Why we need more paternity leave, not more maternity leave

Jaya Jha September 28, 2016 11 min

(This is the text of a speech delivered by Jaya Jha at an event organised by shakTII, a leadership platform for professional women).

I grew up in the small towns of Bihar; never staying in a joint family technically, but living a life where the circle of extended family and relatives was quite close-knit. There were the usual family spats once in a while, but overall the family members looked out for each other. They provided board to a young man, a son of a second cousin, who had come to their town for studies or for his first job, and they kept their eyes and ears open to find out how their nieces could get married well within the budget their parents had. The better-off ones would also take up the responsibility for kanyadaan ceremonies of female nieces and cousins, so that less well-off relatives were relieved of the responsibility of paying for the mandatory gold gift of kanyadaan.

These people didn’t hate their daughters. They kept having daughters until they had at least one son, but they didn’t indulge in female foeticide. Daughters’ weddings would bring the entire extended family together — quite in the style of Rajshri productions’ movies, even though the homes were usually less glamorous than those in the films. At every family function, one would be reminded how only daughters can bring real joy to these functions and how everything would be dull without daughters.

They were not indifferent to their daughters. They wanted to raise them right, just like they wanted to raise their sons right. So… they wanted their sons to study science and daughters to study home science. They wanted their sons to be smart and their daughters to be gentle.

Cut to the present day.

There was a discussion among some IIT alumni I know — many of them senior, accomplished people — about this event meant for woman professionals. The possible names and taglines were being discussed. A very senior, soft-spoken, well-meaning IITian suggested and strongly defended a particular tagline, because it was “humble and sober”. I reminded him that the idea of the event was empowerment of women. Why should the tagline be humble and sober? The tagline should portray strength, confidence, shouldn’t it? I was told that humility along with confidence goes a long way. So then I did a quick poll on my Facebook account asking my (mostly) male friends from IITs how often they have wanted their event names and taglines to convey humility and soberness. You can guess the result.

The person suggesting the humble and sober tagline didn’t mean any harm. It was, in fact, he who had originally proposed the idea of this event.

Any Harry Potter Fans here?

Do you remember the wise Dumbledore?

women_jaya_jha_dumbledore_quote

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends,” he said in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 

Most of the women in the audience may not have faced obvious, brutish discrimination. They wouldn’t have been underfed, so that men of the family could have their bellies full; they would not have had to give up their studies so that their brothers could study; they would have gone to the best schools, in fact. They wouldn’t have been neglected or beaten up by their families or husbands. They wouldn’t have any villains in their lives.

And yet! Yet, you feel the need to have a separate event for professional women. Despite there being no villain in their lives, they feel like they are falling behind, they are not achieving their potential, they are compromising.

Why?

Because impediments do not always come in the form of a villain with evil laughter ready to slay you at the first chance.

Impediments come in the form of well-meaning people.

Impediments come in the form of a loving, proud father of a female IITian, who tells her she should go for a Ph. D. after B. Tech. Why? Not because it’s suitable for her temperament or aptitude, but because academia is a “better place for women” to be in. After all, they have to shoulder family responsibilities later. Corporate life would make it difficult.

This is a true story.

Do men not have families?

Impediments come in the form of well-meaning people.

Impediments come in the form of those nice friends, not only men, but women too, who post pseudo-empowering messages on Facebook like “Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do.”

Ummm, excuse me? Apart from getting pregnant and giving birth, what is that? Oh wait! Taking care of the family, kids, cooking, cleaning, washing, is it? Men can’t do it? Right! That’s why women should run homes, and men should run the world.

Hope you see the problem.

Sorry! These kind of messages do not empower or inspire women. They just try to make them happy and satisfied with wherever they are. So that the world can maintain its status quo and not have to answer uncomfortable questions.

Impediments come in the form of their “natural” urge to be caregivers, which is “respected” and “encouraged” by everyone around them.

These kind of messages do not empower or inspire women. They just try to make them happy and satisfied with wherever they are.

What is this natural urge? Look around yourself. Even with the constant social conditioning trying to make them otherwise, don’t you come across women who don’t feel maternal urges and men who are great with kids? If there wasn’t this incessant social conditioning about what you are supposed to feel, what would the situation look like? My guess? Not the opposite, but very different.

Impediments come in the form of the “myth” of “choice”. Who am I to question if a woman chooses to put her kids and family above her career? I am no one to interfere with what she does. But I have a right to wonder if the choice is real for most people. Was the choice between whether the father would stay at home or the mother? Unlikely. The choice was between whether nobody would stay at home versus whether the mother would stay at home. When only one person has a choice, that is not much of a choice.

Impediments come in the form of outraged questions like “Are you saying making money is the only worthwhile use of people’s time? Aren’t family and home as important? What will you do with all the money if your family is not happy?” Good question. So long as it is not directed solely at women.

Impediments come in the form of internalized assumptions about your role. It comes in the form of a woman working to empower other women starting her case with “We are women. We have to take care of our families before everything else.”

It comes in the form of harmless jokes that imply men can’t cook and women can’t read maps or that women irrationally have an upper hand in relationships.

Impediments come in the form of the argument that if there are women who support practices that work against women’s professional advances, there cannot be anything wrong with those practices.

No. Just because a woman perpetuates it, a discriminatory practice doesn’t become right.

Impediments come in the form of all the people you love and who love you, including your family, husband and kids.

What do women need today? More maternity leave? Or more paternity leave? Do they need more time to take care of kids? Or do they need their partners to share the responsibility?

Do they need to be deified and installed in well-decorated temples? Or do they need to be treated like real persons who may have similar career aspirations and similar love for their families as men?

What do women need today? More maternity leave? Or more paternity leave?

I might already have ruffled some feathers here. Still, I will end with a blasphemy. I can forgive Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Dilwale. I cannot forgive them for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The movie that made lots of money while promoting and elevating the patriarchal custom of Karwa Chauth by giving it a romantic twist. There is nothing romantic about it.

I know that I have only raised questions and not given answers. But that’s all I intended to do. There aren’t any quick answers. There are no 5 steps to liberation. We have a tough fight. With people who matter the most to us.

Also read: Indian startups are disrupting everything except sexism

(The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of FactorDaily).


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