From pre-school to grade ten, I studied in an all-girls school with female teachers as a majority and great education that helped me develop the building blocks of my values and skills. Born in a family that I always considered progressive, I was inspired by my maternal grandparents, who were both doctors, my great-grandmother who took over her late husband’s shop and supported her three children alone, and my mother who is an extremely hard-working and successful radiologist. Growing up with the nourishment of these women, I always believed that I too would grow up to be a woman who balanced a career and a family, just as they did. However, my mother was one of four mothers from my class of hundred who worked. Even though I respect women who leave their profession for taking care of their family or children, I always wondered why it was always the mother who had to make that choice, and not the father.
As progressive as I believed my family to be, I had still learnt several gender specific roles that I later unlearned when I grew up. For example, my mother was still the one who was considered the ‘homemaker’ and the one responsible for feeding and nurturing the family. She was still accountable for each minute she spent outside of home, while my father was not. I saw a similar story in each working woman’s life. My mother always said that she took charge of those tasks at home because her work hours were shorter than my fathers. And yes, she opted for those working hours by her choice. Yet, I heard of several stories of women being forced to reduce their full-time jobs to part-time jobs, or even quit their jobs because they already had a bread-winner in the family. Yet, I heard of women who were forced to hush the fact that they earned more than their husbands, to ensure that the men’s egos were not hurt. Yet, I heard of women whose family members considered her to be a ‘bad’ or an ‘uncultured’ mother because she worked even after giving birth to a child, and did not give all her hours and her efforts towards the baby. In all these stories, a man was never made to quit his job when his wife was earning, he was never forced to feel guilty about earning more than his wife and he was never considered a ‘bad’ father when he worked after the birth of his child. These gender pressures also affected men. They developed them into beings who were considered weak when they were sensitive, or unmanly if they did not earn enough. What was worse, was that when men did not meet these societal standards, they were compared to girls as an insult. Then why do gender roles still exist despite it being a problem for both sexes?
My thoughts and learning:
I believe it is because the gender roles associated with men give them more power in their relationship. Being strong, being worldly or earning money are all gender roles that grant men power, and hence they aspire towards gaining more power by easily fitting into their role. However, the societal role of women being sensitive, nurturing or mastering cooking and cleaning are not roles that give any power to women. This leads them to strive for the power that men are expected to have in society, ie. Equal money, equal education, equal rights and hence equal power. While my personal experiences in my childhood impacted my learning about gender roles, I have observed several of my classmates from my all-girls school still aspiring to these roles, being pressurized into early marriage, lowering their career ambitions after marriage and being good daughters, good wives and good mothers that they are expected to be, but forgetting themselves in the process. What we need to do is unlearn these gender roles and aspire for a society that values the cause of equality of both men and women socially, economically and culturally.