Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Indian Women: Job versus Career?

This has been a long pending blog topic for me and finally here I am writing about something that is of great significance to me. It has always been a struggle for me to clearly distinguish between a non-working woman (which is easy to comprehend), a woman who has a job and a career woman.

The differences have never been more pronounced in my entire life than when I got married. I come from a household where almost every woman, except my grandmother, went to work and also took care of the house. My husband comes from a family where the older generation women haven't gone out trying to be the breadwinner but have stayed home baking the bread for the family. Does that mean that one is better than the other?

First of all, everybody has a right to choose their life and decide what they want to do with it. In my grandmother's time, even the SSLC educated women had to stay home and go through a rough patch with their in-laws and going to work was as impossible as having an interest to pursue higher education. Even if that happened at home, cooking, housework, doing services for the older in-laws and having babies were the priority. Even focussing on your husband was taboo without the in-laws consent.

Two types of women personalities emerged out of this experience when their daughters and sons grew up-

The women who were supressed and deprived of a lot of rights in their younger days grew to become aggressive mothers who educated their daughters (our mothers) and sent them to work and got them married and still urged them to continue working so that they would have a better life than their mothers.

Another type of women personalities who went through the same hardships and even forgot to think independently, taught their daughters and sons to have a good education and imbibe the family values and tradition of respecting the opinions of the older generation and that staying home was not a bad option, but a wiser one to raise a good family and let the man be the sole breadwinner. This was applicable to the daughters-in-law specifically who got married into these households.

As a result, the same two types of mother personalities evolved with the ones having daughters and going to work themselves, supporting their girls to go overseas for graduate studies and welcomed the idea that their daughter should also have an equal partnership in matrimony and contribute to the economic upliftment of the quality of life by going out and working, be it here in a software company in the US or in Bangalore.

The other kind of mothers who themselves weren't employed in their life, did not urge or encourage their daughters and daughters-in-laws to have a job. Instead, their focus was on telling these women, in fact, many of them who are independent in all ways that neglecting the husband and home to bring income wasn't necessary and frowned upon as having too much freedom etc.

But, sadly these people (includes the spouses of non-working women) never see it that way. With the changing trends in the world's globalization, Indian women are storming traditional male bastions both in India and here in US. They are pursuing careers these days. Of course, there are many women out there who are satisfied with just having a job to earn money and gain economic independence. But, a lot more women these days are churning out to become career oriented- they want to do more than a job, they want to pursue personal and professional goals. Even though that kind of change is slowly happening, the success rate isn't that high yet. Such kind of career women don't have their path cut out so easily- they need to be able to climb the professional ladder and yet make sure that they are successful in the home front as well- right from organizing the house, ensuring that the equally hi-tech husband does his part of the home chores and also raise kids in a western environment. And the higher you grow in your position, the more challenges one must face. If it is a business or marketing position, then travel becomes part of your job description.

Finally, since many women have the tendency to play superwoman- trying to excel in all her roles, planning and maintaining the work and balancing the personal life becomes critical. Also, this career graph can never be plotted without the complete support of the spouse, not only in a verbal fashion, but also to sort out all issues that evolves, since a career entails sacrifices and compromises.

Hmmm......have we come a long way from our grandmother's generation.....keep the spirits alive and share your comments.


Anu said...

hey mitr,
Wrote about this some time back, though i do disagree on one count. The option of stayin at home or working doesnt stem from upbringing but what woman are comfortable with.I know many friends whose mothers are working woman but they prefer to be home makers and vice versa. However choosing what a woman wants to be has become easier though with the former generation opening up to atleast the idea of work.Though a career woman without the home angle is still a stretch !

mitr_bayarea said...

True- I do agree that there is another view point in stating that WAH or not comes from comfort level of the women. Yes, the former generation has opened up to the idea of work, but as you well know, its not everybody that has, but yes a majority has finally accepted.

naan said...

Hello Blogger,

I think even if the women folk in the husband's family have not had a career or no aspirations to work outside, they have to understand and appreciate the changing economy and working wives. I think most people do and its very difficult in this global economy (merging companies and layoffs), that one person is depended upon to be the sole breadwinner. If the family does not seem to apprciate that, then they need serious wacking...At the same time, if the wife does not want to work, they husband's family have no right in commenting on that either. Basically, its up to the husband and wife to make that decision.

The only choice very women has to make at some point is what we intend to with our careers when we have kids. Life in the US can be very demanding with a demanding career and demanding family life. So, we need to balance it out or make a choice that is a win-win situation for everyone.

Raju said...

Nice, thought-provoking post. Another point that I would like to add is the difference in the lifestyle of a non-working wife in India vs abroad. Boredom would simply be too much for many to digest.. and I came across this recent trend of 'H4 divorces'.

A lot of 'trial and error' happen before the pair decides on whether it is possible for the woman to be career-oriented or just contended with the job. Setting up realistic targets and chosing the right path are important for a 'happy' family, not just a wealthy family.

mitr_bayarea said...


