Women's professional achievements are actively minimized at home
Issue #77: Of Mrs Supportive Husband and Mrs Domesticated
Last week, a friend (let us call her Anu) told me about something that happened to her while she was listening to my conversation with Amit on The Seen and The Unseen.
Anu is a surgical oncologist - someone who has gone through over a decade of training in her super speciality and literally saves lives every day.
Her husband - let us call him Manav - is an Indian Administrative Service officer. They have a two-year-old daughter.
The three of them went to visit a family friend’s house for dinner, and she sent me this text right after reaching there:
“When we reached here, our family friends introduced Manav to every other guest present with his entire CV outlined in great detail. His batch, his cadre, all his district postings so far.
And then they pointed to me and said, ‘This is Mrs Manav.’
I came here all high on woman power since I was listening to your episode. But being stripped - not only of my professional achievements but even my name - was a sobering touch of reality.
Even my daughter was introduced as ‘Daughter of Mr Manav’. Two years old and she already has no identity beyond her father’s name.”
I posted on Twitter looking for more experiences like my friend’s and I have far too many in my inbox now to even fit into this piece.
Turns out, as a woman, you can save lives or even save the planet on your own time.
But when you are standing next to a man in social situations, best believe you are little more than a plus-one-shaped blob of lady parts to the world.
“Who pays women more than that?”
Fresh out of IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Ahmedabad, Garima had landed her first job and was excited for her first visit home after it.
“I was the first woman in my family to graduate. Going on to do a post-graduation from a premier institute in the country - was an inconceivable feat for women in my family. I was really happy to be the one that might change things in the family, especially people’s attitudes toward educating girls.”
When Garima got home, her parents took her to a family get-together where she was almost immediately cornered by a nephew.
“He happens to be almost the same age as I am. The first thing he says when he sees me is, ‘Accha, aapki naukri lag gayi? (Oh, so you got a job?)’
I said ‘Yes.’
Right off the bat, he asks, ‘Kitna kama leti hongi aap? (How much would you be earning?)’
I was not comfortable responding so I kept quiet.
He went on, ‘Yeah, even another girl who lives near our home has done an MBA from some random college. She earns just Rs 25,000 per month. I can’t imagine you earn much more than that. What would it be at most? Rs 50,000? Who pays women more than that?’
And then he just walked off.”
Garima was left standing there, lost for words.
“I could not imagine how this guy - a college dropout who had never seen an educational institution like the one I had just graduated from - had mentally assigned me a salary that comforted his ego, had had the gall to tell me the figure to my face, and then walked off smug in the satisfaction that there is no reality in which he is not 100% right.”
“This stayed with me for a really long time. It became clear to me that no matter what I accomplish in my career, I will always remain inferior in the eyes of my family because I am a woman, and I should know ‘my place’ in their world.”
Over the years, Garima has met many other variants of her nephew and has grown used to them.
“I have had several family members corner me at events and ask the same question, ‘How much do you earn?’
I know that they are incapable of feeling happy for me if I told them the truth, so I just say, ‘I earn enough’.
Their responses are usually ‘Yeah, a woman’s salary should at least manage the dal roti (only the basics), right?’
They always walk away with fixed smiles and keep digging elsewhere to find out an exact figure so they know where to peg me in comparison to their sons. I have no option but to smile politely and nod.”
Mrs Supportive Husband
Two years after her marriage to Jatin, Komal appeared for the CAT exam, and got selected at an IIM - multiple IIMs, actually.
“I picked the IIM closest to the city where my husband was working. When it was time for job placements, I filtered my choices down to only the jobs in cities where Jatin’s office had an existing branch, so that it would be easy for him to move. Over the next few years, I kept getting offered positions abroad, and I kept denying them in order to make my marriage work.”
Jatin’s parents have a very different perspective on the facts, though.
“They keep talking about how Jatin has been supportive of my career and seem incapable of not gushing about his position in his organization at every opportunity they get. I am also proud of my husband’s professional achievements and appreciate his supportive nature.”
