Monday, August 18, 2014

Do we need to have it all?

Source: www.petitapou.com

“Women can’t have it all” said Indra Nooyi and created a rage over the Internet. Both Facebook and Twitter couldn't get enough of it and readers had had enough. Was she right in what she said? Did she make the ever evasive ‘perfect’ sense? Was it time to place her on a pedestal and worship her every morning? Did her interview deserve the kind of attention it received? Was her article such a game changer that it could lead to a sudden wave of the phrase “Can’t women really have it all?”   

“As if we men have it all?” lamented many men. Life doesn't always treat them with a chocolate lasagna or throw petals at their feet, they said. They have it bad too, being stereotyped as the bread winners of the family, being looked down upon if they chose to quit their jobs while their spouses baked the bread and earned it too. Nobody cares for their frustrations, and that frustrates them all the more.

And so the battle ensued, through heated arguments on Facebook threads, re-tweets on Twitter or just seething within.

After all it was a successful CEO being bluntly straightforward about her own views. Maybe it could have been THE article of the year?

I don’t know and here’s the thing, I don’t care.

While we can crib and lament as much as we like about how unfair life is with us, there is a simple fact that we tend to ignore. We had something on hand that decided what we are today. That tiny thing which showed up both sides of the coin, giving us an almost clear picture of what the grass looked like on either side. And we decided to do one thing over the other, simply because of that thing we had in hand, that thing we call CHOICE.

Yes, we had the choice between a domestic life or a career. To decide if we wanted to go the entrepreneurial way, be a freelancer or work for a large organization. Whether we wanted to take on challenging roles that demanded long working hours or settle for a 9-5 job which did not necessarily give growth or visibility. To agree on which spouse should work from home or quit their job to maintain that much coveted balance. To choose to get married or not to, to wear a bindi and jingle the bangles or smoke and resort to a drink. Whatever it is that we did and still do, whatever it is that makes us crib and go cranky over – we had a choice NOT to do it.

No doubt, circumstance is the biggest factor that drives the choices we make. We take the decision to do something only after weighing the circumstances and deciding what is right and what is not – for us. So, if we need to compromise our career for our personal life or vice versa, who is responsible for it if not us? If we have to bear the taunts of family and society for a decision we have taken, who is accountable if not us? If our choices hurt another, who is answerable if not us?

Once we make our choices, they are carved in stone and we are well aware of that. We take those decisions for a reason, doesn't that weigh over everything else?- esp. friends, family and society? If they did not feature while making the choice, why do we let them affect us later on?

Why do we begin to blame our choices and wonder if we cannot have it all?

Wanting to have it all, is a human desire which will never fade away. That is how we have been designed because only then will we strive to perfect the world we live in. And the tool that has been bestowed upon us to get there is Choice.

It is nature’s law that circumstances and needs/wants form a see-saw, one that we have to more often than not choose between, and rarely do we find it in balance. And we make that choice based on what is best for us in that situation. But once we move on into another, we tend to forget that choice we made and it sets us off on an emotion upheaval with only one question on mind “Can’t I have it all?”

No we can’t have it all. Even when we think we have everything we could wish for, there will always be something that we wish we could have had. Not because life is unfair or because it favours one gender over the other or lets society take its place but because that is a law of nature without which we would lose value for what we already have in our lives.

So when the Pepsi CEO says she can’t have it all it is because she valued her career over everything else. When the sole ‘bread winner’ frustrated at work says he can’t have it all it is because he chose to be the financial backbone of his family. When a woman is upset about deciding between choosing time with her children and a challenging role at work, it is because she does not know what she values more. When a girl gets irritated by the questions thrown at her westernized attires or single status it is because she gives more importance to the interference in her life rather than the choice she made.


It is never about what we can or cannot have, it is always about the choices we make and how much we allow the path not taken to affect us. 

48 comments:

  1. This was a great read, Seeta. We have to stop cribbing and accept the consequences of our choices and decisions, whatever they are. Some will be good and some will not be so good, but that's life. We really can't have it all. Except that if we begin to redefine for ourselves this word "all" - we may find that we indeed do have it all! It is just that we can't see it because of our being blinded by a vision of 'all' that is only true in TV advertisements. Incidentally, I didn't read Nooyi's article or followed any of the debate anywhere, but your writeup here gives me a good sense of what the whole thing must have been!

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    1. Loved the way you put it Beloo.. defining what 'All' means for us.. and that indeed would be the way to define happiness.. thanks so much for stopping by, your views always give me a new insight into things..

