Today is Women’s Day. On this occasion, this column seeks to address one women’s issue — the belief that women can’t really have it all.
This is an endless debate, fuelled into a storm last year by Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsi. It revolves around the issue of work-life balance, and the assertion that no woman can have a successful career as well as manage family responsibilities well. Thus, for all the talk of women’s empowerment, we as a society have not evolved to a point where women can have it all.
Do note that this issue, and therefore this column, applies to a relatively small section of Indian women — those who actually have choices, in terms of career options or whether to work or not. Most women do not even have a choice of having it all. For them, it is more about keeping and preserving whatever they have.
Anyway, here is my take:
The phrase ‘can’t have it all’ is a derivative of ‘I am going to fail somewhere’ or even ‘something will prevent me from being fully happy’. The first phrase is right. The second is incorrect. Yes, you will fail at something. No, failing at something doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. The fear of failing is endemic in humans. In women, from what I have seen, the feeling is compounded multiple times with the constant belief that ‘I am just not good enough’. Open any women’s magazine, every page of every issue has tips on how to look, cook and make love better. I don’t know if it is cultural, or if women come biologically wired like this, but women feel inadequate. It doesn’t take much to reinforce that belief. A thinner neighbour, a school kid who gets a better tiffin box than your kids, a boss who praises a colleague instead of you — all set off loud inner alarms in women that scream, ‘Look, you suck. Hence proved.’ This feeling, in turn, leads women to have what I term the “A+ complex”. This means, in order to prove to themselves that they are not terrible, they must get an A+ in every department of life. As a mother, employee, boss, wife and dinner host, or even in terms of having a thin body, there is only one way to escape that feeling of being inadequate — get an A+.
How do you do that? Well, kill yourself, almost. Don’t sleep, don’t have time for yourself, let every jibe from any random person in the world affect you, don’t think, react to the world that always seems to be demanding things from you, collect nuggets of praise along the way to keep fighting to avoid that feeling of inadequacy or dropping the ball. Cry alone at night, but don’t ever let the world down. Keep repeating, ‘Must go for A+ everyday, in everything, and all the time.’
Now tell me, can any person who thinks like that ever have it all?
No. They can’t. Which is why women cannot have it all. The only thing they have lots of, as a result of this, is guilt. Women are guilty of not being a hundred percent at office, not being there when their kids needed homework help, not attending the mother-in-law’s puja because there was a work trip, not going to the gym because they only had four hours of sleep everyday. Women, especially working women, feel so guilty that if for some reason they don’t feel guilty for a day, they feel guilty about not feeling guilty. Get it? No? Neither do they.
So ladies, this Women’s Day, change just this one thing about you. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t have the A+ complex. Overall, aim for a B+, or if you are a superwoman, an A- at best. Some days, you will be an amazing A+ mom, but a Bemployee as you left work early. Other days, you will be late from work and score an A+ there and the kids will have less of you, making you a B mom. But overall, if you score a B+, it is pretty good. That’s better than many others, and most of all, that is normal. Men do the same, and they don’t go to bed thinking ‘Oh I was an awful father today’ or ‘I didn’t pay my dues to my employer’. They go to bed thinking, well, let’s not go there.
So please don’t kill yourself in trying to have it all. Just be normal, admit you won’t be excellent at everything every day and smile through life.
When you have reasonable expectations from yourself you can be happy. And being happy, is above all, having it all.
I hope you like this column. I am sure I could have written it better. But then again, I’m not aiming for an A+ anyway. Happy Women’s Day!