When the clock strikes seven, my mother, with her eyes barely opening, sits up in the bed. Her face reflects the exhaustion that has still not left her body. “Why don’t you sleep for another hour”, I say. But right then my mother quickly gets on her feet as if my words to take a few hours to herself pricked her. She rushes to the kitchen and starts preparing breakfast for everyone. Since that hour, she barely finds any time to lie down and relax throughout the day. She delays her breakfast and medicines and often skips them. She runs up and down the roof even though she is sweating heavily and even panting out of exertion. She also handles her business without asking for a helping hand on the home front.
“Why do you work so much? Why don’t you care about yourself?” I often ask her. But she ignores my question with a look that clearly says that she wears the overwork and exhaustion as a badge of honour.
Overworking and multitasking without expressing a sigh of exhaustion defines a perfect woman in our society. Serving family, especially husband and in-laws, is considered to be a woman’s duty. So women who get to serve their families consider themselves lucky and push themselves to do this righteous task as singlehandedly as possible.
Women overworking themselves: we deserve better
While serving their family might make women happy, how is it right if that duty takes a toll on their well-being? Can any duty or responsibility be greater than a person’s self-respect and good health?
Valuing women just for the work they do (and that too not for themselves but others) reduces them into self-less servants who must offer their services without expecting nothing in return but praise. Maybe, the word ‘servant’ is too harsh to use, but women’s worth in our society is no less than that. All of know women who are experts at multitasking, but not always out of choice. At times, their overworking and multitasking is a result of a lack of options.
For example, during the COVID-19 second wave, one of the deadliest pandemics to date, a picture of a woman working in the kitchen while being on the support of an oxygen cylinder went viral. These days, we often come across pictures of women officials going back to work within a few days of delivering a baby. Some of us might appreciate such women for their dedication to their work- be it at home or outside. But this does not mean that life is supposed to be so hard just because they want to have a career despite being new moms. No one talks about lack of support that working moms have to deal with.
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Women shouldn’t have to choose their duty over life to prove that they are worthy of love, respect and accolades. In fact, women themselves internalise their role as chief sacrifice officers of society. They sacrifice their time, energy and health just to gain the status of being the roots that hold the entire family together.
Overworking has serious consequences on the health of women too. In a bid to toe the line of being the perfect woman, at times women ignore how their exertion is deteriorating their health. They forget to take their medicines on time, they don’t get proper sleep and meal, and they don’t give time to themselves for exercising, meditating or just doing nothing. This ignorance which turns into a fatal habit affects the health of women in different ways. But then ignoring own health issues and worrying about the family is the common trope of defining an achi aurat in our society.
Dear women, why do you need to prove your worth to society? Aren’t you worthy and respectable by the virtue of being a human and citizen of the country?
Moreover, is the prize or the badge of honour great enough to erase the age-old inequality between men and women? Will a woman who sacrifices everything to gain that one badge of pride and respect not be confined, oppressed and shamed? So for what are we women sacrificing so much?
We need to understand that pride is not in exhausting ourselves to the last ounce. Pride is in valuing ourselves and managing our duties simultaneously. It is equally our responsibility to take care of ourselves as much as it is to take care of our duties. What will your duty which you are proud of even mean if you are not well enough to perform it for a longer time? More importantly, society needs to stop fixing unrealistic and sexist standards of defining a perfect woman. A perfect woman is a human who has limitations, who gets tired and who needs rest and care. Once we start reforming who the perfect woman is and making it more inclusive, women won’t have to crawl till the end.
Views expressed are the author’s own.