Normalizing Maternal Stoicism at the Workplace: Understanding Indian Mothers at Work.

AuthorVarma, Aparna M.


The gender roles of the society provide clear distinctions on the spheres occupied by men and women. While the male role is that of the worker and breadwinner occupying the public spheres of work, politics and culture, the females occupy the private spaces of households with their roles being confined to that of the carer-nurturer. Paid work has become more of a choice-rhetoric for Indian women over the years. As the new understanding of 'empowerment' there is a trend that has emerged in the last decade, of slightest reductions in the still hugely existing gender gaps in the labor force of the country. 73% per cent of the new mothers are seen to leave their jobs and another 50% around the age of 30 to take care of children. Only 27% of the women who leave the jobs at the advent of motherhood are seen to return to work, of which a further less 16% achieve a top-level leadership position in the organizations (GCWL, 2018). These statistics portray the plight of working mothers as they struggle to cope and identify with the demands of the workplace and their homes. Our study intends to explore the formation of these 'identities' which play a vital role in the day-to-day struggles of these working mothers.

Motherhood is often considered as a significant barrier to a working woman's career. Society places its stigmas around working mothers who time and again face the backlash for making their career choices. For women, motherhood becomes choice rhetoric beyond a particular stage in their lives. Reinforcing mechanisms include creating the urge or instincts in women, through their younger days, through the process of socialization, by frequently depicting motherhood as the epitome of womanhood, labelling motherhood as a phase which completes womanhood and by social backlashing for choosing anything beyond their biological functions of reproducing. It is only in the recent past that, due to improvements in higher education and rise in the number of nuclear families and urban households that women have found themselves moving outside their homes to engage in paid work. However, what has not changed is the fact that women work double shifts, the second at home after their hours at workplaces to carry out the duties of homemakers. Working mothers have thus become an interestingly paradoxical population to study.

Mothers often engage in the process of 'sensemaking' concerning the various roles that they play. There is a constant role conflict that these mothers go through while they make sense of their newly formed identities, juggling the demands of the work and family. While the sensemaking process assists them in the formation of their self-perceptions, role conflicts often tend to worsen it. While their self-perceptions are often formed by a strict sense of responsibility for the family as well as work, these role conflicts often result in the loss of self-efficacy and burn them out. Gatrell (2014) also found that working mothers employ various coping mechanisms in order to keep up with the backlashing, as practiced by society for choosing their careers after motherhood.

This paper attempts to understand the maternal tensions of negotiating the borders between private and public worlds of reproduction and work. The identity salience and role behaviors of these working women in their journey to motherhood and how the organizational glass ceilings and maternal walls and the societal mother blaming affect the 'sensemaking' process of the new mothers, is to be assessed. It is also observed in the paper as to how stoicism employed by working mothers, as a prevalent mode of reducing dissonance between workplace and private spheres, succeed and whether maternal stoicism impacts the new mothers' self-efficacy levels and identity formation.

Literature Review

Primarily, the very identity of a mother is created by her offspring. The traditional mothering ideology is most often based on the expectations of a stayat-home mother, which also deems the mothers who do not meet the dominant cultural expectations of a 'good mother', as a failure. The logic of the marketplace or the demands of the workplace is continuously at odds with that of intensive mothering (the child-centered mothering), which requires the omnipresence of accessibility of the mother at all times (Millward, 2006).

The tendency to characterize women's work as second-class ironically strengthened the male breadwinner by depriving them of any possible status as affluent workers in their own right (Wilson, 2006). Studies over the years have spoken vividly about motherhood being a significant reason for the career burnouts in women (Juliette, Doris & Carter, 2013). However, the scenarios have been quite dynamic in the modern societies, with a significant number of women choosing a re-entry at work after childbirth, questioning their changed identities and a notion of what is considered 'ideal'. Motherhood is a term that is long associated with the concept of ideal, primarily because the society endows the nurturing and upbringing of the child as a little more of a mother's responsibility than the fathers (Kanji & Cahusac, 2015). Nevertheless, studies on intensive mothering call it an emotionally absorbing, labor intensive and financially expensive ideology in which mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture and development of the sacred child and in which children's needs take precedence over the individual needs of their mothers (Johnston & Swanson, 2006).

'Implicit organizational rules concerning the presentation of the body' often become troublesome for women (Wolkowitz, 2006), even without the added complication of maternity. Working women engage in 'complex forms of bodywork' (Gatrell, 2014), molding their bodies to try and fit into the 'prevailing masculine' cultures (Hopfl& Atkinson, 2000; Haynes, 2011). Rightly so, these women find themselves under conflicting pressures as they struggle to live up to the demands of masculine organizational cultures while also not entirely letting go of the 'expected traits of a feminine persona' (Shilling, 2008). Additionally, as women strive to be identified with the 'symbolic order of professionalism' (Haynes, 2011), they feel under pressure to present bodies which appear 'controlled, self-contained and slender' (Haynes, 2011). Such outward 'control of the body' symbolize a form of self-regulation which is 'central to the embodiment of the professional' (Haynes, 2011; Warren & Brewis, 2004). We intend to explore this aspect, which is...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT