To choose or not

To choose or not

Does being a woman translate to making a choice? Can you have it all – taking some life risks, playing professional hardball and being loved by family and friends? wonders Sudha Subramanian

If you are born a woman, is there only a black and a white to choose from? Must you make that dreaded choice between career and family? Are there no grey areas of positive compromise at all? Such questions and incidents have been resounding many a times these days. And then it brings us back to the same point: Can women have it all or should they just look for a husband, marry and bear children.

A few months ago, a Princeton University alumnus, Susan Patton, stirred a hornet’s nest by authoring a book called Marry Smart. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard of her. What matters is that, she is the kind of woman who believes that women should engage themselves seriously during their university days to find a good husband.

Recently, almost like adding insult to injury, something else happened. Corporate giants Facebook and Apple announced that they would fund their women employees to freeze their eggs. This, they hoped would help women pursue demanding careers and not just settle to have children.

Well, what exactly does this mean? It means that, women, in their prime, who want to have an exciting career can go ahead and have that plum job, even if it is in direct conflict with their biological clock. That is because these companies will now offer a ‘perk’ to their women employees to have their eggs extracted and frozen, so that when these women have had it with their jobs, they can go back to the egg and bear the baby – if their bodies can cope with them at that time, that is.

Arduous task
Freezing eggs is a tedious and expensive process. It means that women should visit the doctor over a period of time and have their eggs extracted and then stored. While this process involves time and money, there is also an annual fee to be paid for the eggs to be stored. This only means that women who haven’t considered this option due to financial constraints can now think about it and that, surely, is a liberating feeling.

Is it empowerment or a measure to retain female talent in the workforce – we don’t know. Although delaying child-bearing is an option that women can now consider, it is not a sure shot way to ensure parenthood. The announcement, in general, has elicited mixed reactions from women. The problem is that ‘eggs don't get better with time’, and the fact of  life is that, to this day, it is tough and always a heartbreaking choice to make – to have a baby or have that career. Surely, women don’t have one magical formula to have it all.

The only roles we seem to have defined for women are marriage and procreation. While the social role she plays is very well defined, her professional roles are laid out by men. When I was a little girl in school, our classroom had a good number of girls studying alongside the boys. This ideally should have led to so many women in the workforce doing topnotch jobs.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. We see that women have not been well
represented in all layers of management. They have largely been men, driving the industry and workforce and therefore, the thought process. Our society has women opting out of their top jobs due to familial or social pressures.

We have so many women, who have given up their flourishing careers just to have or raise a kid. We live in an era where women want to work, but follow the idea of a domestic life.

Attending parent teacher meetings, driving kids to various activities, managing family, meal times, laundry – domestic chores women ‘have’ to do. And when you add the dimension of office, travel and conferences, it just topples over. It is then, little wonder, that many women in top jobs either choose not to have kids or not marry at all, because, it is simply impossible to live in a society that thrives on an outdated idea of family.

Conforming to norms
Our society still strongly believes in certain aspects, which puts women in the position of having their feet in two places – their professional and social obligations. Given a choice to men about choosing work over family, it is quite obvious what they will pick because, traditionally, they have been breadwinners.

For a woman, if she has to choose between her kids and family, and work, she will simply choose the former.

When PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi spoke candidly about her life as a woman, most women just nodded along with her. If we do want women to be part of legislation, they have to be represented more. For this to happen, there has to be a new wave of thinking at the grassroots level.

But, for now, there is actually a sense of relief. A sense of relief that, for one, we are able to accept the fact that there is a gap between what women get and what women aspire for. And what’s more, this gap is created not by women.

It has been there due to timeless belief systems that have prevailed and our lethargic acceptance of the same. Freezing eggs is probably not the best of options, but at least, there is a ray of hope and most importantly, a new wave of thinking that women are important enough to be given a thought.

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