Tuesday, January 16, 2018

No kidding

I overheard two women in a conversation, telling each other how many training sessions they have done over the summer. “Two,” said each. Then, one of them added, “Person so-and-so has done nine.” She paused briefly before adding, “She has no children, she has all the time to travel for these trainings.”

I flinched at the multiple assumptions being made here, not to mention the snarky, sarcastic tone. How many times have people assumed that I will do something because I do not have children? How many times have people seen me neck-deep in work and flippantly attributed it to childlessness? I work seven days a week, I go to work on the weekends too, and I have no hesitation or guilt about that. When people are traveling or entertaining friends, I spend my weekend conducting research. I do it because I treat my work as a passion, as my identity, and not as a 9-to-5 engagement. I take ownership of my work, treat my work as a means to a better, independent and intellectual lifestyle. I watched exactly one movie at a theater last year, I have not made any friends in the new city, and I am okay with that (I have other things to do with my time now). I don’t put in the extra hours merely because I do not have children. I could be pursuing a dozen different things, including sleeping, if I did not feel so strongly about my work.

I have often witnessed people looking down on others who haven’t prioritized procreation as their vocation. I pick on these implicit biases a little better than the next person, having been at the receiving end of it many times. Notice how an ambitious woman will be shamed because she has no children (often by other women), but not an ambitious man. A man who undertook nine trainings in a summer, children or no children, will be revered, treated as a role model, and depicted as an exemplary professional. Only a woman is a childless freak if she has enough energy to pursue the same amount of work.

There is more to observe and learn from the world around us than there is from fictitious, unrealistic movies. See if your married friends who once hung out with you are treating you differently, do not invite you home anymore, but are still hanging out with other married friends. You need to get better friends in that case. See how advertisements around you are sharing implicit messages about only one kind of life as an ideal, happy life, the one where you have a spouse, a pet and multiple children. Insurance ads. Home ads. Toothpaste ads will often show large, happy families smiling together, and so will cooking oil ads (with often the woman cooking). It looks like single people do not brush their teeth and do not cook for themselves. My two cents- don’t put your money where you are being marginalized.

See if your workplace is giving you job duties they are not giving your peers who have families. See if you are repeatedly being made a victim of micro aggression. When your boss asks you to stay in office till 9 pm, but not your peer who has children, there is a problem. When you are asked to travel at odd hours but your peers are not, you need to step back and voice your concerns. It is easy to assume that women who do not have children have all the time in the world and are hence available to take on extra responsibility at work (often without adequate compensation). Keep your eyes and ears open for such discrimination. You do not owe anyone an explanation about how you spend your time at home, why you spend your weekends working (or not working), or how lucky you are to have all the extra time in the world (an ill-conceived assumption at the least). You could be caring for the elderly, you could be grappling with a personal setback, and even if you are not, you do not owe anyone an explanation.

If people are talking about you in a different, derogatory way because you do not have children (or telling you that you will not understand because you do not have a child), if people at work are taking liberties and giving you extra work at odd hours because you do not have children, if your friends are making less of you or your interests because you do not have children, we have a problem.


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