Monday, October 28, 2013

On the Movie "I don't know how she does it" - working mothers and all

I recently watched the movie "I Don't Know How She Does It" with Sarah Jessica Parker, who I still prefer to call Carrie from her "Sex and the City" series.

The story is about a working mother who has to travel for work once a month, initially, and then almost once every week. We get to hear what everyone else, especially her co-workers, think of her, and how they evaluate her working style, her motherhood, her wifehood, and so on. For the most part, everyone except a close friend of hers, is very judgmental and very harsh on the way she raises her children and the little time she has to spend with her husband and family. At one point, her close friend says something that resonates withing me: She says something like, "When a woman has to announce she needs time off from work to be with a sick child, she takes a risk, a risk of losing her whole job. A man announces the same thing, all's well - people think he's a hero, a wonderful, loving father. And everyone judges her, judges her unfairly, wrongly, accusing her of being a bad mother, etc. When a man has to do it, no one worries at all."

Reminds me of when my English teacher in 12th grade pointed out to us that when a man says he cooks or washes the dishes or cleans at home, people think he's a good man and a good husband; when a woman says she does the same, people are like, "No biggie - that's your job anyway." Before that time, I had hardly given this a thought.

So the movie shows how guilty society (people, customs, expectations, bosses, co-workers, the work environment in general) makes a woman feel for working and having a family at the same time. Even her kids start to resent her at one point because she doesn't spend enough time with them. Would the kids feel the same way about a working father who doesn't have much time to spend with them? Not in my experiences and observations.

In this case, her husband is actually very supportive for the most part. There are times, though, when he feels like he just can't take it anymore and wishes she'd be home more often and spend more time with him and their kids, at least during holidays. And then there are accusations--not from her husband but from others--that she's dating the man she's working with. To be fair, though, I've seen this happen when men work a lot and spend little time at home: either their wives or someone else will start to suspect eventually that he must be having an affair with a woman he works with and that's why he's rarely or hardly at home.

So questions I wanted to ask myself and anyone else who has never thought about this (or those who have thought about this before):

- when a man works a lot and isn't home as much as his family would like him to be home, what kinds of questions do we ask--of him and of ourselves? How many of us expect him to spend more time with the family, and how many expect it of him to be away more often?

- in today's world where in much of the world, it is no longer just the husband/father/man who's the breadwinner but also the mother/wife/woman, what exactly are our expectations? How should domestic labor be divided such that the family doesn't fall apart? Is it really fair to blame everything on the woman and to expect the woman to be a super-woman to handle both a job and everything inside the home, like cooking, cleaning, raising kids, spending infinite time with kids, and so on?

- in the movie, there are times when the husband and wife have to have a lot of talks--regarding the wife's job and constant travels. Would they be having those conversations at all if the husband was the one rarely at home?

- in the movie, she is constantly saying "thank you" to her boss and to all others involved in her success; very little self-appreciation and acknowledgement. It is as if her success lies in the hands of other people (usually men in the movie). Is this expected of her? If not, why did she feel the need to do it? How would a man in her position react and respond to his successes?
- in the movie, the woman has to constantly assure herself that she's a good mother, even if others think otherwise. How many fathers do we know (of) who have to assure themselves that they are good fathers, especially when the question involves how much time they spend with their kids and wife?

- in the end, she decides to choose both her family and her children by realizing that she can say no to her boss whenever she feels the need to (e.g., when he demands that she travel somewhere at a time she's not comfortable doing so because she hasn't seen her family for a while). Sure, it doesn't make the boss happy, and he's on the verge of firing her (the asshole), but he knows that by losing her, he'll lose a lot so he lets her have it her way. But how many women workers are this lucky? And what all did our actress have to lose in order to get to the level she's at to be able to stand up for herself and stand up to her boss?
Yeah, this world doesn't treat working mothers so fairly. It's as if we're not ready, and probably never will be, at least not any time soon, to respect a working mother and to leave her at ease to enjoy both a career or a family. If she chooses her family, some people today would think of her as having little respect for herself (without giving any acknowledgment to her own preferences and choices); if she chooses her career, others will accuse her of being a bad mother and wife and just being selfish overall. And falling in between isn't very easy to do - this world doesn't prepare most women to choose both a career and the family, so when a woman feels like she can only choose one, we shouldn't be judging her or her decision but wondering what circumstances led her to make that decision.

Most importantly, however, why is this discussion still about the woman? What about the father? The working father and husband?

So when people claim that women shouldn't work because then the family breaks down (a common perspective among many people I know personally), why not ask ourselves if that's actually true at all? And why should we take our own personal beliefs and preferences and demand that everyone else around the world follow them or apply them to everyone else? That's not how things run any longer in the 21st century.



  1. I enjoyed reading it, Orbala. Thank you for writing on this topic. My favorite quote is: "the woman has to constantly assure herself that she's a good mother, even if others think otherwise. How many fathers do we know (of) who have to assure themselves that they are good fathers, especially when the question involves how much time they spend with their kids and wife?" Keep writing!!!

    1. Spongmayyyyyyo! Good to hear from you, janana!

      Yes, totally! I just loved this movie for what it teaches us about ourselves and our society. I know too many women/mothers/wives in such situations, and it's just so unfair how they're being viewed by others and what all they're expected to do.

      Love you!


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