The Progressive Couple

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Yesterday I finally watched Ki and Ka, a refreshingly different Bollywood movie throwing a new light on the roles of men and women in a relationship. (Spoiler Alert!) Basically, Kabir (the guy) does not want to hear about the corporate rat race and dreams of becoming a house husband. He comes to a deal for a different kind of marriage with Kia (the girl), an ambitious workaholic, who would be responsible for providing for the financial needs of the family. It got me thinking of the different roles society and ages of civilization impose on men and women and how ready we all are to accept that things have changed… for BOTH men and women.

Family is the basis of the the social fabric. In my opinion, monogamy was favoured over any other forms of union because it was more easily controllable by the rulers, and it somehow prevented the spread of sexually transmittable diseases. Anyway, in the traditional family model, the man was the breadwinner and the woman was the childrearer. That made sense, because masculinity is associated to physical strength and most manual jobs required that very quality. Feminity on the other hand, equally important, was associated with the passing on of values. However, post industrial revolution, most manual jobs became redundant and now in 2016, even if the fight for gender equality is still real, it can easily be concluded that most jobs can be handled by both men and women. I’m all for virility, but the range of uses for man’s physical strength has become more and more limited, especially in the jobs market. We are living in an era where the gap between the earnings of men and women is becoming narrower and narrower.

So what of the couple of 2016 then? A deeply confused generation trying to make sense of the meaning of “family” from what they feel, from the reality of things, from the role models set by their parents. In Mauritius, in the previous generation, it seems that the gender roles were much more well defined than it is in the current generation. Mothers, even working ones, were primarily responsible for the home, and men were responsible for the finances. With divorce rates skyrocketing in Mauritius, I think the evolving roles of men and women in a relationship warrant some more analysis.

The Progressive Fam

I will talk about Fam (“Woman” in Mauritian creole) first obviously because I am a Fam. We have been raised by a generation of hard working parents who put a lot of emphasis on education. After academic education came professional education, and once you start earning, it is hard to imagine life without the comfort of a paycheck at the end of the month. I once met an ex colleague who, when I asked her about work, nonchalantly told me that she got married to a businessman and does not need to work anymore. My first reaction (which I did not voice out, of course) was: Lazy bitch! Relying on the generosity of your husband to get that new shiny pair of heels just does not seem right. Or doesn’t it? Maybe “Lucky bitch” would be more appropriate… Anyway, in my opinion, most women would rather work and feel better being financially independent. However, many would not mind quitting their highly stressful jobs for one with better hours, albeit less pay, to spend more time with their families.

I don’t know if it’s the media, the sound of biological clocks ticking, or pressure from the family, but the priority of most women seems to be “settling down”. Fall in love, get married, have kids, establish their very own social cell. Which they feel they are somewhat well equipped into doing, what with all the education, financial independence and all the self-help advice from the internet… WRONG! You can never be really prepared for the chaos of married life – juggling with work, managing a household, bonding with two sets of families, handling pressure for making babies, keeping fit, making sure there is a healthy yet tasty dinner on the table every night! Wow! Our mothers made it all seem so effortless…

What if the Progressive Fam needs a little help from her husband? The illusory 50/50 relationship – is that a myth? If you contribute 50% financially in a household, can you expect that the other partner contribute 50% in household work?

Now, if the woman is really progressive, it is only fair to say that she cannot put extreme expectations on the guy. Traditional education and net-worth xrays before choosing the right partner – are these thingsĀ  really indicative of whether a couple will last or not? I don’t think so. If you are choosing a partner earning much more than you do, then can you expect him to contribute 50% in household work?

You cannot have it all in a relationship. Most women really have to choose between prioritizing their family lives over their careers. It’s a choice, and often a difficult one. And most of the time, this choice has to be made by women, and not by men…

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The Progressive Zom

Now for the Progressive Zom (“Man” in Mauritian Creole). Apologies, for I might be biased on this. I will try to be as objective as possible. Mauritian men have been raised by mothers who have treated them like little princes. Their priority was to love and provide for their sons – that often involved cooking, laundry, cleaning and everything else to make their children’s lives comfortable. They watched their mothers do this, while their dads supported the family financially, and came back home tired, rightfully demanding a hot home-made meal.

The Progressive Zom is now married to his girlfriend of a couple of years. They met at work, sparks flew, they dated, shared dreams and aspirations, all the boxes were ticked, and they got married. They moved into a brand new place which they lovingly decorated together. A few months passed. He realised that the house was never as clean as his mom’s house. The meals cooked were not as varied or tasty. His wife often came home late too tired to cook. He was also tired, and he had no idea how to cook. Now the macho man would never accept this. He would expect the impossible from his wife. And that would be the start of the end of it.

The Progressive Zom would however react differently. He would come to the conclusion that his preconceived notions of how married life should be, or what his wife is supposed to do were perhaps outdated. Because he is progressive, he will try to understand and help as much as possible. There is nothing emasculating in contributing to household work.

