What makes a successful career woman complete and accomplished? Going by the recent media trends, it’s certainly not hard won achievements in their respective fields. In a recent interview, popular news anchor Rajdeep Sardesai asked Indian tennis player Sania Mirza, the current World Number 1 in women’s doubles ranking, about motherhood and settling down in a matter-of-fact manner. The bias hidden in that question however didn’t go unnoticed. The ace tennis player promptly replied to Sardesai in the best possible way.
“Unfortunately, that’s when we’re settled, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win or number ones in the world we become, we don’t become settled. But eventually it will happen, not right now. And when it does happen I’ll be the first one to tell everybody when I plan to do that.”
The popular anchor later did apologize and acknowledge that it was something he might not have asked a male athlete. This episode is a telling case in a series of sexist commentary that happened in recent interviews featuring female athletes, celebrities and businesswomen. In a recent Huffington Post article, Jennifer Aniston too shared her own struggles with the ‘motherhood’ question.
“This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time... but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”
When it comes to the industry men, the mainstream media successfully manages to steer clear of such biased questions. We don’t see anyone asking Virat Kohli when he plans to ‘settle down’ or if he’s having any ‘fatherhood’ pangs. No, these questions are strictly reserved for female sportspersons like Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami. It is upsetting that on top of all the harassment that women face in their everyday lives, this jaded question uses ‘guilt’ as a form of weapon to make career women recognize what they are missing out. The ‘motherhood’ question is repeatedly asked to remind women what they are born to do no matter what they achieve as individuals and how many Mount Everest they climb, somehow they are still ‘lacking’ in their lives if they haven’t become mothers!
So many times, as women, we find ourselves at the crossroads of having to choose between a stellar career break and the constant din of the ‘body-clock-is-ticking’ argument. However you may put it, this is a shaming exercise that has made many laudable women sit back, sigh and relinquish notable professional opportunities. These are questions that men don’t have to sit back and ponder. Here, I am not implying that men don’t care about having a family or settling down. What I simply mean is that men don’t have to face these stifling questions. It is not a matter of choosing either career or parenthood for them. Society permits the men the leeway to make the choice and live it without making them feel guilty of losing out on anything. For men, there is no limit to their career. Whereas women are made to think that they have to choose either their career or marital life, which inherently implies motherhood. For women, career comes with certain limits. We aren’t always allowed the space to think for ourselves as to what it is that we truly want in life without having somebody indicate to us where to draw the line.
A woman cannot escape this question when in office, when at her home or even when she is outside minding her own business. Why does our society refuse to comprehend that a woman’s ability to be a ‘whole’ being is not tied to her being a mother? Being a mother is just a part of her being. It shouldn’t define her whole existence. No wonder single women in our society face such a hard time. Here even being a wife isn’t enough. The truth is that there is no ending to discrimination when you are a woman. We see so many women who sacrifice, yes that’s the term, their ambitions when they are hounded by the ‘when are you settling down’ question and who, eventually, force themselves to become mothers only to later repent it because of how unprepared they were mentally, physically and often times, financially to bear the cost of another human being. The world seems to care as long as you are happily pushing your career forward and not having a baby but the moment you do have one, you are on your own. The world doesn’t give a damn thereon.
The undue pressures have contributed to the growing menace of depression in women. In fact, a ‘gender gap’ exists in the sphere of depression too. And here (again), it is the women who take the centre stage. Women are twice more likely than men to be diagnosed with a major depression. The incidents of depression in women with the pressures of being the perfect wife, mother and career woman are growing at an alarming rate. Gender stereotype is one of the major causes of depression and can make a person feel less worthy of their job, relationships and in other aspects of their life. Such persons, often times, feel that their lives have been rendered stock-still. It can kill the joy they derived from once-pleasurable activities and leave them feeling continuously burdened. These depressive tendencies may also lead to physical bearings such as constant fatigue among other problems. A woman’s role as a professional, wife, and mother contribute to the levels of everyday stress. The qualities of each of these roles vary for women and men and therefore, they are judged differently too. These differences may result in tension within the individual, be it men or women. However, it leads to building major depressive feelings for the women that may in turn leave them feeling inadequate in more ways than one.
We have to move beyond definitions and respect the role women in our society choose to play. Married or not, mother or not, females have performed greatly in their respective fields. Lata Mangeshkar, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy are few such women. Women have fought hard against labels, codes and prejudices to be where they are today as individuals and as a community and so badgering them with the ‘motherhood’ question is crass at best. Accept it, the harmless but potent ‘when are you getting married’ question is driving half of the single women populace crazy, it doesn’t need to be compounded by the ‘when are you having a baby’ question. Though Sushmita Sen has slayed both these questions in her own remarkable way. Chew on that critics! Jokes aside, it’s about time we, as a society, encourage women for their potential and stop judging them for the choices they make thereon. Empowerment simply doesn’t mean providing a voice to the voiceless, it also means listening to those voices when they speak up.
A woman is complete irrespective of her marital or maternal status. The legacy of a woman is her contribution to the society as a whole. Surely, it should not be tied to the ‘motherhood’ status. Women are complete whether they are mother or not. And women alone will decide who they wish to be in their lives. The decision to mother babies or not should not be made by a panel of condescending socio-cultural figures but the women themselves. Women have taken command of the financial narrative (yes, it’s a work in progress) and it’s about time women take hold of the reproductive narrative as well. Women don’t need a prince charming to rescue them from any dungeon; they are pulling themselves up slowly and steadily. We hold the narrative to our bodies and we will take the decisions when it comes to it.
Mainstream media still has a long way to go to stem the systemic bias when it comes to the portrayal of women in media. But we as consumers should take a strong stand against such behavior when they are presented to us as norms. Limiting women to their reproductive role while overlooking their ability is not okay. Women are complete and beautiful in whatever role they choose to play in life. It is heartening to see that the women community is taking a stand against gender bias in the media and making a strong case for a more gender conscious approach to the depiction of women in today’s social media age.
Now have a look at the #CoverTheAthlete campaign that asked a bunch of male athletes the same sexist questions that female athletes get routinely asked.