I woke up to the realisation today that no matter what you choose, gender norms and social expectations will undoubtedly screw you over. I know I always say to those dear to me not to listen to what everyone else has to say about their lives and decisions. The reasoning behind it is fairly simple: You can’t please everyone; someone somewhere will have something or the other to say about your choices. It’s similar to living in fear that somewhere in this world a duck is staring at you at this very instance. (The duck probably isn’t, it has other things to do.)
Ever since I was a child my mother hammered the importance of financial independence for a woman into my brain. And even if she hadn’t, I saw enough growing up that I would whisper to myself “I’ll never be like her”. For me financial independence justifiably translated to career and I focused on making a career in a field I could love. When I stumbled on Genetics during my O levels all I could think was how beautiful and inspiring these strings of four letters were. That was the beginning of my love affair with genetics. I don’t know if I will be able to make a viable career out of this but I do enjoy doing what I do and right now I think that’s enough. Of course coming from a middle-class family gives me the privilege to think that for at least a few more years. That’s precisely why this isn’t a ‘do what you love and enjoy’ piece. I am privileged, I accept it and the influences that particular privilege has on my decisions.
A dear friend of mine has the exact opposite problem. She is an incredibly talented individual who has always wanted a family more than anything. During our monthly catching up today, she told me how she felt judged by others for basing her career choice in life around her future family and husband. How she was tired of being on the defensive of having to explain that she wants a job that’s flexible enough to make time for her children and seeing them would be enough to make her happy. [No she isn’t pushing back feminism by 50 years for having that thought. Flick your ears if you thought that.]
I respect her choices because she has always respected my desire to bulldoze through life for an opportunity. I wish none of us had to explain our choices to society because of what it expects from us. But if you are a 20 something Bengali woman then the question of when you are getting hitched is going to come up in every social gathering. There is a reason why I no longer attend weddings, other than their catering choices and that’s this. For my friend she has to account for how her dream of a modest family (her words) isn’t a crime to advancing women in our society, while I have to explain why I want to pursue my education and career with such fervour instead of a suitable husband. They are both valid choices that we made based on our experiences and shouldn’t have to be defended like Fort Knox.
My friend wants a career but will be happy with a family as well, she isn’t demanding that everyone else have her exact aspirations about domestic life. Similarly, I want a career and a life that may or may not include a partner, I will be okay with a few cats and bunnies I think. Right now, it’s not as if I don’t want a relationship. I do, but it’s not my first priority. My last relationship ended because the other person wanted to change who I was into someone he wanted as his partner, and I have far too much self-respect now to call it quits instead of negotiating with him. My friend and I both want different things and can still respect each other because none of us are claiming our choices to be the right one for all. So why should society ask us to explain ourselves as though no matter what we choose we are at wrong?
At the end of the day, here’s something I know. As long as I can answer to myself with honesty then the questions of the rest of the world matters very little to me. Onwards and Upwards I will go.