JUGGLING MULTIPLE ROLES AND INDUCING STRESS: A GENDERED PERSPECTIVE

Associate Professor
Department of English
C.K.B. College, Teok, Jorhat

Words like ‘Multitasker’ and ‘Supermoms’, of late, have gained prominence in our societies. Multitasking implies handling and even juggling different roles: each role invariably accompanied by responsibilities. Traditionally, male and female duties or responsibilities were quite aloof from each other. The major responsibility of women has been perceived to be the maintenance of the family including home and childcare and the main responsibility / role of men was that of a ‘bread-earner’. Women’s achievements are viewed almost exclusively in term of supportive or dependent role such as a home-maker and mother. The role of women in the society is constantly questioned and for centuries women have struggled to find their place in a world that is predominantly male oriented.  Patriarchy still rules the roost.

Apart from class, age, race, religion and ethnicity, gender is an integral dimension of social stratification, putting the female at the level of disadvantage; varying in degree and quantum across time and space within societies. Gender is a social construct. In The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir writes, 'One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.' In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity Judith Butler argue that sex and gender are both culturally constructed. She holds the two as inseparable, and attempts to examine them together. Society defines and develops ideas and characteristics on issues that vary throughout certain time periods and certain cultures. Gender is not the sex of the body, it is how people evaluate, perceive the sex and how they attach meanings and expectations on it. Women have always been over shadowed by men who are the ‘dominant sex’ (male). Women are the “Weaker Sex” (female). Woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave; the two sexes have never shared the world in equality. And even today a woman is heavily handicapped.  Almost nowhere is her legal status the same as men, and frequently it is much to her disadvantage. Even when her rights are legally recognized in the abstract, long-standing custom prevents their full expression in the mores.

At present, the scenario has changed. The situation has catapulted. A paradigm shift in the lifestyle of Indian women is easily visible as they have shifted from a homemaker to a different level of professional activities. Urbanization, industrialization, globalization, better educational opportunities and consequent exposure to western ideals and norms, women’s movement for equal rights and status, a necessity for the women to work for various reasons such as need for extra income, maintaining a standard lifestyle, etc. have been major factors in changing the concept of roles, responsibilities or duties of women. The family invasion by television, internet, mobile phone, video culture and growing consumerism has further helped the process of value transformation. Women today are managing or balancing home and work even after venturing into male bastions, previously unheard of; to satisfy their inner urge of creativity and prove their capabilities with  the required integrity and devotion. Over last decade or so, women have broken glass ceilings in all corporate and business sectors.

But......all this has come with a price, a price too high to bear. Juggling work and home responsibilities has never been easy. As more and more women are entering the workforce and pursuing careers, the clearly defined gender roles were forced to change (Sevim, 2006). And change it did, but brought along with it concepts like STRESS, STRESS and STRAIN, DEPRESSION; long considered alien to Indian lifestyle. These concepts now take a toll on our well-being and have become a major health problem / hazard. Stress is a natural phenomenon which cannot be escaped during our lifetimes. It is generally an emotional imbalance which may be due to several reasons. Stress can affect anyone—kids, teenagers, adults and the elderly. At one point or the other, everybody goes through stress—be it relationship demands, work, household chores, children’s school, education, financial situations, etc. However, the level of stress could vary from very intense to minimal. Regardless of the level, stress has an effect on a person’s physical and emotional well- being.  Stress affects us, as well as people, with whom we live, work, and interact on a daily basis. The physical environmental and social causes of the stress state are termed as stressors. Juggling job pressures, family schedules, money issues, career and educational advancement and child and elder-care concerns are only a few of the common stressors confronting women.  In reality, life and work over-lap and interact and facilitate stress. Stress related problem reduces productivity and morale.

The concept of ‘Stress’ was first introduced in the life sciences by Selye Hans in 1936. It was derived from the Latin word ‘stringere’; it meant the experience of physical hardship, starvation, torture and pain. Stress is a process in which environmental events pose a challenge to our handling and executing the tasks at hand. Stress at work is a relatively new phenomenon of modern lifestyles. The nature of work has gone through drastic changes over the last century and it is still changing at whirlwind speed. ‘Stress occurs when perceived pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope’ (Palmer 2005:2). Stress is no longer just a ‘silent’ issue, but is now widely regarded as a modern problem. Some even go as far as to call it a ‘modern disease’. (Matejek, 2014)
Balancing work and family roles has become a key personal and family issue for women. Work-life balance is a state of balance in which the demand of both professional and personal life ought to be equal. Balancing the personal and the professional is a challenging and daunting task, for the working women it is indeed a ‘herculean’ feat. Each role having different sets of demands sometimes overlap, multiple problems are faced and it creates a lot of stress. Work-life conflict occurs when the demands imposed by our many roles become incompatible with one another; participation in one role is made increasingly difficult by participation in another. Exhaustion, sleep-deprivation, anxiety and depression, forgetfulness, headaches, lack of energy, short temper become a part of daily life which  tax human body and mind, ultimately leading to an overall impact on our health. Stress disturbs the equilibrium of the body. It affects physically, emotionally, and mentally.

