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Stressed Out!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Women managers in India bear a dual burden and it’s time that men and women started sharing the responsibility of the house and children equally, says Dr. Monica Khanna

At one time, the feminist movement fought for the right of women to work. Frederic Engels had predicted that women would attain emancipation once they entered the workforce and were absolved of domestic responsibilities. What he did not anticipate, however, was that women would only add to their existing work, but would not be allowed to subtract their responsibilities—that they would have no respite from domestic chores and their roles as caregivers.

According to Women of Tomorrow, a Nielsen survey conducted across 21 developed and developing countries in 2011, Indian women experience the most stress as compared to women of other nationalities. As many as 87% women claimed to be stressed most of the time, while 82% stated that they did not have any time to relax.

Apart from the physical and mental burden of the workload is a complex feeling of inadequacy while struggling to meet the competing, and challenging demands of both roles, but being unable to devote oneself whole-heartedly to either role. The internal conflict begins with the decision to engage in paid work. Working for economic necessity in order to support the family is considered acceptable. However, mothers who don’t need the money are often regarded as ‘selfish’ in pursuing a career at the ‘expense’ of motherhood.  The term ‘working father’ does not exist since it is assumed and taken for granted that the father will engage in paid work, and financially support the family.

Moreover, the woman who chooses to work outside the house seems to be deviating from the concept of both an ‘ideal mother’ as well as ‘an ideal worker’. In trying to balance her personal and professional life, she is often unable to do justice to either role. At the workplace she is accused of paying more attention to the house and family, invariably wanting to leave early,

refusing to travel for long periods, and being less attentive and productive at the workplace. At home, she must manage the household chores and cooking, both before and after her office hours, and take care of the children. Support from the spouse in most traditional Indian families is still lacking, since the home and children are considered to be the woman’s domain, and the male ego does not permit the husband to change diapers and wash dishes. While this trend is gradually changing in urban families from metropolitan cities, the majority of Indian households still believe in the traditional division of labour.

The expectations of responsibilities often affect the woman’s personal relationships with her husband and children leading her to experience guilt. While both parents may be employed, the responsibility of the well-being of children is by default that of the woman, and hence, if a child suffers or goes through any psychological problems, disinterest in studies or poor academic performance, the blame rests with the woman, rather than the man. She begins to question her decision to undertake paid work, blaming herself for anything that goes wrong.

If a woman living in a nuclear family chooses full time employment, and has no one to take care of the children, she is obliged to look for an external support system which may be a day care center or a domestic help. The traditional belief is that a child needs its mother in its formative years, and that day care cannot compensate for the maternal security provided by the mother. However, psychologists point out that it is not day care that creates a problem for the child—it is the quality of day care, and the environment at home that leads to a complication.  In fact, an enriched group day care can actually enhance and stimulate the development of a child, and employment of the mother can have a positive influence on children by making them more independent and self-confident.

Torn between her desire to seek professional fulfillment and the social expectations of her role as mother, the woman manager finds herself constantly trapped and grappling with stress and pressure. While stress is an inevitable part of corporate life, women managers, in addition to the stress experienced by their male counter parts, experience gender-specific stress on account of their roles as women. Until men and women start sharing the responsibility of the house and children equally, this stress will continue to lead countless women to emotional and physical fatigue, and consequently depression.

Dr. Monica Khanna is an academician and author, working as Associate Professor at Indira Institute of Business Management. Her doctoral thesis and consequent research has been in the field of gender studies.

Fact file

  • Women’s hard-won right to enter the workforce has not taken away from their domestic chores.
  • This dual burden can often lead to a certain sense of inadequacy.

Redefine gender roles
Changes need to be made at the individual, familial and social level if we are to avert this situation. Women need to stop defining their responsibilities based on gender role stereotypes and feeling guilty about their career choices and commitments. Spouses need to get involved with household and parenting responsibilities to alleviate women of their double burden. Organisations need to be more sensitive to the needs of the employees, and allow flexibility at the workplace with options to work from home, besides trying to provide day care centers for children within the premises.

Most importantly, society needs to redefine gender roles and the division of labour at home. Bringing about these changes will reduce stress, ensure greater productivity, happier families and more confident women who are charged and energised to face challenges.

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