WOMEN ON TOP

What happens when a woman is more successful than her partner? does it create conflict in her relationship or redefine traditional gender roles and bring the couple closer as a stronger unit? Erum Ali Qureshi tries to find out from four women in similar situations

Bollywood, one of the biggest social influencers in our country, is rife with movies where the woman outshines her man. Classics like the Amitabh- Jaya Bachchan starrer Abhimaan, the Sanjeev Kumar-Suchitra Sen starrer Aandhi and Mann (Aamir Khan-Manisha Koirala starrer), in the late ’90s and the much-spoken about blockbuster Aashiqui 2 tackled societal and male concerns of cases where women are on top. While the characters on celluloid are able to kiss and make up in a span of three hours, real life, it seems, is hardly ever as kind as that. The slow but steady transition in our society’s cultural paradigm through the last few decades has certainly blurred gender stereotyping. Women are discovering more and more horizons to grow into, some with the soulful backing of their loved ones, while others, despite the lack of it. They have found their way to the top of the world not only in terms of excelling at work but also as regards maintaining relationships or nurturing their inner selves.

CHANGING DYNAMICS
But women today are coming into their own like never before—as homemakers, entrepreneurs, parttimers and social magnates—inside and outside their family and friend circles. No longer content to take the back seat, women are not only steering the course of their own lives but also shattering the infamous glass ceiling in the workplace. Society has evolved through these changing dynamics, with men lending much support to their partners in most cases. However, in some cases where women surpass men, there still remain conflicts, clashes of ego or compromises to make. We are made to believe that the pace of men adapting to the societal change is slower as compared to that of women moving into and taking on responsibilities in a world outside their homes, and that the effect of this change is still causing many a conflict, especially in marriages. So we ask around. Vailina Sahay, 26, is an event manager belonging to Goa who always maintained a huge friend circle and didn’t think twice about breaking every rule in the book. She went on to marry a man 10 years her senior and from another community. Having grown up in Goa, Vailina has many laid-back friends, most of whom were men. “However, my husband hailed from a conservative north-Indian household and could not come to terms with the number of men I had as friends,” remembers Vailina. Soon, there were rifts between the newly married couple. But Vailina decided to use her outgoing nature to her advantage. “I had a frank talk with him and we were able to sort out our differences,” she tells us. “While he took the effort to see the whole issue from my perspective, I ensured that I addressed all his concerns. I then introduced him to all my friends too. Soon, he got involved in several of our group activities, even getting close to some of those men. The whole brouhaha worked well for both of us; now my husband realises he has no reasons to feel insecure.”

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
While Vailina could take up the issue and work out her concerns with her husband, Shubhadra Veer, 56, was not so lucky. Having grown up in a closeknit family, Shubhadra had always been more of a mother than an elder sister to her three younger siblings. Her maternal concerns hovered even when her siblings got married and had families of their own. Things changed when she became a grandmother. Both her daughters-in-law worked and she was expected to care for her grandchildren when their parents were at work. Soon, her visits to her relatives reduced, as her familial popularity began irking Shubhadra’s husband, and he began objecting to those visits. “Once, my husband even told me that I should dedicate more time to my immediate family than my siblings,” Shubhadra recollects. The issue came to a head and soon Shubhadra began clamping up, losing interest in both her immediate as well as her extended families. “But my elder daughter-in-law was astute enough to understand what was going on and she intervened and worked out a system where a nanny would come in on weekends, leaving me with the time to socialise, as I liked.” Swati Deepak, a family counsellor who has been working with the Institute of Psychotherapy and Management Sciences for 13 years, weighed in with her opinion on the phenomenon. “Couples in their 20s are more accepting of either partner being more successful, especially in matters of making more money,” explains Swati. “Couples in their early 30s seem to be a little confused and get caught in an emotional distress that the state brings. And it’s mostly couples above 40 years of age who tend to have ego tussles and control issues, with a good dose of guilt and/or resentment thrown in.”

THE DILEMMA OF CHORES
Almost validating Swati’s diagnosisof the situation seems to be the case of Zeenat Vora, 45, a successful Entrepreneur who sold sourced upholstery and furnishing materials from all over the country to retailers in Mumbai. Her husband, although highly qualified, failed to hold on to jobs, as he had issues taking orders from anyone. “I worked from home but also had to travel to source my orders and make sales calls to clients in Mumbai,” says Zeenat. “Those times, I expected him to chip in with child care.” However, the husband wouldn’t chip in with the cooking or cleaning. The lack of support from him, naturally, gave rise to clashes at home, which finally abated when the couple reached an agreement that he would stay home and look after the kids, while they engaged a catering service on the days that Zeenat travelled. “I outsourced the weekly household cleaning to a professional housekeeping agency, too, and my mother came down to supervise that.” Zeenat’s dilemma is something many a woman today relates to, striving to work out a balance between their lives and their household needs. “Sometimes, there is a clear imbalance in the power equations at home, despite who earns the bread,” explains Dr Kiran Shandilya, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist with 11 years of experience in the field. According to her, while generally it is believed that a more successful wife could cause conflict and jealousy in a household, in most cases, families realise that this person is special, and the spouse takes on the supportive role—all the more so if the spouses’ professional fields are different. “However, housework is still considered a woman’s main responsibility and the general concept is that she has to be ‘granted permission’ to work outside the house, because it is she who has chosen to do so, not because the man ‘needs’ her earnings,” says Dr Shandilya. “Also, even though she may be an equal contributor to the household expenses, the husband does not feel obligated to be an equal contributor to domestic chores.”

THE MIDDLE GROUND
Of course, experts do not overlook the underlying factors that colour the situation when the fairer sex’s successes begin to threaten her partner. “Recognising that such a problem exists in the first place is the most important step towards resolving the issue,” suggests Dr Shandilya. “Keep communication free and transparent, and always emphasise on sorting out the issue. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help to overcome such situations either.” The changes are slow but steady, what with even media doing its tiny bit in playing the harbinger of change. Ads for laundry products with tag lines such as ‘Share the Load’ and others depicting fathers taking on larger roles in child rearing may contribute to men taking pride in the changing dynamics of gender roles. Mindsets will change, we can hope, even if only gradually.

BENEFITS OF WOMEN ON TOP
• Women have higher self-esteem, thus resulting in more satisfying relationships
• Common activities of leisure increase, such as treks, eating out, sports activities, etc.
• Financial burden on men—as the provider in the family—is lesser, leaving them with the time and energy to explore their creative pursuits more seriously and to write, sing, choose unconventional careers, which ultimately leads to more satisfaction in life.

THE KIND OF CONFLICTS THAT MAY ARISE IF WOMAN IS THE MORE SUCCESSFUL AT HOME

• Role confusion: Should the daily household chores be only the wife’s concern, or should they be divided among both spouses?
• Support system: Is only the girls’ family responsible for providing a support system, or should the boys’ family take the initiative to help out too?

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