The Progressive Couple

All in all, both men and women have to be progressive, reject traditional notions and embrace the new, modern couple. Even if a 50/50 relationship, though desirable, is perhaps not very realistic, love, understanding, and compassion is essential to make the modern family life work. I don’t believe in defined roles for each one, like in Ki and Ka. Even if the movie makes the idea of a house husband seem extremely appealing. But I do believe that we have to acknowledge changing roles in the couple and accept that moving towards equal financial contribution in a household comes at a price. And it need not be at the detriment of poor housekeeping and neglected kids if both partners agree to share responsibilities…

Faith and Courage

Faith. Courage. These are the two values I choose to stand by in these times of darkness. Faith that things will get better one day. Courage to weather the storms till they do… Beyond the clouds, I see a glimpse of something sweet, something I maybe need, something that will be good for me: f.r.e.e.d.o.m. …

Freedom

What Next?


Contemplation

I just turned 30, completed the first year of my part time Masters, have a “good” job, am happily married and … just can’t make up my mind on what to do next. And this inability to make up my mind, while my biological clock is ticking, just drives me nuts.

Any sane person would think I’m plain crazy, and maybe I am. Or maybe this is just the product of a life driven by goals after goals. When the goal is not clear anymore, nothing makes sense. School was for good grades to get into a good university, university was to get a good job, and now what is a good job for? “To be comfortable and content for the rest of my life” would be a sensible answer. I guess… Maybe it is “the rest of my life” part that is particularly scary. And the funny thing is, for once, the source of the pressure is not from family or society, but from myself. An unconscious pressure coming from deep down to do… something more with my life…

Having a stable job is a trap in itself. You work hard to achieve it and when you do, it traps you into thinking you cannot survive without the comforts that salary provides you. Will I be able to afford going for my spa days or spending on average Rs500 each time I step into Intermart (which is almost everyday) or indulging in my yearly overseas trips without that salary? Probably not. But it’s not like these are life necessities. Being financially independent is nice, sure. But the price to pay is corporate slavery. One of my colleagues retired this week after 21 years at the company. I looked at her with envy. To retire early is such a sweet, sweet dream. But to do what?

I think I should have a taken a full gap year to devote to discovering myself. To travel. To think and dream and take my time. Of course, I could not afford that, I did not have the money to travel. Or the patience to sit still for a minute. Well, that was then and this is now. I am 30.

And the options are as follows:

  1. have babies (still have to work to feed them),
  2. write a book (if it sells, quit my job),
  3. attempt CFA (least favourite option),
  4. go abroad for further studies (and more importantly a last free ramble in a new country) (if i win the lottery),
  5. find a genius new business idea (if it works, quit my job),
  6. devote my life to charity (still have to work to feed myself),
  7. try to improve my cooking and housekeeping skills (yawn),
  8. travel the world (if i win the lottery).

I sincerely do not know how our parents did it. They say it’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion comes together. The other day I watched a documentary on Daft Punk, how two ordinary guys transformed music from nothing. I want that kind of passion. I doubt whether that’s possible in a finance job. Fulfillment will not come from a 9 to 5 job, that’s as plain as day.

And I hate to settle, so I will keep looking.

Existentialism Blues

What is my purpose in life, and what am I doing here exactly? Jean Paul Sartre, pioneer of existentialism, which I happened to have studied at school, believed in the power of the human being to be and do exactly what he wanted to do, and overcome obstacles by the sheer potential of willpower. According to him, human beings were “condemned to be free”. One of his famous quotes Jamais nous n’avons ete plus libres que sous l’occupation allemande (We have never been freer than under Nazi occupation) is one of my favourites. From my understanding, he means that it is only in the face of adversity that the human being can truly exercise his freedom of will to overcome this adversity, experience the true potential of his choice to act on them, and achieve whatever he sets out to do. This is why I think some people get such a high from activism. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela were all pioneers of existentialism, they believed in something and set out to achieve their ideals. This is what I think epitomises Sartre’s quote.

So, what is my purpose in life, and what am I doing here exactly, and what for? Is it worth it? In earlier times, your craft was determined by birth: if you were royal born, you were born to rule, if you were born a forger’s son, you were born to forge. Then came education, which gradually opened access of practically all crafts to everybody. So how do you choose? Very few of us were born with natural talent, even fewer had the chance to have that talent manifest itself in an obvious way. For example, I am currently listening to Birdy on repeat. That 15 year old something girl was born to sing. Like was Adele. Shakira was born to dance. JK Rowling was born to create an imaginary world. Luc Besson and Spielberg were born to make movies. Steve Jobs was born to create sleek gadgets. I don’t know these people personally obviously, but it seems to me that they knew their calling, sensed it maybe, at an earlier stage, and just sort of followed their instincts. Fate? Luck? Existential freedom? Maybe all three.

So, what about the rest of us normal people? Maybe we love doing something but do not have enough faith in our abilities. Maybe we like the comfort of a secure and more conformist office job. Maybe we are just interested in too many things. Maybe there is no money in what we love doing or maybe we just need money to subsist in this complicated material world. Maybe we just need to strike the balance between making our parents happy, being accepted by society and respected by our peers and buy that shiny car that we always wanted. While at the same time trying our best to keep our sanity at work. And then for most of us we get married and have kids and now it’s just a question of working to pay bills and loans.

Jean Paul Sartre would never have accepted these pathetic excuses. I guess it’s a good thing that he is dead and buried then. He never married, had a funny left eye, and never looked happy, but still, was one of the greatest philosophers of his time. Indeed, what could be more inspiring and hopeful than the possibility of the infinite power of the human mind?…