Caution: Women at work

Women have always worked. Physical and manual: in farms and kitchens, going into labour and rearing kids, keeping rotis round and husbands interested.

Published: 03rd July 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd July 2022 09:56 AM   |  A+A-

Image for Representational Purpose( Photo| AP)

Image for Representational Purpose( Photo| AP)

Women have always worked. Physical and manual: in farms and kitchens, going into labour and rearing kids, keeping rotis round and husbands interested. Where did they meet other women to compare notes and foster sisterhood? The village well or during religious rites is where they may have gained access to personal space and society.

Juggling options and responsibilities when joint families went nuclear and double incomes began to beckon, all the while allotted domestic duties. At first, it seemed protective, even tender, this male assertion that they would go out and kill the animals that women only had to clean and cook, that they would go out and make a living while we removed carpet stains and decided urad daal to rice ratio for dosa... Till one day we all woke up and felt left out—the world was spinning on its axis without us. The planet seemed in danger of ticking ‘M’ in the gender section of the solar system.

The notion of having it all if born a girl was said to be mythical. Marry or be a burden to the family! Having a uterus meant a certain destiny and to rise above it, one had to work doubly hard, and do what feminists started to call the Second Shift. Women who suffered from that nameless sadness while soothing colicky babies or stirring curry were dismissed as hysterical or unnatural. Single women had to go into hiding.

With the pressure on women to embrace motherhood in order to ‘complete’ their lives and the traditional dependence on men for birth control, it is no wonder that families used to be large back then. As more and more women try to take back control of their body—despite setbacks on abortion laws and the number of deaths due to botched-up back-alley MTPs—via education and awareness, as well as the knowledge that not every woman is automatically cut out to be a mom, they are up against a global conspiracy between biology and politics.

Language has gone from childless to child-free, and tales like my grandma’s who was sent home at 21 by her in-laws for being ‘barren’ are just sociological anecdotes from a bygone era. She did go on to have three pairs of twins (perhaps with some medical help) once my grandfather wooed her back, but that only managed to fuse her identity with motherhood in keeping with the times. That was the moral of her story for a long time, that she vanquished all enemies with her fertility—though she spoke nostalgically about that brief respite at her maternal home where she was in charge of the backyard. How I wish she had stayed back there spending her afternoons tracking butterflies and ripe jackfruit!

Shinie Antony 

shinieantony@gmail.com

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