The weight of expectations

1:13 PM

Today I am concluding my mini series “Life Simplified”, and I have been wondering about the proper way to conclude it from the beginning. Then, in the middle of this month one of my friend passed around Chetan Bhagat’s speech to Indian Women via Whatsapp, and I found my conclusion.

Did you know that 87% of Indian Women are constantly stressed? That number doesn’t really surprise me much, I had no idea it was that high, but my Indian friend constantly speak of stress, pressure and tensions, they are in constant competition, not among themselves, but against society to prove their worth. It is not just the career women experience stress, but the housewife too.
As a Swiss who has grown up in a different culture, I have some distance and see that the way my friend stress has a great deal to do with what is expected from them. The link I shared shows, it Chetan Bhagat shows it in his speech too. Indian women are under the pressure of being perfect in every single aspect of their life, it is what they do that gives them an identity. And worse they have to be it ALL at the same time: perfect wife, daughter, mother, daughter in law, career women, best cook…They are expected to look the part, talk the part, and act the part, at all time and pretty much be superhuman. And in many way it reminds me of what women in the 50’s were trying to be where I come from.
Back during WW1 and WW2 women had to assume the role of men in societies, ventured out of their home, and started joining the work force. Women found out that they could actually do a man’s job and be good at it for probably the first time ever in the history of the world. Then the war ended, the men came back, and society expected women to relinquish this newfound freedom and go back to the kitchen. Except nobody really asked women what they wanted, and many did continue working, and with it came the work-family juggling dilemma that is still to some extent plaguing women today. Back then the old generation would label the new modern career aspiring woman as cold, selfish and spoke of the ideal woman still being one whipping dishes after dishes in her kitchen and keeping the perfect hairdo and a smile while scrubbing the bathroom clean. The perfect woman was still the one putting her family before herself, even if she worked during the day, she was still to look well kept and perky at the end of the day starting dinner while her husband would sit in his chair, listen to the radio…or watch the TV if they could afford one and just relax from his hard stressful day of work. Both my grand mothers were the housewife extraordinaire type, sticking to the old fashioned model that a woman’s place is to take care of the family and leave money matters to men. But my mom was the first generation who just could go work without fingers pointing at them, they were expected to study and able to make career choices. But my mom was born in the 50’s and while she was being taught a woman had the right to work they also had home economics and household classes to attend: cooking, sewing, and household budgeting. The girl from the 50’s was still expected to learn the proper way to iron a shirt and mend socks in school! And according to my mom they had practice sessions in school on how to iron clothes the most efficiently, all lined up with their ironing board, the teacher passing between the ranks to inspect their work and correct them…the message was clear : you can have a career, that doesn’t dispense you from being as good a wife you can be.
They were the generation that had choices, but still expected to make both at the same time. Not working would have the feminists breathing down their neck, not marrying and popping kids would have the matrons seeing red and the gossip going. So my mom along with pretty much all girls from their generation did what was right: get a job, earn money, but kept looking for Prince Charming. Then found out that the system was not very supportive of new mothers and that it was having kids, or working, balance was though to find then.
I know that the divorce rate started going high with my mom’s generation, these girls grew into women that felt cheated on all front, they were expected to be it all, at all time, there was no real choice aside from the career path they all chose, they were still expected to be the super achievers, the multitasking queens. My generation is probably the first that learned not to care what society tells us is right or wrong, we can work and not be shamed, and finally nobody will raise an eyebrow if one of our peer refuse to marry or choose not to have kids. The last thing we must bear with is the wrath of the feminists if we me the conscious choice to go back to the kitchen and stay out of the corporate workforce. Personally I can live with that.

