my last period, I was so overworked that my legs were jelly at the end of the day and I wished I had been my mother or her mother who could sit quietly in a corner reading something inane during their period because they were not allowed to do or touch anything lest they should pollute. I have breached those codes. My politics has given me the right vocabulary to protest, to analyze and liberate myself from arcane menstrual taboos.

My feminist politics opposes women being confined to traditional gender roles so here I am going beyond my traditional gender roles. In addition to being a mother, daughter, wife etc, I am doing so many things outside my prescribed role that I am exhausted. Domestic responsibilities and child care still largely rest on women while men are, at best, helpers. It is a difficult terrain to negotiate because somewhere it is also a question of how we define ourselves.

And at the end of the day I don’t have rest or leisure, I feel so guilty of not having done that much more, am again guilty of not being organized enough. I ponder over the difficulty of the waiting while we negotiate change. There is no such thing as a waiting room while social transformation is happening, Our lives are getting lived and daily my sciatic nerve throbs and thrums as if there was no tomorrow.

Unwittingly in this breaching of barriers, for women, wanting ‘quiet’ seems apolitical, a luxury. The questions we should ask ourselves are: isn’t feminism also about self criticality, reflection, respecting one’s body without feeling one has failed? How can we retain our feminist politics and still remain healthy, wealthy and wise? Does anyone have any ideas?

12 comments to Striking the Fine Balance

  • High Priestess

    Let’s face it, if women ran the world we’d all be given 3 days off of school and work every month!

    And deservedly so.

    But I’m wondering, India has always had a working class of women – the lower caste/lower class maids, servants and laborers of the upper castes.

    Did those women get their days of to read inane books in a corner too?

    Do the women I see carrying bricks on their heads in India’s streets to build some big fancy office for “bhaisahab” get some days off like bhaisahab’s wife probably does?

    I always wondered if the menstural taboos applied to India’s labor class of woman.

  • How true! We feel so compelled to go above and beyond our traditional roles these days. Only to end up with more work. One of the things that has worked well in my home is to not have any gender-based division of labour i.e. my husband and I just split the chores based on which one of us is better at doing something. So, while I do the cooking, he takes on the cleaning. He does the laundry and I water the plants. We don’t have kids yet, so i am not sure if the dynamic will change once we do have kids. But for now, HG and I just divide all the work equally. That way, neither of us is over-extending.

  • apu

    Indhu – though as a (largely) responsibility-free person, I can’t empathise with your post, I do sympathise with it. To me, the solution for this doesn’t lie with women alone. I wouldn’t presume to speak of your individual situation, but in a general sense, while women have moved out of traditional roles, men haven’t yet taken equal steps into female territory. Until this happens, women will continue to feel exhausted and guilty… There is after all a physical limit to what one individual can handle. So, all I can say is, if you do manage to get some of that elusive ‘quiet’, don’t think of it as a luxury – you deserve it!

  • It is important sometimes to not try so hard, and to leave things undone–and not to feel guilty about it. Women especially have a hard time with this. Of course there are priorities, and the housework, unless it’s cooking or washing dishes, usually can wait until someone has more time or energy. Even if you have to look at an untidy house, with heaps of clothes around for example, it’s better than just going crazy. Women too often are careless about their health, instead going along as though their body can handle it. But Indhu, your body’s clearly trying to tell you something and I hope you listen to her! 🙂 Sending you best wishes…

  • isn’t feminism also about self criticality, reflection, respecting one’s body without feeling one has failed?


    How can we retain our feminist politics and still remain healthy, wealthy and wise?

    By a) recognizing that time / energy is limited and there’s only so much we can do b) prioritizing what you really care about and acting on that c) letting the other stuff go.

    I know you’re going to say it’s not so easy, but you know what? It is.

    Sorry, but an inability to prioritize is not, in my books, grounds for sympathy.

  • Arya

    [I] By a) recognizing that time / energy is limited and there’s only so much we can do b) prioritizing what you really care about and acting on that c) letting the other stuff go. [/I]

    I agree completely. Everybody has to prioritize – What is more important to me? What do I want to do? What is it that needs to be done? Of course, I’m also largely responsibility free, so I don’t know what I myself would do in this situation.

    I see my mother every morning – she has to make sure that everything in the house is in place before going to work, right from the furniture being dusted to the newspaper being in place.
    My father, on the other hand, would merely check that the gas was off, and that the door was locked, and everything that was absolutely imperative for the house.

    Ans as for your health, I think it needs to be given a top priority status. You get one body to live in, you have to maintain it well.

  • High Priestess

    The solution is to make your husband more than just a “helper”.

    If a man sees his wife is suffering due to taking on too much and he does not step up his game and take more responsibility in the home, then I would question his love.

    Indhu, you need a break, take a weekend off somewhere just by yourself. Go rent a hotel room somewhere and just relax and read or whatever for 2-3 days.

    Moms do it in the West and feel no guilt whatsoever.

    Do it every month if you can or at least every 2 months.

    If you are not healthy then how can you raise a healthy child?

  • Hey I just got here… lovely place.

  • Indhu

    Thanks for the comments. Think I ought to make myself more clear. I wasn’t asking for sympathies when I wrote this piece. This piece was more a reflection on change and what happens in the interstices of our lives while all this is happening out there. I was trying to magnify the micros of our worlds. understanding the spaces we inhabit, domestic, political and personal. To borrow a friends thought from this morning’ not everything is a contrdiction, somethings are dilemmas which we grapple with’ what I was trying to say was that there is a gap between the politics/ideology and the lived emotional and physical world. It is a constant struggle and effort to bridge this gap. Trying to grapple with the dilemmas and conflicts open up new ways of being and thinking. Apu brought out the issues around cooking so well in her post.
    One of my reasons for sharing, even at the cost of it being interpreted as a personal failure was also to highlight the silences or dilemmas which we don’t talk about. yes I know and you know that health is very important. Does that make the day to day life easier for a lot of women? I think that new knowledge that she needs to privilege her health above all else in turn creates a tension between traditional expectations of her and her effort to define a new self. And as women we experience this at differnt points and in varying degrees. And not all the time do they lend themselves to be easily prioritised and organised!

  • Lively

    The only way is to get our priorites right. If one wants to have and do everything, then one has to put what is necessary to get it and that becomes quite a lot. As you mentioned, the stuff we do, besides protecting ourselves, our opinions and views etc, requires a lot of effort and that robs us of our ‘quiet’. May be the society has been formulated to work that way. Give your soul to get what you want or just give up and sit in a corner reading whatever stuff you can get your hands on.

  • A friend and I were recently commiserating/lamenting about the fact that almost every fiercely feminist mother we know has chosen and created a very different life for herself based on her specific, unique set of circumstances. Some are stay-at-home mothers, some are working moms, work-at-home, part-time . . . whatever. And yet, STILL, every single one of these moms is doing the lion’s share of housework, childcare, home-management, nutrition guidance and provision, *as well as* doing her own creative work or work for hire.

    And, this is all the more distressing as we seem to have so many more “choices” than ever before about how we want to live our lives. Yet . . . very little seems to have changed.

    Thank you for your post.

  • Aparna Kalley

    I agree with you completely that it is not ‘bad organising’ or not ‘prioritising’. I feel that though our politics is right and our passions drive the way we work and the way we live, and it is not that we are married ‘chauvinists’ and the partner is gender sensitive…. We as women end up taking too much on the plate. I wish there was a waiting room too. Admitting this is the first step to may be think of the factors in their dynamics which contribute to this state. Loved your post. Keep writing dear

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