Nov 30, 2010

Role Playing

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?


D said...

I think there is a slight blurring of issues here . The rightness or wrongness of a mother giving up her aspirations (let's keep it easy and restrict it to the instance of career aspirations for the moment) to bring up her child and the rightness or wrongness of an unimaginative world that supports such restrictions and expects women to oblige with a smile. You know my thoughts on both.

So, I don’t agree with you at all when you write a mother should put her child before her at all times. If you don’t allow yourself to grow and develop as an individual, just imagine the kind of retsricted outlook you'd provide your child with.

ramblings said...

would think..'world is a stage' afterall and we do role play all the time, its the degree or the intensity...that varies, that hurts...roles do make us grow, evolve or mebe wilt and fade too...

not able to deliver much abt the crux of the pblm...but flunking the ph.d, that i can sure empathise, ve flunked in quite a few (life) subjects, and ve felt lost and wretched. loved that take by the way..

stonetemplepilot said...

One falls in love , marries and brings forth a child into this world , mostly or atleast that's the plan . In between these incidents and after too, one tries to find themselves. I have heard of people who have found themselves sitting still. of course that’s an exception and not the norm.
If missing outstation opportunities is a bane for womanhood then a missing parent would be a bane for the child. If 13 hour work shifts is an idea for self assertion of womanhood then a rudderless home is the result. There are exceptions of course but it’s not the norm.
The trick is in striking a fine balance between womanhood, selfhood and motherhood and husbandhood . Lot of hood’s going around in your essay:) and believe me opportunities with best minds in the industry is always overrated!.

suchismita said...

Have not seen the movie, but plan to now. Very thought provoking post.

yadu tekale said...

err, on the one had you say you will sacrifice your career for your child and on the other hand you are saying the world expects you to do so?

you are blaming the world for what you are prepared to do?

drift wood said...

I love your use of 'unimaginative'. To me, that single word explains all. :)Coming to the question of putting ones child before ones aspirations, i think it stems from what i observed as my daughter continued to grow - i had to do it because if i didnt, i realised she'd end up feeling lonely and unwanted. I dont even call it a Catch-22 situation - there is no choice really. You cant let a child feel unloved.

R:I dunno about your life but the poetry you often write, the way you reach out to a stranger over the net and strive to connect, that resonates a far greater success than many would imagine. makes sense?


I dont want to use qualifiers like 'bane' and 'self assertion'. There are pros and cons and we both know it. Yeah, the balance formula sounds right. But that cant and doesn't take away the occasional sadness at the opportunities you let go, no?


Somewhat similar thoughts to the one i echoed to STP above. 'Blame' is too strong a word and I dont think you've got what i was trying to put across. I'm not blaming the world for my choices. I'm resentful that it denies me the choice to occasionally mourn/ regret/ experience sadness when i think of them.


Definitely watch it and do read Yales splendid novel as well.