Pop Culture / Speaking Out

“I cannot be a wife right now” Here’s why women shouldn’t have to choose

. 7 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
“I cannot be a wife right now” Here’s why women shouldn’t have to choose

Released earlier on in this decade, the 60’s-backdrop show Mad Men took the pop-culture universe by storm. One of the most quintessential shows of all times, it glorified unruly ways of career growth and made its alpha protagonist Don Draper – a vicious marketing wizard, a popular male icon for generations to come.

Draper was shown to be a marketing genius with a family he was not particularly devoted to. No questions asked there, since he was thriving in his career and homely responsibilities do indeed take a backseat when you’re this dedicated to your job. The show was appreciated by critics of most kinds with some excusable feminist critiques that in no way hindered the unequivocal success of the show.

Barely two years after it’s culmination comes a show – in the same setting of 1960’s New York, with a similar trajectory of an individual hustling to make a career for themselves. The difference? The protagonist was a wife and a mother of two.

Restarting careers after motherhood has a new inspiration station – Marvel Mrs. Maisel

This is a show that is set in the 1960’s. A good half a century before the time it’s actually being received in. A show that charts out the struggle of a woman who is hustling to make it big in a male dominated universe. And the issues that she faces in her career journey – blatant sexism, accusations of being an irresponsible mom, and the profundity of her venture altogether; doesn’t particularly stand too far away from the journey of a woman over 50 years later in 2016.

Released in 2016 the first season of the show was a shoutout to all women who felt trapped under the guise of a dead-end marriage. The second season was a major inspiration to anyone who was struggling to start out and find success in their career after a major break. But its most recent third instalment addresses issue that every working mother out there can relate to –the struggle to balance a career and raising children.

While Don Draper was pedestalised for his impressionable success, Mrs. Maisel faces the brunt of ceaseless accusations of being called a bad mother.

The third season of the show has Midge going on outdoor tours and garnering the much-awaited success as a standup ‘comedienne’. Naturally, this traveling has her ex-husband Joel having to take up the responsibility of child rearing. Not babysitting – taking on the responsibility of raising his own children.

But we’re so attuned to intrinsic patriarchy that the thought of a man taking on full-time responsibility of his children while his wife seeks success outside of the family setting is something that we’re just don’t seem to be comfortable with.

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Responding to this criticism Rachel Brosnahan, the actress who plays Midge says,

“We don’t have the same conversations about ambitious men who are at the center of their own stories who make sacrifices to get what they want. It’s just accepted as a part of who they are, whereas on our show people say that it’s a plot hole that the children aren’t onscreen more.”

But the show too, in all its progressive glory, has had to make this conscious choice of taking the ‘either/or’ way, rather than the ‘and’ one.

“I cannot be a wife right now” Why should women have to choose

‘Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ has personally always been something of a family get-together for me. I have watched a larger part of this show with my mother – a fierce career oriented woman herself who’s managed to raise a 21-year-old daughter along with a 25-year-old career. And her standpoint too, is one where she cannot help but feel sorry for Joel.

Midge’s husband Joel has constantly been a major pain point of the show for me. While I cannot seem to forgive him for walking out on his marriage and cheating on his wife, my mother feels unequivocally empathetic about his almost-single-father situation.

We put too much pressure on the female counterpart of any marriage to raise her children right. Any hindrance in the child-rearing process very organically translates into the inefficiency of the mother figure.

As a collective society, why are we so quick to forgive men for their follies? We’re promptly conditioned to give them the benefit-of-doubt and pass their digressions off as ‘men will be men’ but mothers are simply not allowed to falter.

The show too, as brilliantly written as it is, fails to successfully alleviate Midge of this inherent guilt that drives every working mother.

The scene where their long-troubled marriage is finally at the point of a legal termination is a brilliant testament to this difficult choice that all women have to make at some point in their career life. In response to the judge’s question of their need for a separation, Midge responds in one single defining statement –

I cannot be a wife right now.

It’s because of deep-seated patriarchy and sexism that we subject women to make choices of this nature.

While men like Don Draper would never have to choose between being a marketing wizard and a father, the likes of Midge are conditioned into believing that doing both is a liberty they simply cannot afford.

Social conditioning is the evil that has caused the death of many dreams. And it’s certainly a long way before this effect completely wears off. But one of the most defining ways in which we can start this journey is by changing the vocabulary.

Changing the vocabulary – The beginning of sharing the load

Since the Third-wave Feminism, more and more women have taken to the workforce globally. And while the workplace gender gap might have significantly reduced, the housework gender gap seems to stand immobile.

Think about working women with families and why they step off the leadership wagon. More often than not, it’s not because of what happens in the office, but rather because of the combined effect of their actual job along with their second job of managing incessant household responsibilities.

This home management load is constant, under-recognised, unpaid; and falls disproportionately on women. This limits their ability to focus on their careers and powering through leadership roles.

A significant majority of jokes and sexist memes in circulation have women multitasking in supposedly funny graphic images – images of women juggling cooking, cleaning and feeding the children while the man sits by idly asking if she needs help.

The problem here lies in the word ‘help’ itself. When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he is viewing her as the manager of household chores. This is problematic because planning and organising things is already a full-time job. In asking women to take on the organising and planning while executing a large portion of it, ends up representing over 70% of the work.

A lot of the literature online that addresses domestic equality suggests solutions and suggestions to the workplace becoming more inclusive – how offices can support working couples, offering paternity leaves, organising in-house day care centres, etc.

But amidst all of these postulations the communication that somewhere gets lost – is urging men to actively take up more housework.

No more ‘help’

Statements like “Can you help me clean the living room?” or “Can you please feed the kids today?” have been normalised to the degree that all of this and more appears to be the sole responsibility of the mother. Colloquially speaking, this conditions mindsets and organically propagates sexist beliefs.

The solution? Division of labour. Let’s get rid of the word ‘help’ altogether and use phrases like “Can you clean the kitchen while I am caught up with XYZ?

The term ‘help’ relieves the man of his own responsibilities and seemingly makes it out to sound like a favour to the woman for something that is primarily her work.

No more ‘babysitting’

Mothers taking care of their children day-in and day-out do not qualify for the term ‘babysitting’. But ‘babysitting’ is used rather liberally to define fathers taking responsibility of their kids for a specific amount of time.

Let’s get one thing straight – none of it qualifies as babysitting if you’re attending to the needs of your own children.

No more ‘day off’

Nothing helps illustrate this better than that one striking scene from the film English Vinglish. Remember when Shashi’s husband reaches New York to be with her and literally hands over the kids to her with the nonchalant statement ‘aaj se main chhuti par hoon’.

Domestic labour only goes unaccounted for when it’s been done by the woman of the family.

We attribute family responsibilities as the primary job for every woman out there – and everything outside of the family becomes secondary and by extension, unimportant.

Why can’t domestic labour done by men be treated in a similar fashion? As organic and as unquestioning.

Or perhaps even better – why can’t economic and workplace labour for women be given the same importance as that of the man’s.