“But my professional achievements are almost like a taboo topic that my in-laws never discuss. They make it a point, for example, to discuss money only with Jatin, completely ignoring the fact that I have been bringing an equal - or sometimes even more - salary at home than him.”
“The only comment they make on my work is to question the long hours I put in, and interrogate me about how I will strike work-life balance once we have children. It is understood that the bahu's commitment has to be towards the household. I am expected to lay dinner tables rather than take office calls.”
Fair and incomely
Karan wrote to me about how his cousin sister, Natali, has gone about making a career of her own.
“Starting with no educational background in the Arts, she is today a celebrated tattoo-artist. In fact she earns so well that she could support her entire family over some tough financial times during the pandemic. This was never revealed to the extended family. All they know about her is that she went into some ‘weird’ line of work, and talks bluntly (which is their word for a woman who speaks her mind!)”
The choice of becoming a tattoo artist is not the most conventional one for a woman to make, and Natali makes sure she conducts her work in the most professional way possible.
“If she feels the slightest shady vibe from a client, she declines to work with them. During long tattoo sessions, she asks her husband to work from her studio for safety - which he can conveniently do since he has a flexible job.”
“It takes ten times the effort for a woman to reach the same level of professional success a man has in most fields. And yet, her success not only goes unappreciated - but is often questioned and doubted. Recently, one of our male cousins remarked behind her back that she is earning well because she is young and fair. The stupidity and toxicity is off the charts!”
The Invisible Entrepreneur
Swagata is a successful entrepreneur with the power of invisibility. At least to her family.
“In order to run my business, I openly talk about my achievements and market my services, and my personal brand, whenever needed. But even when I do so, I feel internally conflicted, because none of my achievements are ever acknowledged in my family.”
Swagata thinks this is because she has defied pretty much every expectation society has from a woman.
“I have chosen to not get married. I pursue a career of my liking. I built my business from scratch. So my accomplishments being unrecognized by my own family is the invisible tax I am paying for these sins.”
Swagata too heard The Seen and the Unseen podcast and said that she related to what I said about having an imposter syndrome for the same reason.
“It hit me deep down when you mentioned this in the podcast, else, I might never have acknowledged it. Since my family totally ignores my professional success, no matter how much validation I receive for my work from the outside world, I feel like an imposter - like I'm not living my life the 'right way', like I don't deserve to celebrate my achievements.”
The marital profile
Huma works as an investment banker in one of the top global firms in the finance sector.
“My family had been pestering me to get married. I had little to no time for it, but relented to creating a marital profile on a matrimony site.”
When Huma created the profile and sent the link to her parents, they had only one point of feedback to offer.
“One of the fields on the website’s profile page was salary, so I had entered my actual salary there. My parents told me to either remove that field, or reduce the figure by half. They said that I will get no interests if I ‘scare away men’ with my salary like that. It made me marvel at how marriage forces women to diminish themselves. It was already happening to me, and I hadn’t even started looking for a partner yet!”
The impossible feat
Rahi’s sister, Priti, and brother-in-law, Ankit, work for the same employer - an energy-sector PSU.
She has an MBA in finance while he has a B.Tech. Due to their educational backgrounds, she works in a managerial role while he works in the engineering team.
“Ankit is a textbook Raja Beta. He demands hot rotis for every meal. He never picks up his own plate after eating. A stern gaze from him sends the entire household scrambling to meet his every demand. He throws a fit when a glass of water is not presented to him as soon as he enters the house, or if his glasses or handkerchief or wallet are not ready in position when he leaves for work.”
“The fact that Priti is more qualified than Ankit is a fact that no one dares utter under their roof. Many years ago, he was nominated for a fast-tracked promotion but didn't get it. Nonetheless, his parents made a big fuss over the nomination and told the entire extended family how it is incredible to even get nominated for such a thing.”
Recently, Priti was nominated for - and received - a fast-track promotion.
“She actually got the promotion, and his parent’s reaction was ‘Haan toh ismein kaunsi badi baat hai?’ (Yeah, what is the big deal about that?)”
