My thoughts run free here...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Expectations imposed upon women

Society imposes a lot of pressures on both men and women. The society has expections on women. According to them, she must be all or most of the following to be considered as someone worth mentioning:

1) Get good grades when she is in school
2) Be a career woman
3) Get married and have kids
4) Be a good home-maker

I might be generalizing here because not every succesful women in this world today fulfill all or most of the above-mentioned criteria, right? No matter how successful a woman becomes, if she lacks in any of the last three criteria stated above, she is always criticised or sympathised by others.


That is why most of the women judge themselves based on the values imposed by the society. Elizabeth Perle McKenna, author of the book "When Work Doesn't Work Anymore", says it clearly:

"Unbeknownst to me, however, i was judging my life by standards that weren't my standards and coming up woefully short. I had internalized these value systems over the years without knowing it and they measured the same fabric (my life) in completely different and mutually exclusive ways. There was the work standard, which told me that anything less than total devotion to my profession was failure. There were voices of the women's movement that said, 'Don't let us down. You can't drop out. Your're a powerful example. Get in there, hang in there, and change things.'

"Then there was society's measure of womanhood, which told me that the home was my first responsibility and that my child would be an ax murderer if i didn't make him my top priority. Everywhere, i read that if i worked too hard, my marriage would suffer. On paper these might be outdated concepts, but they weren't when i was growing up; they were the operative value systems in creating a definition of a successful woman, I swallowed them whole. The consequence was indigestion in my soul."

And then she says in another page, which i would truly question later on, :

"The goal was to transform that culture [male culture of business and success] so both women and men could have family/personal lives and work. But this is most definitely not the message I heard when I was younger and forming my expectations for my life. Like many of my friends I clearly got the feeling that not only could I do it all, but I should do it all. There was almost a moral imerative: to succeed at everything because we had been given these unprecedented opportunities."

So is there really a need to follow the society's definition of what success is? Let's look at this practically. Every women is geared, or shall we say socially engineered, to think that having a career and then getting married is a must. Nobody questions this value system or even considers it as a possiblity only. In the western society, this might only be partially true. But in the Asian society, i would say that this is mostly true. But i don't have any statistical data to support this claim.

The problem is not that whether we women should follow this value system or not. Nor is there any debate here on whether the above criteria are right or wrong. But what i think is that, we should all follow our own set of beliefs and standards, rather than relying on the society to define what a successful woman should do. Because when we follow our own set of principles, we might find greater satisfaction in both our work lives and personal lives. However, it is not always as easy as it can be said than done.

Elizabeth Perle McKenna puts it cleary:

"We grew up being assessed, evaluated, and graded and our first impulse is to look outside ourselves for a reflection of how we're doing... If you are a genius in stock market, the world compensates you for it. But if your gift is in physical therapy, you tend not to value that as much because you aren't getting rich from it... When we pay the therapist so poorly in comparison, we send the clear message that he or she isn't as valuable to society-that being the head of a corporation is a higher, more worthy aspiration.

"Women know this isn't true. But all too often we live as though it is. Moving from a culturally approved value system to a more personal one seems almost impossible-especially when there are no real role models for us to follow. But if we don't do it, no one is going to do it for us... Until we redefine success and value more broadly to include balance and meaning in our lives, we will stay stuck in careers that ask us to weigh one artificially divided world against another."

Set your own principles and values in your life. Make them your core ideology and make sure you always follow and retain them no matter how much you change your outlook on life. For example, one of my principles is to always follow my interests. I believe that i can't really enjoy doing something unless i have an interest in it, a natural drive. I put this principle in practice, when i chose my subjects in JC and when i chose my CCA (Co-curricular activity) in guitar. While lot's of other people just picked a CCA just for having one for their year-end credits.

Like what McKenna said, you might be really interested in doing physical therapy. But according to society's defintion of success, being a physiotherapist doesn't earn you much money and recognition, compared to being in an executive or managerial position. That shouldn't stop you from redefining your own success. If success is for you to be able to help handicapped people to recover, then follow it. Not to mention, it takes a ton of courage to go against the expectations of the society, and follow your own set of expectations.

2 comments:

Suresh said...

Priya,

This post reflects the transition in your take on a lot of thing, especially the way you want to see yourself. I'm glad that you've found relevant literature to consolidate what might have been incoherent dissent against conventional structures.

Nevertheless, I'll try to push you further. Because, critical thinking does not stop anywhere. But I'll also admit that the next point is not the most desirable for many who want to have some "focus" left in whatever they're doing. You probably realize it too.
{{If success is for you to be able to help handicapped people to recover, then follow it.}} - As often as I try to, and often do, lash out on the society's notions and the necessity to get out of it, it's somewhat futile because we still think within the boundaries of the system. Your assertion that I've quoted here is one such. Defining success as "helping" the "handicapped" is not an independent idea (not that you said so). It's a product of society's view of altruism and an untold human obligation to do it. While it's a good thing, you should also realize that this definition tries to bind you some ways. It's the same thing the tries to hold doctors above other professionals - that tries to stop them from not having to work for more than 8-10 hours a day. It almost becomes a moral crime if he/she acts otherwise. Outside the society's expectation from him - as a godman.

Priya said...

"As often as I try to, and often do, lash out on the society's notions and the necessity to get out of it, it's somewhat futile because we still think within the boundaries of the system." How true of what you've said here. So what do you suggest we do? In my opinion, i think we should not rely so much on what the society defines for us. Then we will be thinking "within the boundaries of the system" as you said. And i've clearly said here too that it takes a lot of courage to go against the society's expectations. No wonder it turns out to become futile whenever we try to do so.

"Defining success as "helping" the "handicapped" is not an independent idea (not that you said so). It's a product of society's view of altruism and an untold human obligation to do it." Sure, the kind of 'success' i've defined here is quite a loose term, as it doesn't apply for everyone. This definition doesn't hold true to everyone. All I’m saying is not to be restricted by what the society expects of you.

The book from which I quoted these paragraphs has helped me to clearly look at what I want in my life. Although the book doesn't suit me at all. It's best to be read by women in the peak of their careers.

"While it's a good thing, you should also realize that this definition tries to bind you some ways. It's the same thing the tries to hold doctors above other professionals..." Are you saying that this applies to all the other professions/careers? Does it mean that if a doctor wishes to take a break for himself/herself and work for less than 8-10 hours, then it's a 'moral' crime? Is that how the society will view him/her as? (I'm not saying that you do.) What a skewed view society has!

I might have misunderstood your points or when i look at them some time later, it might finally dawn on me what you’re actually saying. I welcome your further deconstruction of what I’ve said here:)

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