LoL at the serious wacking note.....true that its between the couple to work it out as to who will be the bread winner and who will be the caretaker. These days even after having a child, people make wise decisions. Someone known to my friend recently had a baby and went to work after her maternity leave got over. While her husband didn't agree that the baby should go to day care as early as 4-5 months, he quit his job to stay home and care for the baby for the next 6 months, while the wife is at work :)

raju: Right on track about the H4 failure marriages. I don't blame the women completely, its indeed a torture to stay home as a dependent in this country and a lot of folks who come from India think they can manage to be home makers till their work permit, student visa etc. comes, but when reality and day to day life happens and the prospect of getting the GC seems remote, it adds a lot of stress on the marriage.

Shankari said...

I strongly feel that the spouse plays a pivotal role with regards to a woman who has a clear career goal. If the spouse does not support, it is hell for them, but some are extrmeley strong willed and continue to shine, hats off to them!

Sachita(india) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
My Turn said...

Interesting topic...I've been out of the blogging world for a year now but am thinking about reviving my blog. Came across this post as I was surfing to see how (and if) the blog world had changed...back to your post...Having been on both sides i.e. a career woman who is married and a stay at home wife (for the last year or so), I still haven't taken sides on what is better (or worse). Too often we take extreme views depending on the group we belong to. I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision…just a personal one that needs to suit your life.

And while I do agree that being in the US on a dependent visa can be bit of a downer, there are lots of ways around it. For one, this country offers you a lot more access resources to pursue your interests (be it an art class or sports lessons, creative writing or learning a language) at a fairly reasonable cost in most cases. Of course, to do this, one needs an interest to pursue or pick one to pursue.

Anurama said...

Hey Mitr,
Agreed with most of your views.. In the jungle world it is always the male lion which stays at home to take care of the kids while the lioness goes in search of prey. Not many men would have the mindset to accept to take a stand like this in reality. I agree that a women has to pitch in and play an active role when it comes for kids but think of the time when the kids become 10 or 11 years old.. What will the lady do then sitting idle at home? Infact I too am in a dilemma now. Have to decide on lots of things before taking a life(career)-changing decision..

mitr_bayarea said...

shankari- quite true!

my turn-yes, I still have ur blog listed on my favorite blogs, even though its been a year since you blogged, do start blogging again, you have some interesting views to express.

Yes, inspite of staying on a H-4, there are many ways to keep busy here, but it all points back to how motivated or driven a woman is.

anurama-well stated! If a women chooses to be a stay home mom, she needs to think about long term, as to what will happen to her identity, interests etc. once the children grow up and have their own lives.

Managing the two i.e. juggling between having a career and raising a family makes a woman more complete and efficient is my personal theory.

Me too said...

Career wise, it is the western world which gives women a chance.
Your post reminded me of 2 articles I read recently. One about Shelly Lazarus, President of a big Advertising agency while being a successful career woman was (able to be) there for her children too when needed. Another was about a chinese woman who works 13 hrs a day, living away from her child as she cannot afford to bring him up in the city!

Priya said...

From the title, I was hoping to see more of what "having a job" vs. "having a career" would be, but the post went on to talk about options for the indian woman in terms of whether being a homemaker vs. having a job/career. Nonetheless, made interesting reading!

My 2 cents - I agree with Anu here that the choice for the woman basically depends on her comfort level and also her circumstances at that point in life. It shouldn't be one that is forced on to her by some other person, be it inlaws or spouse.

Janaki Gopalan said...

Hi Mitr,

Nice article and nice analysis. I think, if you like the work you do, we will pursue it no matter what because thats your passion. Spouse support plays 50%, but self-interest/persevearance is also 50%.

I totally respect girls who decide to stay home (may be if situation demands I might have to do that too in the future) or otherwise. Purely a personal choice. After working with critical deadlines etc, some girls prefer staying home initially after marriage (the rosy days :-)) and later find it hard to accept that their 'importance' and 'attention' is missing. Rather, you stop growing in some sense and your world is narrowed down. Mid 40's or later 40's when kids have their lives, you feel void. Also, at that time seeing your peers or classmates achieved both will probably bring mixed feelings (I have seen this in my aunts).


Preeti said...

Finally some thought into a job and career.... love it...
I have been struggling through it for my entire marriage ... and yes more than upbringing its the support you get with your husband.
I have been travelling on business in the US and earn more than my husband.. However, he got very insecure when I did this...
He thinks that a wife should have a job- so that he doesnt have to spend anything on her but career- well- thats debatable- that comes in the way of having your cake and eating it too.
As for myself- I would rather not work than to deliberately work to get lesser than him at all times.
And yes- a job and career makes you financially independent but the expectations in typical Indian families remain the same with an added condition- think about us and us only-ur only family- and spend your earnings on us...

Aarthi said...

Every woman has to choose between career and family, after marriage or after having kids.Some people take examples from their own family while others take their own independent decision.But I strongly feel that a woman has to engage herself in some work, which she is passionate about.With the options for flexible working available in today's economy, a woman need not step out of her house to make a career.Iam myself a work from home mother (thanks to gharkamai.com) and am throughly enjoy this experience.Its good to be back with your career!!

Madison said...

Great article! I run a software business along with my husband -- from home, and believe me sometimes it gets blurry whether I am simply being a good wife supporting my husband, or whether I am pursuing my career goals. Since I am home all the time, I do get to see my kids a lot, but I only "see" them, don't get to hang out with them very much. I liked your piece about women trying to be super-women all the time. That's where the trouble is ...