“It was a significant promotion and it came with the opportunity for them to move to the Head Office at Delhi - something that everyone in their organization aspires for. Ankit had no choice but to request a transfer to Delhi on spouse grounds - which the organization gives as a matter of policy so that families of employees can stay together.”
Ankit did this reluctantly, and it ultimately got him the transfer that everyone in the organization coveted.
“But if you saw the amount of praise he got for this simple act, you would think that he was the one getting the promotion! His parents painted it as the sacrifice of the century.”
“In the process, the person who actually got the big promotion was completely sidelined. Two years later, Ankit got the time-bound promotion that finally placed him at Priti’s rank again. Once again, the family erupted in celebration. Priti’s side of the family - including my husband and I - was asked to call and congratulate him for this impossible feat!”
Rahi resisted making this ridiculous call, given that Priti got zero recognition for the same achievement two years ago.
“We were told by my parents, ‘Karna padta hai, beta (We have to do this, children). We have to make him feel he has done something great, else your sister will have to bear the consequences of it.’
Which made me wonder what other consequence was left for my sister to suffer in her marriage.”
A Systemic Problem
Swati shared an instance where - not only her family - but the government itself wiped away her professional accomplishments with a bang of their gavel.
“My husband and I got home our adopted daughter earlier this year. As per the procedure, she stayed with us for three months as our foster daughter before the court hearing which would formalize the adoption. I was really nervous for the hearing because I knew she was my daughter by this time - and could not imagine anyone tearing her away from us!”
Before the hearing, Swati’s adoption agency’s lawyer gave her some pro-tips.
“Our lawyer told me to downplay my job - and to emphasize that I work from home, and only part-time. This would be necessary, according to him, to convince the court that we would be able to take care of our daughter as a family.”
Turns out Swati’s lawyer was absolutely right.
“During the court hearing, the Judge asked - loudly, in a full courtroom - my husband’s salary. Then, he turned to me, and asked if I will be around to take care of the child. And that was it. My salary was never a question on the table, nor were my husband’s caregiving abilities.”
“I was in no position to argue with the Judge who had the power to take my child away from me. So I complied with the charade. But it still hurt, and I will never forget being diminished that way - by the law of the land, no less.”
A National Award winner wrote to me!
This post is literally getting too long for Gmail servers to deliver it to my subscribers, else I could have gone on and on with all the stories I got…
“My mother is a Ph.D. with few other degrees -MA, MPhil, BEd, BA. My father is just an MTech. Growing up, we were always told how his MTech ‘is equivalent to her Ph.D.’. Her achievements were celebrated, but she was never considered smarter or more educated than he was.”
“My friend is an Anesthesiologist married to an Ob-Gyn. Her mother-in-law routinely introduces them to people as, ‘This is my son. He is a doctor. And this is his wife.’”
I saved the one that blew my mind the most for last.
A frigging National Award Winner responded to my call for such stories on Twitter!
She works in films and recently won a National Award from the President for her work. She wishes to remain anonymous, but trust me, she is famous - blue tick, Wikipedia page, the works.
Of course that is all the respect she has received from the outside world.
At home, her story is no different from all the other unappreciated kickass women out there.
“The day I received the letter conveying that I had won the National Award, I immediately told my mother. Her first response was a sarcastic, ‘Now that you have won this award, you will think you know everything!’
In contrast, the men in my family are celebrated just for having jobs. Their employment itself is considered a cause for great fanfare, but me winning a National Award was not even ignored, but treated with active scorn.
When I was leaving for the ceremony in Delhi, my Uncle (mother’s brother) - who was visiting us - asked what I was going there for, and I told him. My mother followed up my answer with something like, ‘Yes, we are all taken aback that she won it.’
My Uncle looked immediately mollified. Clearly, my mother’s implication that my award was a horrible accident was a comforting thought for him.”
A woman domesticated is a comforting thought for everyone, it would seem.
No surprises, then, that women suffer from imposter syndrome disproportionately more than men do.
So next time you see the accomplishments of a friend, a colleague, or your wife being diminished or washed away entirely, be the Champion she needs.
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