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  2. That was a brilliant piece of writing Seeta. Such profound thoughts expressed with clarity. Kudos to you for writing this.
    'If they did not feature while making the choice, why do we let them affect us later on?'
    This was my favorite line and is so so true.
    But humans that we are, we can never be 100% unaffected by people around. We may manage it most of the time but not always. Once in a while, it gets on our nerves when people disapprove of our choices.
    I read the article from the link you have given. My heart somehow went out to her when she talks about the incident where she eagerly comes home to announce her appointment on the board of directors only to be ruthlessly sent out to do 'her role'.
    Many times women are much more chauvinistic than men themselves.
    This post and article have triggered a train of thoughts in my mind. Hope to pen it down soon. Again, applause for this thought provoking post.

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    1. I agree, as humans we do get affected by what others think or say but I think the solution is in trying our level best to not let it affect us as much.. to keep telling ourselves that we made the choice.

      While I agree that noone should be stereotyped into a role and women can sometimes behave more chauvinistic.. keeping aside the fact that anyone can go and buy bread, I dont think her mother was wrong in telling her that she is not the CEO at home.. it holds true for all of us, if we carry our roles back into our house we will never be happy in our personal lives, we will never be able to do justice to the other roles we play such as that of a wife/husband or a parent... let me know what you think about that .

      Glad this post made you think of penning down some of your thoughts.. that always makes me feel good. Awaiting your post now :)

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    2. Oh yes Seeta. We should never carry our official roles or woes home. You are completely right in saying that.
      But what made me sad was the fact that her moment of Joy was killed by the expectations her own mom had because of the fact that Indra is a woman. And it angered me that the husband can be tired while a woman can be chased away to the grocery store even before she enters the house after a full fledged working day. Would she have snapped at her son that way?
      Cant we all have our triumphs in the extra bit that we choose to do outside the laid down cast? Will the same world not celebrate and create a huge fuss if the husband takes care of the kids for a day? That is also outside the cast meant for him. But while he is celebrated and complimented for taking care of his own kids(which ought to be his duty anyways), a woman is never appreciated for her successes outside of her typical role. Even there, it is the husband who is appreciated for 'allowing her' to do what she wants to.
      Sigh! This is what makes me angry and sad.
      Even in the choices that women make, they have to bear a lot more of taunting and harassment from society and family alike unlike the man whose every initiative will be supported unconditionally in most cases. So, even in making our choices, difficulties and unfairness are hurled more at a woman than a man. Is that not simply because of the deep rooted gender bias in our society?
      I guess I have already written the post :) Sorry to encroach your comments section for that :)

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    3. Haha..not at all, loving the views that are flowing in :) Agree with what you have to say.. but you know what.. if men choose to stay at home and take care of the kids, its looked down upon in our country.. I know people who go through it everyday... its sad but I guess these mindsets are deeply entrenched in our society..

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  3. Well said Seeta ! True life is about choices but choices can be limited if circumstances are not conducive. About the interview itself, I think we really can not jump to any conclusions because it is about one person's quest and struggles. Its not a statistical sample which can be extrapolated to fit the entire women population.

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  4. Thanks Asha for your thoughts :) I agree wholeheartedly but here's a thought that comes to mind.... but however limited the circumstances we have, we do make the choice that is best suited within those limitations, my point is that we shouldn't keep cribbing about it later..


    You are right about the article, to each his own.. but when you are a celebrity like personality, many will blindly go by what you say and do...keeping that in mind, I think she could have balanced her views out.. for e.g. the one on going for her daughter's coffee meets, instead of pointing out ten people who dont attend, I thought it would have been more sensible to make her daughter understand the kind of work she does and why she falls short on time, her daughter would have also learnt an important life lesson rather than that of shifting the blame by pointing to examples just like your own...while you and I will not extrapolate, unfortunately many will and I know from interactions that many have :(

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  5. This was brilliant and powerful, Seeta. Agree with you. We may not have it all. But what we have should be what we actually want. Choices are always hard. The trick is to find the balance and doing what makes you happy.

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  6. I agree with Nooyi....nobody can have it all. Making a choice implies choosing something OVER something else. Successful people don't trip and "fall" into success. Their success is an accumulation of the conscious choices they made along the way. People who seek approval from others rather than seeking it within get disheartened when the approval is withdrawn and sabotage themselves by second-guessing.
    All Choices have consequences. And its the consequence part that people don't like. Striking a balance will also have consequences that both careerwise and family life-wise, there's only so far that you can go.

