So today, I’m thinking about the value of taking a break and urging you to stop. If not this week, then sometime during the summer months, whether you have a staycation or go to an exotic location, or get no vacation at all in the traditional sense, please STOP for a while. And trust me, I am writing this as much for me as for you, because stopping is really hard for me.
This guest post is by Debjani Chakaravarty, a PhD in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Arizona State Debjani ChakravartyUniversity who worked as a journalist and a social worker in India. Her global approach to this much discussed topic of work life balance starts today and will continue through the week. Please ask your questions, tell your stories, and leave your comments for Debjani in the comments section below.
Here is Cosmo’s sagacious take on the issue: “When you have a million balls in the air— job, gym, boyfriend—life becomes a blur. You’re so busy struggling just to get through the week; you lose sight of what’s really important to you”—this particular notion of work life balance has generated a million self discovery quizzes and “work-life balance calculators”, been the subject of many self improvement books and is almost always directed to women, and working mothers.
From the popular framing of this issue, it does seem that it is only women that must achieve this fine balance, women with jobs, access to formal workout spaces and with a man and/or children in their lives.
Let us, for the moment consider the question of women’s work life balance, which is a significant discourse is women’s biopsychosocial health. The Handbook of Girls’ and Women’s Psychological Health (2006) names the stress of balancing the work inside and outside the home as a major trigger for depression in working mothers. The advent of capitalism, industrial and scientific revolution and the spread of globalization in the last hundred years have placed women’s labor outside the home, in a more definite, visible, entrenched manner. The idea of prioritizing and achieving a balance between multiple role sets can be harrowing. Gendered asymmetries at work (more unpaid work at home and similar paid work in the economy with lesser reward) increase women’s stress and constitute a form of invisible oppression.
Such stress can always be written off as chosen. Because women “choose” to work and/or “choose to have a happy family life”, because they want to “have it all”, they are expected to deal with the attendant stress. That is where the discourse of self improvement comes in. Just as a woman chooses to play multiple roles, she can choose to balance, to prioritize, to compromise. The issue of work life balance is feminized and the state and society’s roles to support working women are often conveniently glossed over.