And I say this even when I come from an educated background. My father is a professor at one the premier institutes in India. In my family, education was always a means to live a quality life. My father worked hard on me. He was and is my friend, philosopher and guide. He never treated me and my younger brother differently. Though, I had to go by norms of being back to home from school/college/tuitions before dark. The norms which I now understand were for my own safety. At the same time, I was never restricted to participate in events, interviews in other cities and countries if the arrangements were secure.
There was always a perceptible distinction of jurisdiction of work between my mother and my father. My mother used to take care of household chores and my father was responsible for earning money and overall well being of the family. All the while, my mother was hopeful that I would escape her destiny of cooking/cleaning/housework if I make it big through studies.
Under my father's able guidance I was able to crack IIT-JEE. The days at IIT were a song. I believed I could change the course of world. The self belief was so strong. I was empowered through knowledge. I thought that the distinction between men and women occurs only in stories, novels or among uneducated folks. For, in the elite intellectual class, women can be as powerful as men. They are businesswomen, entrepreneurs and trailblazers.
Little did I know that life is going to prove me wrong.
I bagged a job at an MNC and gave my heart and soul to my work. I got well deserved increments and promotions but I often heard that my male counterparts comment that I got good ratings because I was a girl. Ironically, they were the very same people who commented that most women colleagues do not take work seriously. Women employees take offs citing family issues (kids are not well; in-laws have to be received etc). Yet in my case they believed that I was somehow at advantage since I was a girl.
Strangely enough, I could only think of disadvantages. Unlike my male colleagues, I had to be mindful of work to home drop arrangements while putting in extra hours at office. I received unwanted attention and proposals from male colleagues which I had a tough time handling diplomatically. The other colleagues termed me "ambitious" as if it were a derogatory term for women.
I was selected for a long term foreign deputation to work at client site. My male colleagues vying for the same assignment reflected that girls are more "presentable" and good with "customer facing" and therefore are more likely to be selected. What I could not understand how a software professional relying only on his or her brain and technical know how to write codes behind a desktop earn brownie points for being "presentable".
At that time the remarks meant nothing much; they seemed more like frustrated ramblings. But I knew I had more to achieve and concentrated on my aim. I worked for over two years in the US, saving a decent amount which I envisioned would help me help my family and also to self-sponsor my MBA degree.
In the US, I met a person who shared and respected my dreams. He was kind, considerate and endearing. With our parents blessings we got married. That I was to live in a joint family post marriage did not seem to be an issue. I was to live with the man I loved, that was what mattered.
My husband came from an uneducated family and I believed that I would get the love, respect and encouragement just the way I got from my parents. But the perception of new family members was far from being liberal. Women are indeed at the end of social ladder. The food would be served to men folk first and the womenfolk would get the leftovers. The household chores are responsibility of women folk and a working professional like me had a dual role, juggling between office and housework.
Little would anyone realize that I work as hard as my father-in-law, brother-in-law and my husband and draw comparable salary. My work was only seen as a way to supplement my husband's income. It is very difficult for my family members to understand that a woman may work not just to earn money but can derive satisfaction from her work, can love her work and can harbor dreams to achieve more success. My parents- in-law would encourage their sons to do well at work, to spend more time at work. But I have to justify any extra work hours. I am supposed to take leaves for the least important issues.
Let alone work, there are concerns raised I spend time reading a novel or writing articles in spare time. A good daughter-in-law would rather use her spare time gossiping rather than pursuing a hobby.
I tried to reason that this was due to a generation gap between me and my parents-in-laws who are in their early 60s. But the brother-in-law and sister-in-law have a very similar mindset too.
I may have to forgo my dream of pursuing an MBA forever. I have the love and support of my husband but I would never want him to choose between me and his family. He deserves the love and support of his parents and siblings. He deserves to be with them. Family is important and worth making compromises but to direct the brunt only at womenfolk is not fair.
I personally do not despise my in-laws. They are truthful and god-fearing but I despise the mindset. The mindset which has stemmed from age-old value system which may not hold a solid ground today and in future. The mindset of treating women secondary, of stereotyping women, of not giving them their due, of being frightful of their success and intellectual liberation.
If I bear a daughter, what would I tell her? That she may chase her dreams and innocuous hobbies but subject to conditions, limitations, restrictions, bias, prejudices and perceptions.