Back in high school, if I happened to ask any friend if her mother works the typical answer would be “Ammi ko kaam karne ki kia zarurat hai jab abbu itna kamate hain?” (“Why would my mother work when my father earns enough.”)? 10 years ago I couldn’t argue that women like my mother think they are wasting their education by being at home – the term career woman didn’t exist then. My class fellows could aspire to be doctors, engineers, and lawyers when they grow up, but it wasn’t fashionable for our mothers’ generation to be workingwomen. A workingwoman surmised that the man of the family couldn’t financially support his family. This of course had multiple implications: no one would tolerate a gibe at the man of the family. In our society, we also don’t admit that there is a limit to my bank balance or my father’s salary.
I am going on too many tangents so let me come back to my point. While the mass opinion about working women is changing albeit gradually, the concept of women empowerment seems to be very distorted and affected by stereotypes. Workingwomen are still shunned at large. A housekeeper is better than a workingwoman at any point of time. Within the category of working women there is a sense of awe and admiration if the job circumstances belong to a prescribed recipe. Working is only ‘cool’ if a female is doing so out of choice and not an obligation to make ends meet, if the job is at a well reputed firm, if the package makes you look like the future Oprah Winfrey, if the person doesn’t have to resort to public transportation for commuting. If the job circumstances don’t fulfill certain criteria she is not deserving of being acknowledged as an independent female and her busy life is merely an object to be pitied at.
Think about a female high school teacher and a businesswoman. Who is more likely to be portrayed as a symbol of women empowerment?
I am going to give the example of ‘humsafar’ here – the drama that has elicited all sorts of opinions from the public at large. A significant proportion of people thought that the character of Sara strengthens the stereotype of career women as evil witches. Khirad’s mother and Batool Khala were portrayed as schoolteachers, and so workingwomen. But we don’t perceive them as such due to the nature of their occupation. The very word ‘career woman’ conjures up images of glowing women dressed in suits and heels, working in a lush-push office. One reason might be that teaching and medicine have been traditionally deemed as the ‘respected’ occupations for females. Women working as engineers or businesswomen therefore appear as more rebellious than their doctors or teacher counterparts. I also blame the media for promoting bias, where in drama serials the female living in a mansion owning a BlackBerry is a fashion designer and the chaddar clad female using rickshaws is an elementary school teacher helping her family make ends meet.
“My daughter’s bahu goes to the kitchen as soon as she comes home. That’s the beauty about workingwomen. They don’t sit idle and waste time.” I was surprised to hear these words from my mother’s uncle, since he happened to be pretty vocal against my mother and aunt for working. I wholeheartedly welcome and appreciate this change. But I hope we can progress beyond typecasting occupations and circumstances under which someone has taken up a career.
So where do you place your maid on the hierarchy of self-supporting females?