There is a scene in the film ‘Revolutionary Road’ where Kate Winslett & Leonardo Di Caprio are arguing over her wish to abort their third child. This is an unwanted pregnancy they are discussing and the decision to go ahead with the child will severely hamper their future plans of relocating to Europe. The story and their marriage hinge on this move, but that’s unimportant here. In a desperate bid to make her husband understand the reasons behind her decision, she bursts out, “But I have had two children. Doesn’t that count in my favour?” You are filled with an immediate distaste when you hear a mother thinking thus; as expected her husband looks at her in disbelief. Then the accusations follow.
You follow the trajectory of this neurotic woman’s character, you sense the tragedy ready to implode within her and you fine-tune your senses to hear what she is really trying to say beyond the ‘doesn’t-that-count-in-my-favour’ question.
What this woman is actually trying to do is something very simple – she is beseeching, even begging, for understanding, for empathy, from a world which has cast her in a role she is not fully willing or happy to play. She is ok with that role, she has played it for several years, but there are other roles she wants to explore. What is notable about this scene is the look of sheer despair she wears because not even the person she loves and connects with most is able to understand or accept her as she is. If that isn’t defeating, I dunno what is.
This isn’t really a feminist rant about a woman’s need to determine her own selfhood. Much has been written about all this and my writing a few feeble lines will not change anyone’s perspective. What is perhaps more imp is how intolerant, how unforgiving, we are of those who don’t confirm to the stereotypes we bear in mind. Time and time again, we exact a price for their non-conformity even when we think we don’t.
A lot of the times I write a post, I wonder how D would react were she to ever read it. I don’t know if she ever will. What I do know is, I’d like her to know and love her mother as she was. After all she is my flesh and blood, not one of the 250 friends people have on their FB lists.
I have some strict notions about motherhood, as opposed to parenthood. Parenting is a dual function, mothering is not. For me, motherhood is about putting your child ahead of your needs. Period. How many times you do this in a lifetime is immaterial. It is about taking a backseat, giving up things, so that your child can run. Once or twice, you follow your dreams; mostly you give them up. So, you say no to outstation deputations because your child is young, you refuse prestigious offers of heading departments because it will entail 13-hr workdays, you shake your head to opportunities to work with the best minds in the industry because the father is travelling and you're required at home. Thus the years fly by.
But if such giving up implies doing it with a grin and a sunny demeanour, I’ll be damned. You cannot sit back and watch opportunities fly by and turn around to admire how wonderful your child is doing at swimming. No, you can’t. And the truth is, there is nothing wrong or bloody criminal about occasionally feeling sad or disappointed. What is galling is when the world expects you to give up things and accept it with equanimity simply because you were born with a uterus. Is motherhood or womanhood a Phd course where you are tutored to annihilate your ego and selfhood to the extent that you function in society solely as the roles you can play as a mother or wife? If so, what of those women who flunk the Phd programme? What becomes of these perennial outsiders? Is there any hope of redemption or empathy for them?