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    1. Making a choice implies choosing something 'over' another... but don't you think we always choose what suits us the best or suits the need/situation the best 'over' what does not?
      My problem is with cribbing about what you have or don't have... we need to learn to take it in our stride.. we made the choice for a reason so we need to adjust to the consequences as well... make the best of what we have rather than keep cribbing about it...

      Loved the fact that this post made you comment here :)

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  7. I applaud your views and the way you presented them. But I tend to agree with Asha. Sometimes the choices we make may not be completely in our hands. You know about family's wishes and keeping people and society happy. And even after one has made a choice, it is no guarantee that you will not have times when you wonder what could have been. Very few can feel completely happy with their life choices at all times. Yes, technically we all want to have it all whatever that all is. While we must strive to make peace with our life choices, It is important to cultivate a respect for the decisions we have taken. It would help, of course, if the decisions were informed choices and not someone else's shoves.

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    1. I think you summarized rather well what I wanted to say in the last but one line of your comment... it is important to cultivate a respect for the decisions we take. We make a choice on our own or we let someone shove it down our throat.. even in the latter case, we make a choice of letting them shove it down... either ways we need to learn to make the best of it...

      About choices not completely being in our hands... frankly I think they always are, just that sometimes we might want one thing but end up choosing another for XYZ reasons... those XYZ reasons must have weighed heavily on us for us to make those calls.. even in those cases, we did what we felt was needed, we need to learn to live with it or make a choice to get out of it..

      Regardless if it was a forced choice or not... it was a choice.. we have to learn to respect it, continuous cribbing that "we dont have it all' will not help resolve the matter, all it will do is make us feel all the more terrible... that is what I don't appreciate... do you think that makes sense?

      Always good to hear your thoughts Rachna... but you already know that :)

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  8. I guess you and Rachna have said what I wanted to say. I wonder why we bring gender into this discussion. Even men can't have it all. And why would anyone want to have it all? Life is not perfect. Acceptance and Choice are the key words. Good one Seeta.

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    1. True.. these things are never gender based but most fail to recognize that. About having it all, I am beginning to think it is just too catchy a phrase nowadays not to use.
      Btw on a completely different note, got my copy of Mango Chutney, will devour your story tonight :)

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  9. but then what is this Having it all :) lets just all get things clear and find out what is this having it all and then decide who has it all and who doesnot ...

    Bikram's

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  10. As you rightly pointed out, choices are most of the times dictated by situations but unfortunately, most of the times those forced choices are unpalatable and so we humans tend to rant :)

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    1. I wish we would learn from our mistakes and make the right choices in future then :)

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  11. We love complaining and whining, don't we. Well, sometimes inspite of having everything designed to suit our life, we crib. yes, you are right when you say that the choice lies in our hands but many times, inspite of the choices we make, we yearn for a middle path somewhere. It so happens that the choice is not ours alone and people have to be involved in them. We can make some choices but if the others don't take to them, exercising the choices can be a bit difficult. For some, there is no choice but to do certain things.

    I am still confused about the 'choices' part. Perhaps, choices are also choices!

    I will have to come back and read your comment to mine.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. I actually do think that choices are also choices.. to your point, I cant help but repeat what Rachna said above about cultivating a respect for your choices/decisions..I understand that sometimes things are not in our hands but even in that situation we 'choose' an option over the other or we 'choose' to live with what we are told.

      The point is that we will never be happy if we keep cribbing and regretting it. Either we learn to respect what we have or we do something to bring about a change.. in other words choose to change the situation we are in... life is too short to keep holding on to regrets, why not make the best of what we have or change it so that we have what think is the best? Either ways it is a choice we need to make :)

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  12. Seeta, I believe that none of us have any choice in any matter whatsoever, and we have no influence in wherever we are now, and whatever has to happen in the future. As human beings, we like to think we have choices and that we are in control of our destinies, all of which leads us to place more stress upon ourselves and not enjoy what has been given to us.

    I think just being thankful for what we have, remembering that we are just a speck of dust in this vast universe and also not forgetting that we are all going to die are important, and till the time we are living we should strive to help our fellow beings. In short, don't worry, be happy, be smiling always and have believe that good things are going to happen to you.

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    1. Now if only all human beings could rise above everything and think the way you did... if you ask me, what you have said is clarity of thought. At the end of the day life is too short to cry over these things, live it to the fullest :)

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  13. Simple thought, very well described:)

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    1. Thanks Shamin..:) Wasn't expecting this piece to attract as much attention, it was mainly my reaction to the way I see people waste their time cribbing about things in their lives..

