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Women In My Family And The Inheritance Of Career Wisdom

. 8 min read . Written by Priyanka Sutaria
Women In My Family And The Inheritance Of Career Wisdom

There is little more that is dangerous to the patriarchal stronghold on inheritance and financial independence than women who share their learnings. This is the story of how the women in my family impacted my career through the intergenerational sharing of stories and wisdom.

For several centuries, the following has been true:

  1. Women have been denied equal access to material inheritance by patriarchal inheritance laws (and now beliefs).
  2. Intergenerational sharing of wisdom has been an intangible, yet significant way in which women have redefined inheritance.

This sharing began with midwives and healers, two roles women have assumed forever. 

Before science as an institution demonised them to oust them from their central role in birthing and natural medicine, women across the world were pioneers of midwifery and ‘wisdom’ through successive generations.

Women taught their daughters, and sometimes other women apprentices, the process of birthing and healing. This successful intergenerational sharing of wisdom was interrupted in the post-Renaissance period, and eventually more or less stomped out by the ravages of colonialism.

But women, if nothing, are both aware and willing to create new traditions of sharing. In obvious and not-so-obvious ways, women continue to learn from their predecessors and ancestors. This knowledge sharing is important to look at, and to value as something special and subversive. 

I don’t presume to know every single person’s family dynamics, but this article is a small case study of my family, and how my women relatives have given me career wisdom, as well as an insight into intergenerational sharing.

(Continue reading below.)

The Ways In Which Women In My Family Share Wisdom

Children are always seeking role models to look up to and emulate. And by virtue of them being housebound, these end up being the women of the household.

Women are expected to be the primary caretakers, whether or not they are working. This means that in the face of enforced masculine stoicism, children (especially girls) look to women for knowledge.

Many progressives see the home as a place that holds girls back, but I see it as an important source of learning. What your family is inclined towards can have a huge impact on how you view the world.

Tasting Success

My father’s family is full of working women. 

My paternal grandmother built a local empire of children’s clothing in our small city out of her home. She started out armed with nothing but a love for embroidery. She taught all her granddaughters embroidery, but more intangibly, we learned that women can build a career out of a passion.

my grandfather and his sisters
My paternal gradfather with his sisters

My paternal grandfather’s sisters are all highly educated women who had wildly successful careers in their fields. They are managers of their individual wealth, and some of them have never married. 

I have grown up listening to their stories. 

Stories of how one grandaunt was the first woman in our city to go abroad to study. Tales of how one was a highly successful gynaecologist who would help women in rural areas birth free of cost on the weekends. Tidbits of how they grew in their careers and traveled the world and lived thoroughly independent lives.

Successful career women rarely have to sound out their wisdom, because their lives are their example. Their experiences create a space and vocabulary to talk about the benefits of financial self-dependence and pursuing one’s own path.

But women who feel as though they have not had a chance to succeed as they would have liked often have strong words for the generations they birth.

The Volume Of The Silenced

While I was growing up, in the small town I lived in, my immediate social circle was my parents’ group of friends. Well, they were my father’s friends and their wives, who became friends due to proximity.

And in this little microcosm, one thing was fairly obvious. Not many women worked. And if they did, they were considered modern and glamorous. 

My mother was a housewife for most of my life, and she has always been a vocal supporter of my independence. I have always been raised to work, but more actively and openly by her. Although my father has always been supportive, it’s never been in a way that he needed to speak to show it. My mother always said it out loud: “You have to study and have a career and be financially independent.”

two photos of my grandmother, one with my mother and one with me
Two photos of my maternal grandmother, one with my mother and one with me

Her wisdom came from her suppression. Her father did not allow her to study what she wanted to, and therefore she could never create a career in a field she wanted to. 

When she married my father, she was expected by his family, although not him, to be a kitchen-bound housewife. (It’s one of those random patriarchal plot twists, when seen in comparison to my grandfather’s globe-trotting spinster siblings.) And she never wanted that for me, or for my sister, especially without a choice.

