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Sunday, November 10, 2013

leaning in - The Indian Scene

continued from ........... lean in

What srtuck me in the book was the frequent references to India and a number of anecdotes where indian names figure. (some of the names, originated in India and corrupted in America ). Foreword is by Naina lal Kidwai. Wherever statistics are quoted, besides US, the only other country considered is India. As always, these figures cannot be verified and a database can confess to any crime, if tortured long enough. Here's one,

....According to the most recent analysis, when a husband and wife both are employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more child care and about 30 percent more housework than the father. In, India women do more than ten times as much child care and thirty times as much housework as men ...

ie 1000% more child care and 3000 % more housework.. When you see some of the specimens in the category of 'working moms' , pregnant or not,  you will be tempted to name every project in every organization as 'Project Whale'. If only they do 10 % of what is projected they would have been leaner long before Sheryl Sandburg thought of leaning in.

That brings me to a gem of a theory from SS, though it is not directly linked to lean in.

..We overcome biology with consciousness in other areas. For example, storing large amounts of fat was necessary to survive when food was scarce, so we evolved to crave it and consume it when it’s available. But in this era of plenty, we no longer need large amounts of fuel in reserve, so instead of simply giving in to this inclination, we exercise and limit caloric intake. 

It means Nature intended us to be fat and we fight Nature to be fit. How preposterous !

So how will lean in affect the Indian work-space and Indian homes?

I'll try not to be judgmental, but make an attempt to foresee the trend.  More and more women will strive for a career and compete to reach top posts. They will fight at home if need be, to preserve their career prospects. Young girls may delay marriage or altogether avoid marriage. Once married , they would delay child berth or avoid child berth if not assured of help from organization and husband in child care. I am not sure if Indians will as readily as Americans resort to reformatting and reconfiguration of  career or marriage , if bugs persist. So wherever things don't work out, struggle will be long and bitter. Of course men will change, for peace at home or simple economy, if not due to change of heart.

In traditional male bastions like defence forces, induction of women will increase, but for whatever reason the ladies will  take a lion's share of the desk jobs which normally is occupied by war wounded soldiers or soldiers returning from exceptionally difficult assignments.

The X factor

The X factor in India is affordable domestic help and help from grand parents. The leaning in couple will make most of this factor to 'lean on' any such available help.

Apparent Anomalies

Sunday times will continue to be popular for matrimonial advertisements. Bharat matrimony will continue to be the first web page viewed, for many parents, irrespective of whether their children or leaning in or not. Big fat Indian weddings will continue to be funded by parents and brothers and rarely by sisters.  Sons are likely to remain 'number one , in-demand offspring' when it comes to looking after parents or dependent siblings.

Another term that I learnt from SS.

...He cooks and cleans more, knows the details of the schedule, and is happy to be the ' number one,  in-demand parent' for half the week....

All this applies to the affluent regions; in  the islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa. Where even survival of a girl child is an issue, lean in will have no effect . The real work for empowerment of women would be in this area. One startling fact is that the skewed sex ratio is  not due to poverty but due to the fact that a girl is perceived to be a liability on the family balance sheet, be it an affluent household or not. The greatest  service that anyone can do is to change that perception across the country and to change a perception some realities have to change. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

lean in

The last blog post I did on the subject was 'When work doesn't work any more ' . WOMEN, WORK AND IDENTITY and Sheryl Sandberg's  'Lean In ' bears a similar subtitle with a major shift in goal., WOMEN, WORK AND THE WILL TO LEAD.

'Lean in '; What does it mean ? Is it one of those untranslatable American slangs ? (Unfortunately none of Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam Webster Dictionary includes “lean in” as an idiom.) But going through the net, there appears to be vast differences in what even Americans understand by that term. Reading and re-reading the book doesn't throw much light as there seems to be an effort to keep the meaning vague, elastic and inclusive so as not to upset any section of the society.

Now consider a 'leaner ' as described by the author ...My mother has leaned in her entire life. She raised her children, helped her parents spend their final years in dignity and comfort, and continues to be a dedicated and loving wife, mother, and grandmother. She has always contributed to her community and the world. She is my inspiration........

