Some sessions of Women’s Writer’s Festival didn’t delve into the delicate niceties of being a woman. Thank god. It sprung open a so-called Pandora’s box where women felt safe to enquire – why does my mother come home early when both my mother and father are working in the same business that they had started together, why aren’t there enough trans women in the mainstream, why is feminism is considered to be such a loaded word, why aren’t our workplaces made safer for the female employees, why are women journalists expected to cover a news story differently just because they are women, and why does the point of ultimate validation for a woman come down to having a ‘supportive family’ – isn’t she still at liberty to make her own decisions?
This feeling was especially echoed at the session ‘Change begins at home’ where writers and academicians dealt with the question of motherhood and family – if it alters their perspectives as professionals, do they feel pressurised to be there for their children all the time, while perhaps jeopardising their job, which might have been their utmost priorities before becoming mothers.
Why does the onus always come down to the woman to be there for the family, while a mere guest appearance by the father works just fine?
The speakers: Journalist Natasha Badhwar, writers Veena Venugopal, Aparna Piramal Raje, Bee Rowlatt and lawyer and professor Gitanjali Surendran could only come to the topic with acute exasperation, considering there isn’t the nuance language for a woman to speak up and out really. The fact that the panelists felt a lack of agency when they became mothers was resonated with the women in the audience who listened with rapt attention.
There was also a discussion about the strict separation between work and home for a woman, and yet she was expected to cater to both. Bee recounted her time with the BBC when she thought that it would be untoward of her to speak about her children in the office but when a senior of hers started doing the same it made her realise that such a simple act could empower other women to talk about their children in a professional space without feeling ashamed.
There was also a sense that a woman shouldn’t undermine the influence of role models in her life to which Veena candidly replied, “I don’t have a role model as such. I think about what my mother would do in a situation. Then do the exact opposite.”
So, in the lack of a conducive workspace for mothers, the inherent pressure of being a great mother – does a woman lose herself in the process? In the presence of external influences, where does a woman’s selfhood lie?
Natasha said that she started blogging anonymously and continued it for five years to be able to put a finger to the problem. Gitanjali, who is greatly influenced by The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer added, “It is important for you to find the things that speak to you… but there needs to be a larger systemic change. Women are expected to do so much work, how do you quantify that? People to need to change on what they think about that.”