As a working woman in her early 30s, I never believed that taking a short break from work could make you confront the myriad ways in which gendered roles can bully you and your partner.
For the first two months of my self-imposed sabbatical, I was explaining my decision to people who are very significant, and to scores of others who really aren’t. Even those who seemed in staunch opposition to the notion of women working in high-stress/high-responsibility positions ask if you are in the family way. This, to most, seems like a logical reason for a woman to stop working. My well-practiced reply of “I needed a break and wanted to catch up on me” explanation has been met with enormous suspicion. Paradoxically, I have also had people telling me to not stop working now (if no baby is on its way), since a longish break has to be taken when one does come along. I’ve even had to listen to a sermon by a very concerned acquaintance on how between the ages of 30-35, women need to plan their leaves at work to make sure they have a good maternity break!
Not only is it assumed, even in this day and age, that the mother will continue to be the primary care-giver, but there is tremendous amount of pressure for the poor man of the house to be working, without any sabbaticals of course, to provide for this future-family.
I’d be petrified of this, if I were a man.
This assumption of gender roles is dismally routine, as I found out a few months ago when a colleague from work mentioned that her husband was allowed only a paltry 15 days of Paternity Leave. She also mentioned, as an aside, that folks who did take all the 15 days of leave together are usually very few. A man’s responsibility towards looking after his newborn and his partner can be managed in 15 days? Or are we institutionally underlining that men belong at work and the task of child rearing is necessarily the woman’s? And that a woman/man who doesn’t accept or use the pre-approved format is an aberration?
Thankfully for me, my sabbatical’s coming to an end, along with the now-usual sequence of questions on reproduction and career. But my heartfelt sympathies with all women colleagues who are being made to “plan” their leaves to welcome the newborn to the nursery! And even more to the men out there who’re being prevented from taking their well-deserved breaks from work.
About the Author
Development Professional. Reluctant Writer. Keen follower of Sociological and Political movements. Avid Reader.
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