Indian women are still in that phase were the are expected to be good wives and daughter and can if it doesn’t interfere with their homely duty work outside the home. And that is the conundrum my Grand Mas generation was caught in, they were not expected to work outside the home, but if they could without compromising the standard established by their elder it was starting to be accepted. What many might not know is that the first antidepressant drugs were launched in the 50’s and women were popping them to stay sane and keep up with the expectations placed on them.
As an outsider in India, the pressure to conform to the ideal of the Indian woman has been less, my MIL did try to drill her idea of a perfect DIL into me, and it didn’t work. I have friends however that constantly find themselves in a rush, to whip up a perfectly cook breakfast, send the kids to school, by their groceries daily, whip up a freshly made lunch of at least 3 dishes without counting the chapati, then pick up the kids, make them eat, send them to tuition, fix yet another cooked snack for tea time, then whip up dinner and still be there for their husband. The Indian woman might have the help of a maid that doesn’t make her having to scrub the bathroom floor with a smile the way the Western women of the 50’s had to, but the idea is the same : every human being in your house has needs that are far more important than yours, if you don’t meet every single one of their needs and demands, you are a failure.

Many of my friends are in awe at the fact that I don’t sweat it out in the kitchen and will whip up pasta and a homemade sauce and call it a meal, they all confessed they wished they had that option. And they are not even constrained by joint family pressure, just held captive of that “ideal” that wants them to embody the spirit of the domestic goddess. I have a few who did break from that mould, and live happily with the fact that they just can’t be perfect in every sphere of their life, yet they all say that the instant the in-laws visit they are back to trying to conform and end up stressed. Right now I have a particular Indian friend who is pretty much counting the days until her in-laws leave just saw she can get her freedom back, not get scolded for calling sandwiches a lunch, going out to meet friends without having them checking on her, and the freedom to just look at the laundry hamper and tell it to get lost without nagging in-laws reminding her that it needs to be a daily chore.
Expectations, can be daunting, and stress the hell out of an individual. Simplifying ones life might pretty much mean breaking away from convention and what one expect of you, this is something scary, and takes a lot of courage.
The good new is that you don’t have to do it all at once, you can makes small changes gradually to make your life simpler. This is probably how things evolved between my grand ma’s generation and mine anyway.

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  1. apple4:24 PM

    It is true that the Indian women isstressed. At office, they are blamed for thinking about home and at home they have to play the domestic goddess. Home goes wherever women goes. Men often complain that women cannot sit late but going by the state of affairs in our country, they can’t. Men often end up doing they work. Women leave office early to complete domestic work, take leave to look after their sick children. Government offices are slightly lenient on women and provide for facilities like Child Care Leave upto to two years to look after children. That is why, Government service and teacher’s jobs were considered ideal
    for women. Now, government teachers are put to other work like census data collection, election duty etc. Private offices are slightly stricter in these matters. However, we forget that we are not willing to free women of their domestic obligations. If they are freed from their domestic obligations, they can contribute significantly to the country’s economy. Women have performed
    wonderfully in a more positive environment. We do not provide the right environment to women. I can imagine the plight of western working women in nuclear families without inlaws support system and domestic help. Societies are unfair to women everywhere.

    It is literally a struggle for a working couple to look after their children. Men are also guilty. We are used to getting our things done and not understanding the mechanics a household.
    However, equal number of men understand that they have to help their spouses. In traditional India, it was done discreetly but now it is done in a more open manner and celebrated. I admire the multi tasking ability of Indian women. God perhaps made them with steel. Oh, I still have difficulty considering sandwitches as lunch. Can’t help it.

  2. Society is definitely unfair to women the world over. My husband has no problem helping home on weekend, even with me being a SAHM, my MIL doesn't think it is right for him to do so but he knows that being a mom is a though job and that I do a lot and that there is still no harm in helping. My grand mas in the 50's were in it alone, and it was at a time when every single home appliances and electronics were just starting and were costly so they did without, they stopped working after getting married because that was the proper thing to do.
    Sandwiches for lunch is a cultural thing I think, they evoke more of a tea time snack in India than they do in the west, I myself can't eat hot and savoury spicy dishes for breakfast, I can on occasion enjoy eggs and idli for breakfast, but not everyday, I grew up on a breakfast that is essentially fruit based with or some cereals or sliced toasted bread.

  3. Some of the women like to cook and take care by choice..Not everyone feels stressed though just got thru this post. Most importantly dont miss the comments :) after 24.5 yrs of staying in india never have i come across a woman like this.

  4. I am definitely not talking about those who do it by choice, because those who do, also are usually strong enough to set the rules ( I know I do). But there is a vast majority of women that carry the burden of expectations, and end up crumbling under the weight of said expectations imposed on them by others. They didn't have a choice.


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