Women Professionals: A Middle Path between Family Life and Career
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Dr. Ramala Sarma is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Nowgong College, in Nagaon, Assam.
yatra nāryāstu pūjyante ramante tatra devatāḥ I
yatraitāstu na pūjyante sarvāstatraphalāh kriyaḥ II
“Where women are treated with dignity or womanhood is worshipped; there Gods roam;
but where they are not honored, no sacred rites yield rewards.”
This passage (shloka) is taken from the Manu Smriti (3-56) which are Vedic verses from Hindu history. Needless to say here that women, the mother-class, are worth honoring because they are the storehouse of immense potentialities. However, these potentialities come to them sometimes as boon, and sometimes as bane, when they try to explore them. Their latent power to perform different functions always put them in a dilemma – should a woman go with emotions or with intellect?
A woman receives her recognition traditionally through the unique responsibilities she is entrusted with by the age-old societal norms. Her roles as mother, wife, sister, etc. are various forms of services in society. In terms of these functions, she gains dignity and status in the surroundings where she lives. Although domestic life is often a joint-venture of both man and woman, there are certain duties such as pregnancy and delivery of babies which can only be performed by the woman. It is true today that some women, to cope with a variety of challenging situations, are seeking the help of surrogate mothers, baby-sitters and housekeepers. By comparison, these important care-giving roles do not however enjoy the same reverence and status in society as “motherhood”. A surrogate mother can be a professional ‘mother’, but she cannot take the pride in the continuing sense of the term and a baby-sitter cannot enjoy the full respect because of the temporary nature of her mothering assignment. The tasks of motherhood along with some ‘unavoidable domestic chores’ can produce a feeling of satisfaction and pride because a woman can establish special bonds with her spouse and children, strengthen relationships with kinsman, and radiate outwardly her connections within society. The remarkable thing is that her inclination toward the social responsibility as a woman is not superposed upon her by any external force; it is the innate outcome of her biological structure and needs, which are a natural outflow of her emotional set up of being a female. As women, we cherish and value the importance of this social function and strive to be recognized as responsible members of a society.
Again, it is the natural urge of a human being to unfold his or her potentiality and find one’s fullest expression in the ability to acquire knowledge and skill. In the modern world, the value of knowledge and skill is measured by money; in terms of the remuneration paid for the job in which the knowledge and skills are employed. As there is no dearth of knowledge and skill in any field, there is always a rat race over who can own the jobs. If women make up half the population, are they also working in half of the jobs in the workforce?
Yes, in many families, the wife would like to earn money alongside her husband. Her economic empowerment by earning a wage is not only a means to transform the livelihood status of the family by enabling it to meet the growing demands of life, particularly in this era of sky-rocketing price of essential commodities, but also a matter of advancing her career goal and personal achievements.
Now, so far as a professional career is concerned, a question crops up - is there any limit of professional satisfaction in this sphere of competition? Can a woman professional (to be precise) ever say ‘Yes, I have achieved my goal’? Career goals tend to be like a limitless ladder where every professional strives to reach the higher rung and then to the next, and so on ad infinitum. For women in particular, there is every possibility of being phased out by her junior colleagues; therefore she has to excel in her station. Moreover, at times she has to try her best to surpass even the record of achievement set by her senior colleagues to ensure the healthy progress of her career. Questions abound: can she always make it in advancement? If yes, how far? Often, one success leads to the door of desire for another, and so on. Unfortunately, at a certain point of time, she is likely to get disappointed. And the reason for this? Too many times it is impossible for her to balance her duel roles – as a responsible member of society and as a competent woman professional. She is often overpowered by grief in the loss of income-earning fortune, although it is not the real loss at hand. These sorts of mental oscillations remind us of a message from Swami Abhedananda in his lecture on Yoga Psychology: “…loss or gain is concerned with real possession. If we have any real possession, we can never lose it. The things, which we can lose, do not really belong to us. Thus, the loss of fortune is not really permanent, but temporary”.
The dilemma for a woman professional is to ensure a fair play of justice to her family on one hand, and her career on the other, both of which are full-time jobs lying in two extremes. While career is regulated by reason, domestic life is mostly regulated by appetites and passion. Neither reason alone nor passion alone can bring us the highest happiness or end of life. In the 4th century B.C. in Aristotle’s concept of Golden Mean, the theory holds that the pursuit of the highest rational end of man means the control of appetites and passion by reason, and this has to be constantly exercised. Thus, neither appetites have to be extirpated, as asceticism wrongly holds, nor appetites have to be satisfied, as hedonism maintains. This concept is still relevant in the case of a woman professional who sometimes feels torn in choosing the balance between her domestic life and career - both very dear to her.
If we trace back to the time of 2600 B.C., we find that Buddha also renounced extremism. Buddha himself followed and advocated the Middle Path or madhyam pantha in his spiritual pursuit. Here a piece of a story from the Buddhist scriptures is relevant:
Buddha initially, in his quest for the solution of worldly miseries, went to Rajagaha, somewhere in Bihar, a state in India. He went there as a beggar. However, Vimvisara, the king of Rajagaha, recognized him. He was very much impressed with Buddha and offered him the whole kingdom and properties. But Buddha declined as his interest was on spiritual pursuits instead. He joined some of the hermits who followed the extreme path of self-mortification, meaning they took little care of bodily comfort and rest. That rigorous practice left him very weak, in an emaciated state, and he lost almost all the use of his muscles. One day he fell into a river when he went to bathe. In a moment of regained sense, he thought that the mortification of the body was not the way because it weakened both body and mind. Because of that, he decided to change the way. At that time, as the story tells, a young village girl named Sujata came and offered him a cup of payasam (a dish of cooked milk rice). He took it and said that the Middle Path or madhyam pantha – neither indulging in too much of austerity nor running after too much of comforts – would be the correct path to follow.
Thus, for a woman professional, the way out of the dilemma may be to choose a mean between the two extremes of family and career. These two aspects of life should not come into conflict and opposition of each other. Life becomes enjoyable when they exist instead as complementary to each other. She can counter her strong feelings of frustration, agony, confusion and distress that may arise in a work-place environment with the soft feelings of love, compassion, respect and patience cultivated in the family atmosphere. Her involvement in domestic chores may replenish her exhausted work energy and create a new enthusiasm to strive on. On the other hand of this, the knowledge, skills, efficiency methods and tactics cultivated while during her career life can be applied and may help a lot in leading a rational domestic life. Balance is the key in finding a middle way for contentment and satisfaction in both.
Additional reference – “Sujata’s Song” (track 8):