In today’s tough economic climate, working is now a necessity for most mothers. The bulk of families can no longer afford to live on one wage. Migrations to metropolitan cities and towns have its own share of woes. The effects of being an employee, a wife, and a care-giver, more so, in nuclear families trigger stress and psychological pressures in a working woman. So, women are subject to a greater stress as they juggle with the demands of home and workplace and very often these cause conflict. Stress is hence, the emotional and physical strain caused as a result of our response to what happens around us. The most frequently reported source of stress for working mothers was not having enough time to do everything. ‘Time’ to spend with their spouse, children, parents, or friends; time alone for important activities for personal or professional development; and time to do the necessary things around the house such as cooking and cleaning, or leisure to indulge in the so-called ‘space’ of her own left her constantly stressed. Once she enters the threshold of her house, whatever be her rank and status at the professional front she remains the primary caretaker and housekeeper of a family.  The unsaid rules and the conventional views of our society which lay the onus to bring up a child mostly on woman’s shoulder, if not carried out properly, makes her guilty. On the other hand, stay-at-home mothers too feel stressed, isolated, disorganized and many feel they have lost their identity. They feel that they are meeting everyone's needs but their own. With grown-up children today having access to the electronic gadgets and asserting their independence; husbands busy with their careers, meeting deadlines, scaling ladders and ‘achieving targets’, they are left to fend for  themselves. This often brings a sense of boredom and lack of satisfaction. All too rarely do they receive the kind of validation and support they deserve.

The role of gender in ‘Stress’ can be overcome by suitable planning, good time management and systematic way of working, not overlooking the fact that “supermom” images are unrealistic and impossible to live up to. Social support has been seen as one of the largest predictors toward a reduction in burnout and stress for workers. This may negate some of the severe effects of stress. Sharing the responsibilities of household activities by husband and family members and the improvement of the environmental condition of home and workplace go a long way in easing stress-related issues and conflicts. Stress-induced marital friction and family tension create social and psychological problems. As stated earlier, working women suffer from guilty conscience of balancing and managing both home and hearth or organizational and familial roles. It is here that they should develop positive attitude towards responsibilities of work and home and accept that so whatever way they choose, if their responsibilities towards their work are met and the children feel loved, blessed and wanted, then they ought to consider they both a successful mother and a working woman.  As the saying goes by Thomas Jefferson, “Nothing gives one person much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”   

References
  • N. Andal. Women and Indian Society: Options and Constraints, New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2002.
  • J. Butler. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • L. Dube. Anthropological explorations in gender: Intersecting fields, New Delhi: Sage Publications Pvt. Limited, 2001. 
  • N. Gupta and G.D. Jenkins. “Dual-career couples: Stress, stressors, strain, and strategies,” in Human Stress and Cognition in Organizations: An Integrated Perspective, T.A. Beehr and R.S. Bhagat,Ed. New York: Wiley Interscience, 1985.
  • A.Mann and R. Phukan.The motivational aspects of women entrepreneurs in India, New Delhi: Himalaya Publishing House, 1998.
  • W. Matejek. Don't Stress – Relax.United Kingdom, 2014.
  • S. Palmer, C Cooper, and K. Thomas. Creating a balance: Managing Stress, The British London: Library, London, 2003.
  • U.Pareek. Role Stress Scale: Manual, Ahmedabad: Navin Publications Ltd, 1983.
  • D.M. Pestonjee. Stress and Coping: The Indian Experiences, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992.
  • S.P. Robbins, T.A. Judge and S. Sanghi. ‘Organizational Behavior’, 13th Edition, New Delhi: Pearson Education,  2009.
  • H. Selye.  The Stress of Life, New York: Mc. Graw – Hill, 1956.
  • S.A. Sevim, S.A. Religious tendency and gender roles: Predictors of the attitudes toward women’s work roles, Soc. Behav. Personal, 2006.
  • A. Sharma. Women in Indian Religions, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • C. Spielberger. Understanding Stress and Anxiety, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1979.

Web Sources
http://www.lifepositive.com/mind/psychology/stress/stress-at-work.asp.
http://www.journals.foundationspeak.com/index.php/ijsar/article/view/88


About the Author: The Author (Yasmin Khan) is serving as Associate Professor, Department of English, Chandra Kamal Bezbaruah College, Teok (Jorhat), Assam, India and acted as Head of the English Department of the college. The author is also actively associated with Women organizations. He has published many worth readable articles in many edited books, magazines, journals etc. He also participated in national/ international seminars, symposiums, workshops, conferences etc. besides associating with many scientific professional bodies...[Read more]


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