This post is a response to a really interesting post by Vignesh S Raj Women aren’t special. I enjoyed reading it and I encourage you to read it. Vignesh S Raj makes many important points that are worthy of thought and conversations, on the way we shape our roles within the family.
Yes every person, irrespective of gender is special. And women aren’t more special than any other gender. Patriarchy pushes both men and women into boxes that create stress. And equality – either in roles, or the value we attach to different roles, or better, a combination of both, can break these boxes open and create happiness for all. I say this because it has been our experience as a family.
Vignesh S Raj raises some interesting points when he talks about financial independence and marriage and I find his discussion in this post quite refreshing. I would like to add to this discussion and look at equality from a different viewpoint.
What equality means to me
For me, equality means that all work that contributes to a family – whether it is working outside the home, or within, have equal value. That the value brought in by the one who functions as the bread-winner is the same as the one who functions as the home-maker.
I think I need to qualify the term home-maker, because it’s confusing to those who have never run a home. It includes cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying bills and other paper-work, family legal work when members pass on, making time for family relationships, elder-care and child-care, being the de-facto counsellor for the family by listening and supporting everyone through difficult times. These days, it means ensuring that the busy is managed well and doesn’t intrude on family rest, health and happiness.
Managing maids and hired care-givers when elderly get immobile or are unwell. To those of you who don’t know – hired help needs guidance and it doesn’t work well unless there’s someone keeping an eye on what’s going on every day.
There’s a lot written about the stress associated with going out and earning, but not much about the stress associated with staying at home, running the home and ensuring that family is not just a matter of bloodlines, but is a living relationship. And this stress is often treated as unworthy of acknowledgement by many. It’s unfortunate.
Patriarchy and money
Patriarchy has brought a value system where the thing that matters most is money. And this is very deeply rooted within society. In large weddings. In the need to display wealth to fit in with some social groups or at the time of marriage. And even, I believe, in the way money is given to gods, when what the gods really want is quiet devotion.
Personal choice and respect for all roles
My personal choice to be the home-maker in our family has been influenced by the role of women before me. I can’t deny that. In the same way that my husband’s personal choice to be the bread-winner in the family has been influenced by social conditioning.
We started out marriage with almost equal incomes, both with long working hours and with long commutes. But I did this while managing the home, while my husband did this having the home managed for him. We did this quite without consciousness I feel. Both not realizing it wasn’t our choice, but the way we were conditioned. And it didn’t work for us, except to generate stress, affect my health, and deprive us of relaxed family time, and relaxed time at home in general.
I gave up a corporate career two years after we got married and started working from home, making a decision like many other women, to earn less so that we could have and hold on to family life. It has changed our lives and brought much happiness. We are still equal because our value system includes factors other than money, and there is a respect for all roles within our family.
A respect for a choice to earn less that has given me more time to care for our home and family. I still work a regular working day, but with no commuting, and with much flexibility to juggle home and my career as a piano teacher. A flexibility to create a balanced work-home routine that working environments created by organizations don’t offer to the extent self-employment does, I think, even with work-from-home.
A respect, also in some way pushed by the fact that I could, given need, work more and be the main bread-winner. It IS a comfort because life is always uncertain and one can never really be sure that all that one has will remain. The gods give, but they can take it all away and the only sure thing we have as individuals is our personal independence and the ability to earn.
Both of these necessary for every person, but both of these often shaped by social conditioning when it boxes each gender into a specific role. And shaped also in some way by the fact that our education system doesn’t provide courses that can later be the base for small home businesses or flexible career choices.
Education and the need for vocation based learning
Many of the home-makers with careers tend to be those with hobbies that developed into a passion and accomplishment. Like mine with piano playing, that became a career in piano teaching. This only happens in forward thinking families that support education and developing of a craft outside of the formal system.
Having hobby and interest based subjects in school teaching, taught by professionals, with affiliations to examinations and certificates is one way to bring this to all.
Another would be for the education system to have a free choice vocation based subject.
This is something that I favor as it requires fewer resources to set up for the higher and middle income groups. And could be subsidized for lower income groups based on achievement levels, with corporates or institutions offering them at the school premises itself.
Examination boards could allow a list of certifications from vocation based courses that give students employability after the 10th standard, so that lower income groups are interested in it and support this learning at home.
Any examination board recognized within India, or globally, could be included in a list that students could choose from. Plus, there are corporates and educational institutions that already run vocation based courses on a small scale and are interested enough in social development to be willing to support steps towards vocation based education.
We need a school education system that gives 10th standard students a functioning reading, writing and speaking ability in English language, and skills and certifications that render them immediately employable if they don’t wish to study further. THIS, more than anything, will ensure that financial independence is a choice for many girls, and it will empower all. Not just girls, but children of all genders.