My mother’s older sister has been working all her life (after having rebelled against their father), and their youngest sister took over the family business (because their father needed someone to pass it on to). 

But they are simply symbols of career women, as opposed to their mother, my grandmother, who would tell me every time she met me: “Study hard and find a job and work hard.” She never studied beyond class 6, so she knew the value of education and of independence.

Women often share from a space of what they see as a personal failing to stand up for themselves, and what I see as a structural suppression of their voices and ambitions. Don’t make my mistakes, learn from them, they seem to be saying.

(Continue reading below.)

What Intergenerational Wisdom Sharing Means In The 21st Century

Growing up in a world inclined towards linearity in everything, we tend to think that wisdom is always passed forward, and not around.

However, linearity in inheritance has long been a patriarchal way of life and succession. Women must avoid that. Instead, we must create a round table of sharing. Communities, if you will. Spaces where learning is not just something offered from previous generations to the future, but one where every woman of every generation has something of value to offer.

Imagine a world where inheritance is cyclical, and not directional.

Giving And Taking

My mother, when we eventually moved out of a joint family and my sister and I were grown up, started her own desserts-on-order business. Or one might say, we built it together. I made the logo, and helped her set up an Instagram.

To date, I am her official photographer, and I manage all her branding and communications. Only recently, I rebranded the whole business, and added a few unique and bespoke elements to make her products and packaging more impactful.

two photos of my mother, sister and I from the 90s
Two photos of my mother, sister and I from the 90s

Right now, I am teaching her how to use Canva, so that she can eventually post on Instagram and send Whatsapp broadcasts using her branding without my help. I also help her price her items, and encourage her to charge what she deserves for the painstaking work she puts in to make each dessert perfect, both in taste and to look at.

And this is not even a one-way anti-forward route. My mother has taught me discipline and focus and organisation. One only has to see her work to know that the sexist adage of women in kitchens is a waste of breath, because my mother is just as capable of running a business out of her kitchen as she is of feeding her family. Both equally valued and valuable.

And in turn, my mother has been offering guidance to my younger cousin in another city who has started her own desserts-on-order business; showing her how to create a menu and price her items.

The back-and-forth and top-to-bottom benefits of sharing really make my relationships with the women in my family important. Every woman has her own ability to support, and they both offer it freely, and enrich one another selflessly.

Lessons From The Past About Inheritance

Not everyone has a complex network of independent or outspoken women in their families, and for these people, I want to draw on some of the four principles of the original sharers of intergenerational wisdom — midwives.

According to Chamberlain, Fergie, Sinclair and Asmar (2015), these are principles of leadership that midwives have shared through the course of history. Here are some which pertain to the discussion at hand:

  1. ‘No one person is wiser than the other’: There is a shared empowerment in being a leader who empowers and frees others.
  2. ‘Walking together’: We are stronger together if we embody wisdom and ethical practice that nurtures the social, cultural and spiritual needs of women, and mentors the next generation.
  3. ‘Using knowledge to adjust the situation’: There is value in paying attention and being responsive to emergent change and unfolding present reality rather than being prescriptive.

Through stories of my family, I have attempted to illustrate all of these principles in practice. And these are values which can easily, and most usefully be translated into practice in our workplaces too.

Women mentoring women is an underappreciated commodity; the value it creates often overlooked and undermined.

Having been mentored by women, and having mentored women myself, I both appreciate and pass forward this practice as fundamental to the growth of women in the workplace.

By creating this intergenerational network of sharing, and by encouraging more women to be independent and successful in their careers, we are also creating a wealth that is of and for women.

This is something rarely seen in non-matrilineal societies. And it is definitely one of several values of them that we should imbibe.

Women have always passed on the wealth of wisdom down generations and will continue to do so, if we stay at it. But just imagine, if we were to use it to also create our own tangible inheritance of material wealth, land, property, money — anything except jewellery we cannot sell for sentimental reasons. The world would probably be a better place.

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