A Life of Tough Choices

“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”

― Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Women and men co-exist in a world where entirely different things are expected of them. Make no mistake, even as we’re constantly realizing and forgetting that a woman is an intellectual, physical and emotional equal of a man, we’re far from a world wherein we’d view the life of a man and that of a woman in the same way.

Our lives, regardless of gender and sex, are lined with a serious of important to mundane choices that we have to make each day. It is not rocket science to know the morose truth about the choices women have to make. The opportunity cost of a thriving career can be a domestic life in shambles. The price of being a white-collared career woman can be the label of a spinster who does not know how to be a woman at all.

In her book The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir states that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman. And so very often, we fail to see that it is not a one-time choice. For a woman, it is just as arduous to stay a woman as it is to become one. She has to actively make that choice every day.

When I came across the opening quote of this article, my body forgot the concept of respiration for a minute or so. I could not stop thinking about how obvious it is to hold a man’s success in his stride, like it should be, and to hold a woman’s success against her — not just against her character but her life itself.

How quickly a judgment is followed by another when someone talks about a career-oriented, successful woman. It is called the halo effect. ‘She is so good and unabashed at her job, she must be a tyrant at home, if at all she has one’, we’re all far too quick to think such things. And we cannot help ourselves.

Have you ever wondered why the prefix of career-oriented or working is even used before woman? It is because we can’t admit to ourselves that we still can’t quite picture a woman away from the kitchen. That is why while we pressure our sons to be at the top of their game, we pressure our daughters to learn early on in life how to strike a balance.

In training our sons and daughters differently, we design a future that is relatively smooth for only one of them. Nobody shames men for being dreamers, visionaries, people who are always on the lookout for opportunities to build an awe-inspiring career. Then why guilt a woman into thinking that even though she is hungry for the same opportunities as any other man or woman, it is not right for her to feel this way?

We all want to be liked by others. More often than not, we all want to lead productive, successful lives both inside and outside our houses. Men and women both want professional and domestic fulfillment. It just so happens that men can enjoy domestic fulfillment for what it really is, it is just one of the prime things any human being would like. But for women, it is a purpose of life that she thinks is ingrained in her DNA.

Not just in India, but all over the world, females need and deserve social validation, acceptance and support of and for their dreams. In fact, so do men. We all deserve the freedom to be whoever we want without everyone covertly telling us that we shouldn’t be what we want to be. No one deserves to live in the fear of being disliked, judged and looked down upon for trying to live their lives.

There is a need to remember, and remind ourselves if we forget, that one’s success and one’s gender are mutually exclusive. We must not violate each other this way. And the next time we seem to be getting bad vibes from a woman who is doing well for herself, we’ve got to analyze our own selves before we prophesize that she must be a lousy daughter, wife, mother or person.