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  14. Wonderful .. I am awestruck.. Such depth.. Life is nothing but a reflection of our own choices

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    1. I agree, we make the choice based on our free will or forced, even in the case of latter we call it forced, but its just that we prioritize something we didnt want over something we did.. but all put together it reflects who we are as a person

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  15. Very true, Seeta.
    Life is indeed about the choices we make & the decisions we take.
    The roads we choose to travel - they can make the difference between heaven & hell :)
    Thanks!
    Now I have the lines for my next poem :)

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    1. Done! Mentioned your post too :)
      http://anitaexplorer.blogspot.com/2014/08/choose-life-dont-give-up.html

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    2. Oh wow, hopping over now :)

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  16. Very good Seeta.
    Life is always about the choices.
    Life is sum total of thousands of choices we make on daily basis.
    Every action is a choice.
    Well written.:)

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    1. Yes indeed it is.. out of will or not, what we do is a choice. A choice of what we prioritize in our lives- what others have to say or what we want for ourselves..

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  17. I agree.. I don't want to have it all.. what will I work towards if I have everything?
    I agree about choice as well. its my choice - stay at home or work or go para gliding. Its my life and its my choice.
    I wondered back then when there was so much noise going on and I wonder again today - "why would anyone want to have it all?"

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    1. :) I liked what Beloo said above in this context. How do we define all? Maybe that will help get us clarity on what we really want..

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  18. I liked her interview...and I love that lady. I loved this post !!!
    We cannot have it all and wouldnt it be surreal if all the pieces fell right in and the picture was just beautiful? Life doesnt work that way. It is always about a fine balance between what you truly want and what you can play with a little.

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    1. I just wish her interview had been more balanced that's all.. like it or not its not just women who dont have it all. and you put it very well with yout last line, life is a fine balance between what you truly want and what you can play with a little... :)

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  19. Here - I am man who has it all. I have a career (well, almost...or will soon do), have a lovely family, am not the primary breadwinner yet gets all the things that he wants (within limits of course), a stay-at-home dad etc etc ,....I could go on. Why? Because of a choice I made. And making that choice involved looking at all sides of the coin and then making an educated guess. I call it a guess, because unless you are really in it, you don't know what you're signing up for. But just as with everything else, a little bit of research can show you what are the benefits and consequences of that journey you are about to embark on.
    I also agree that a conducive environment is important, but it is not necessary. Look at me - For many, especially in Indian society, I am an anti-man - why? Well, just look at my CV that I laid out for everyone to read. The environment is not conducive, the society isn't, even the family isn't - but yes, my support system, that is my wife, she is; and sometimes thats all you need. And of course some friends. Now, I'm starting to ramble.

    The crux of what I'm trying to say is, as Seeta said, look at what you have and see if you are happy with it. If not, whatever that "it" may be, get out of it and do what you want provided you have a support system in place. We chan CHOOSE to have it all - just depends on what your definition of "IT" is ; Sorry Seeta - I know, I've rambled.

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    1. I actually thought of you when I wrote that its not like Men have it all. and I agree be happy, life is too short for anything else. and if you are not do something about it, just dont waste precious time cribbing...

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  20. Seeta like Pixie said sometimes I wonder why would someone want to have it all. I think it is easier when I have things that I think are important and that is my all. Life is too short to aspire for things you dont really want or need and hanker after things that everyone else consideres important, in fact life is too short to even wonder whether you have it all, when you should be wondering whether you are happy. One should enjoy what you want in life, why care whether that qualifies as all.

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    1. I think its the definition of 'All'.. some just dont get that what they have is actually what they want. I am glad there are people like you who understand that life is too short to waste in this fashion.. appreciate that Jaibala..

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  21. I have normally found that unhappiness, where it is not driven by a lack of things that one has no choice but to need - like food, clothing, shelter, medicare... - is driven more by the choices we refuse to make than by the choices we make. We do not choose to think about whether we REALLY want what we feel deprived of and, ABOVE ALL, we do not exercise the choice of not caring about what people say about our choices.

    My choices have been driven by whether I want something enough to put in the time, money and effort required to get it. If I do not want it enough to pay for it in the manner necessary, i just stop wanting it :) As for what people say, I have learnt two things (a) for everyone who decries your choice there is another who supports it and (b) if you stand by your choice with enough confidence, people are reluctant to oppose it and even feel forced to voice support :)

    The problem with most people is that they surrender their own right to think through their choices and allow Society to make the choices for them. They, then, live a life of futile blaming of the rest of the world for what they feel deprived of.