So, the term can be used in an elastic mode. It can mean anything from grabbing an opportunity, staying focused on a career and reaching the top posts with out holding back for any reason, internal or external. It can also mean 'just being assertive and boldly expressing the needs and wants of women individually and collectively”. by the way, why do Americans always 'grab' 'stuff' ? Grab a coke, grab a plate etc, why can't they just take a drink or pick up a plate ?

Well, I am digressing, coming back to 'leaning in' ; from the book it appears to have two essential ingredients viz, sitting at the table and keeping the foot on the gas (reminds me of the motto of Sikh Battalion "Jo hoga so hoga ,Dabbi chal" - come what may, bash on regardless-) . And all this requires making your partner a real partner!

Here we go.

The first part is applicable for anyone, man or woman who wants to go up in his/her career. grab opportunities, sit at the table, raise your hand, don't mute your achievements, negotiate well for your compensation (ask for more and get it) and so on. There are any number of men who are shy or self-effacing as there are pushy women. If you want to stick to stereotypes  well , anybody in India should be able to compare Tamilians and Punjabis, to get an idea.

The second part , don't leave till you leave.. focuses on the unavoidable obstacle in the career path (ladder or jungle gym) . People talk of women's liberation , first wave, second wave etc.... . It is child birth that confined women to home rather than men or a patriarchal system and it is the pill which liberated them from multiple / unwanted pregnancies. Pregnancy meant the end of economic independence, and the pill meant 'freedom to choose your own path' .With almost 100% fertility control, women were able to postpone having children or space births to pursue a career or a degree that had never been possible prior to the Pill.

Despite all modern medicines and equipment, there is still the issue of 'period of confinement', however short, that is sought to be addressed through 'leaning in'. That is where the institutions need to change the work culture to suit moms and expectant moms and of course, the work place needs to be considerate to dads and expectant dads as well. Here again it is not men or the patriarchal society that has evolved the current work culture, but capitalism and corporate values .

Be that as it may, neither sitting on the table nor stepping on the gas will be possible without the right partner at home as the author points out. Making  your partner a real partner can be broken down into identifying a partner , and settling down to a working arrangement.

Sendberg's advice on looking for a partner, .............. When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier. .......

The operative phrase is “Someone who wants to do his share in the home” And what does a woman offer ? ..”to be smart, opinionated and ambitious and of course an equal partner, whatever it means ” Does it just mean equal share of house hold chores, or does it mean equally share paying of the bills, financial management, maintenance of car / gadgets etc equal time and energy spent on family.... ? It is easier to understand equal partner in a commercial venture; ie equal ownership and equal rights in decision making; but equal partners at home ?! Sounds vague. May be it could be equal respect and dignity . 
On the lighter side, in a culture where dating is rare or non-existent , I can visualize the matrimonial advertisements !

There is an anecdote on how to test a date. After finding the right guy, then you train him, to suit your requirement, .....Even after finding the right guy—or gal—no one comes fully formed. .........If you want a fifty-fifty partnership, establish that pattern at the outset. (What kind of user manual is this ? Why stop at 50-50 and not go for a guy who would do 80 or 100 % of the work at home ? What if you want a 25-75 partnership or 75-25 partnership,or may be 25-75 in one aspect and 20-80 in another aspect, and different ratios at different stage of life ?)

After trying, testing, and clinching the deal, still things can go wrong. The author sums up the issue of women having both a career and family in the words of Nora Ephron of the famous “When Harry met Sally” , “It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.” 

 The purpose of the book is a clarion call to the women to lean in and attain half the top positions in every field and change the world from top. More than the book itself, it is thought-provoking to read articles/blogs and comments  on the net from working moms, stay at home moms, feminists and so on.

New terminologies learnt

  • Traditional marriage(Only man works outide), Neo traditional marriage(man does full time job and woman part-time job) and Modern marriage (Both work outside)
  • Jungle Gym Career Path
  • Stay at Home Mom (not home maker or stay at home wife)
  • Benevolent sexists or nice guy misogynists
  • Maternal gate-keeping (mother in law like supervision on household chores)
  • Intensive Mothering (Done by stay at home moms to justify their title, shall we call it smothering ?)