I am wary of hanging out in high estrogen networks, especially those predominated by women chiefly talking about motherhood. Because when I do, I am usually close to busting a capillary somewhere (usually my head). One thing that always gets my goat is gratitude. To their husbands. The fathers of their children. For just showing up occasionally.
I met a friend after a decade (during which she had got married and produced a child) and five minutes into the conversation, she explained how she could be out on a Sunday, because her husband “does everything for the kid” once a week.
Another friend, recently separated, shared that her (ex) husband “looks after” their child thrice a week and “manages everything”. In her voice I sensed an irony in the fact that the separation actually taught him a few things about fatherhood.
I have friends who hand their husbands the hands-on tag with such generosity, even for something as miniscule as changing one diaper a day or giving the baby a burp a day for a fleeting three weeks. Or being able to order takeaway dinner.
May be times have regressed. Or perhaps my parents were really ahead of their time without even knowing it. Because I never saw gratitude in my mother for my father when it came to childcare. I don’t think it struck my father to even expect it. Things got done, and it didn’t matter which gender did it.
So I don’t see why men get points just for showing up. And why women glorify their existence for the rest of their life by reminding themselves that they have the “biggest job in the whole world”.
First, it’s not a job, because in a job, you get paid, there are perks, and if you do well, you get promoted. It is at best, the biggest voluntary service program. And which is why men don’t apply for the job, because they know it doesn’t do anything for their résumé. And women spend the rest of their lives in angst, clutching their babies like they were their consolation prize.
It was bad timing that in the same week, I was asked by a newspaper to give my two bits on Kate’s post baby body. The sad thing is, women measure their birth victories by how soon they are able to get back into their old clothes or do what they used to do before they were pregnant (which could include smoking, drinking, clubbing till 4 a.m., or just going for a run on the beach, getting into their favorite bikini, whatever). They also measure it by how soon they can be ‘seen’ out there post birth. Technically, these benchmarks have been set by women for other women, which is a bit messed up, because we are trained to embrace the sisterhood and all that.
But the longer a woman takes to come out ‘in the open’, the faster she gets labeled a loser. Any woman will feel more jubilant if she shows no outward signs of having produced a child – protruding belly, dark circles, fat arms, sagging breasts. Or someone tells her, ‘Gosh, you look just the same as before!’ If she looks better than fellow singletons, great! If she can still score, even better! Every woman is measured by her ability to get ‘up and about’ in record time. I had so much to say about this that it took up a few chapters in my book.
I still can’t get over the brutal dissection of Aishwarya Rai’s post baby body, and now, Kate Middleton for the second time. And it seems most of the world doesn’t know that the tummy doesn’t shrink back like a spring post childbirth and was amused to spot a bump on Kate, as she came out, otherwise flawless, immaculate hair and makeup, waving breezily at the world, 12 hours post birth.
It was even worse that in the same week, there was much media (read twitter) attention to dad bods. Ridiculous as it might sound, it’s a trend worldwide which celebrates ‘flabby dad bods’ while women with ‘mom bods’ are pressured to maintain flawless physiques.So yes, the poor fathers’ lives have already been affected so much since childbirth, all they needed to assuage their grief was for us to be kinder to their bods (read junk food and beer bellies) post baby. So now, I’m supposed to look at Prince William and Abhishek Bachchan’s bodies with new eyes? And applaud Aishwarya for finally getting Vogue-cover-worthy? This is beyond pathetic.
What’s most ironic about this so-called “dad bod” is that his flabby trunk is further embellishment to his fatherhood resume. A man who can boast a “dad bod” is a man who doesn’t waste time on such frivolous matters such as working out every night. Of course not, he’s too busy being a provider and taking care of his family, and managing everything worldly and wise, thanks very much.
In the meantime, women all over the world are protesting the “Dad bod” phenomenon, hoping that it will open the doors for “Mom bods” in the same way. It won’t. Because mothers never get points just for showing up. And “Mom bods” will always be viewed as something in transition, a work in progress, a person waiting to redeem herself.
(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 18th May, 2015)