    Life does enforce some choices on you sometimes - of having to choose between two things that you like. Sometimes, the choice is not always driven by what you want - like say, having to quit a job for family was possibly a choice that normally landed in the woman's lap, since Societal pressures do cause most men to shy away from taking that path even if their own personal convictions are not male chauvinistic. But then, Life is unfair - after all, if you are middle-class, THAT was also a lottery of life and the slum-dweller has reason to decry the unfairness more than you - a fact that you do not give too much time to, since your eyes are lined up on those better off than you. :) The point, still, is not to be blaming the unfairness for, after all there is little to be done but to endure it.

    The problem I have about the "Women cannot have it all" statement is that it does end up sounding as though it is only the women who are being deprived. Life is unfair, period, and does not discriminate between men and women.

    Once before, I have had these things stressed. A Nita Ambani has less reason to decry the unfairness of life than her driver. Make pari passu comparisons and it probably is true that Life is more unfair to women than to men. BUT it is not like ANY woman has it more unfair than ANY man. AND, it makes for a happier life to see how much better it has been to you than to a whole host of people around you. You know - I was blaming God because I had no shoes till I saw a man with no feet, and all that.

    The ideal life is, of course, to not need any comparisons and live your life counting your blessings. :)

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    1. I don't think anybody other than you could have put things in perspective as well as you have. Loved what you had to say here, it is extremely practical and true
      (a) for everyone who decries your choice there is another who supports it and (b) if you stand by your choice with enough confidence, people are reluctant to oppose it and even feel forced to voice support :)

      Finally yes, i think we should aim for that ideal life rather than crib for what is not perfect. Once again I am glad you gave your views, they brought in a lot of clarity at least for me.

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  22. "It is never about what we can or cannot have, it is always about the choices we make and how much we allow the path not taken to affect us. "

    This statement makes perfect sense...I am a working mother of 2, one being just 6 weeks old. When I requested for extension of unpaid leave, my manager was not happy. He suggested making use of 3 months that company give. When I will extend my leave, I am making a choice to be with my newborn son than get a better increment and appraisal for this year and probably even future ones too..But that is a choice we make and I don't think I will regret it.

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    1. Really appreciate your views and wholeheartedly agree with you. I wish a lot more people felt the way you did Elizabeth.

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  23. I think the opening line sums it aptly - "Nobody can have it all" - Men or Women or anyone or anything else. I too though deeply and realized this - life is about prioritizing and making conscious decisions - if you try to have it all, you will end up with nothing. Full agree with your views.

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    1. Yup, nobody can, its about knowing what you really want and not wandering too much over what you dont opt for... thanks Fool :)

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    2. HI Seeta

      I debated for several hours on whether I should comment on this article, because its for the very first time that I disagree with something that you have written so strongly. And I am writing this post not to debate or argue but just to represent a counter point.

      I think your article oversimplifies years of discussions around gender roles and stereotypes. It's very telling that one of the most successful women has to deal with gender based discrimination ( Yes, if your mom is reminding you of certain duties not as a family member but as a female family member, this issue is not about choice but about having limited choice because you are a female). It's not about ones who have it all or ones who dont have it all - it's about the societal pressure and guilt that is put on women ( and NOT MEN) when they actually do go after the goals and actually make the choices that you tak about.

      First let's start with the basic premise of the article . Not everyone has a choice. [kids in gaza dont have a choice, women in today's Iraq dont have a choice, girls that are killed before they get a chance to live dont have a choice]. It's naive to think that everyone has a level playing field.

      In India, it's even more difficult.In an extremely patriarchical society. A lot of people are not aware that they have a choice. Whether its the man who has to support the family or a women who doesnt get to work or women who does get to work but is still expected to fulfill the traditional female roles. I am a hardcore feminist and believe in no defined notions of what men and women should do, and the biggest challenge that I see around me ( even in the same circles as mine) is that people dont know that they have a choice. In some cases, choices come with serious repercussions and stigmas. The way the social structure is defined in India and its so deep rooted that its only for women that the question becomes family vs. career.
      How many men get asked if they can have it all? How many men are asked to comment on being a father and husband? I think they should be asked to? I think something more should be expected of them?
      Also, if you want to be ambitious and want to be super successful ( man or woman), its unlikely that you will have it all. But the big difference is that you will be made to feel the guilt or been made to feel like a bad parent or a partner or a child- only if you are a women. Its not the choice about what women can do. Its about the what they have to suffer because of the choices they made that is unfair.

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