By Haris Rashid and Tania Saeed
RECENTLY, a video posted by an Instagram user who styles himself as a content creator drew a lot of flak for his offensive and uninformed statements about working mothers. Much to the surprise of those who thrive on such diabolical tirades against women, this was not their time. Social media users in Kashmir from across the gender spectrum jumped in to categorically and unanimously challenge the premise of the video’s harmful ideas about working mothers. Of all the engagement that the video drew, most was dismissive of the Instagram user as well as his content.
It is unfortunate that one has to engage with what is not an “opinion” but an outburst. Nonetheless, we need to jump in to set the record straight.
First a summary of the narration in the video (now taken down): It starts with the man (narrator) in the video proclaiming, “I’m a sad mother”. It is followed with a complaint in a condescending tone that her child has turned out to be disobedient despite feeding and nurturing her/him, cleaning her/his shit and educating her/him. The narrator then questions the mother: “What else do you expect? Where were you?” He goes on answering the questions himself in a taunting tone, “You were out, busy, earning.” Then hurls a lot of allegations of serious nature: “And your kids, they were just making wonderful relationships with the four walls of the house and yeah, of course, the caretaker who was molesting them that you have no idea about. The teacher you thought was helping them was actually molesting them too.” It is followed by complaints that the narrator has against the mother that she never provided her/him the “platform to share things” with her and failed to connect and interact with them because that would demand her to be “physically, mentally, emotionally available”. It is again followed by questions: “Who asked you to earn? Who asked you to become independent when your husband is working?” Then there is preaching that motherhood is “a huge project of 20 years” which needs a 20-year investment and only after “then it will come back to you”. Again there is a question: “When you don’t invest anything, giving just the financial support, then what do you expect your son or daughter to turn into?” Finally, the narrator asks for a favour from the whole women community: “If you are a woman and you wanna be independent, and you wanna earn and you wanna job and you wanna become a mother, please do me a favour- Don’t become a mother because you are spoiling a life. Please just don’t get married. Be independent, do whatever the hell you want to do but don’t become a mother.” In the end, there is a disclaimer: “this video is not for the ladies who are divorced or separated, widows, the only earning hand in the family. This video is just for those women who are just deliberately messing it up.”
Unfortunately, this narrative about working women’s motherhood is not unfamiliar but it is very dated and uncanny in Kashmir, given that Kashmiris haven’t been so regressive towards the idea of working women even with it being patriarchal in a lot of ways. It was in 1792 that Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the earliest rebuttal to these arguments in the form of a book “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”. In modern parlance, such regressive thinking is known as misogyny, which is unacceptable, and hence the video was accordingly denounced by many men and women alike.
The narrator in the video blames earning/working mothers for disobedience of children. He goes a step further to hold these busy mothers responsible for child sexual abuses allegedly perpetrated by caretakers and teachers. No one is gainsaying child sexual abuses but are mothers really responsible for the abuses committed by an abuser? Women are often victim blamed for getting molested and raped and now they are blamed for the molestation of their children too. The narrator seems to have no complaint against the abusers per se. They are absolved of their crimes, declaring it to be the duty of a mother to prevent these abuses. Further, suggesting mothers always stay with their children in order to shield them from abuse is illogical. The father is practically missing ( a Freudian clue for those who’d like to indulge further) as though he has no responsibility towards the child.
The narrator is also of the opinion that motherhood is a huge project of 20 years that needs 20 years of investment. Sure, raising a child is a huge responsibility but this is not restricted to the mother or even the father alone. Parenthood coupled up with a conducive atmosphere for growth is required to raise kids the right way. To thrust this responsibility on mothers alone is unfair and illogical. And if it is indeed a project of 20 years, what does a mother do afterwards? If you are only reducing her to being a mother, does that mean she is allowed to have no other identity?
The source of all these problems, as identified by the narrator, is the independent mother – quite a word! Are there independent men? No. That’s because no role fractures a man’s personhood and rightly so. A man can be a son, father and a successful working professional, all at once. Why is the personhood of a woman dismembered as soon as she takes on more than one role? Ironically, with all the glorification of motherhood, a stay-at-home mom is never called independent and is never credited with doing anything noteworthy.
No role can define a person because these roles reduce people. Men also face the brunt of these expectations. A man who isn’t the primary working hand of the house is deemed incompetent with no concessions. A couple that may find it more manageable to have the father stay at home, will not be able to do so because our society will immediately attack this flimsy idea of masculinity that we’ve propagated.
It’s a double-edged sword for women everywhere. When she doesn’t wish to have a job in the traditional sense of the word, she’s deemed less ambitious and lazy. She isn’t credited for years and years of labour for raising a child right. On the other hand, when a woman has a professional life, even then she’s guilt tripped into being a bad mother. It isn’t surprising then that a lot of social media users commented with stories of how their working mothers have left no stone unturned to raise them right.
In times when we need to balance roles, we’re here still trying to prove the merit of working women who are mothers. There’s nothing “progressive” about these views. This is basic, decent and just behaviour. There’s nothing 21st century about it. These values were identified by Prophet pbuh in his times as well. He (may peace be upon him) was best to his wives. Surely, he wouldn’t have been best with conditions. He (saw) was unconditionally and irrevocably good. Learn to imitate this Prophetic masculinity which was considerate, kind, sober, strong and just – all at once.
Additionally, the use of the word “investment” about motherhood by the narrator is problematic. The investment would mean that the parents expect a benefit in the future from their children. It is this investment thinking that today children are forced to adopt a way of life and make a career of their parents’ choosing. Parenthood or motherhood cannot be reduced as a simple investment. Rather, it is based on certain sentiments, morals, beliefs and values that are accompanied by certain obligations and rights.
Further, by mansplaining motherhood to women, the narrator has created a false and dangerous binary where women are asked to choose between motherhood and independence. Restricting women to procreation and motherhood would give rise to a host of other problems. Like Mary Wollstonecraft, while pleading for the public employment of women, points out, “women might certainly study the art of healing, and be physicians as well as nurses and midwives” and “they might also study politics and business.” Only then would women not “marry for support”, which would mean that would put their rational faculties to use in making their own decisions for themselves and not need forced obedience to the men in their lives”. She goes on to ask, “How many women thus waste life away, who might have supported themselves by their own industry? Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship, instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers- in a word, better citizens.”
Unfortunately, even after receiving a lot of backlash, the Instagram user has continued with creating sexist content. If the person in question really wishes to be a content creator and be taken seriously, he needs to know that such outbursts are short lived. It is only contribution towards betterment that lasts, everything else is a momentary and transient nothing. One is never remembered for shaming others. What is memorable is uplifting each other constructively.
Lastly, a man should be the last person to lecture women on motherhood. As Rachel Green, the famous character from the wildly popular series F.R.I.E.N.D.S says, “No Uterus, No opinion.”
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a student at Ashoka University
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