I refuse to be boxed into gender roles; to let anyone tell me that I can’t be successful.
The first time I told my father I wanted to get married, there was immediate rejection. He was angry and disappointed. The feeling of hopelessness glared so evidently on his face that I felt guilty of bringing it up. He wanted me to prioritise my education and career. He wanted me to be independent before stepping into a marriage. He had repeatedly told me how important it was for me to have an identity of my own — one that was not limited to being only a daughter, wife or mother. I remember him telling me that I must not see the world from the perspective of a man, but from my own perspective which will only develop once I venture out into the world. At that time, I didn’t understand why my father thought marriage will withhold me from all of this. Years later, I’ve come to understand that my father’s personal experience is what shaped his views. He has lived his entire life seeing women toss away their passions and skills for a life that is chosen for them by their families and/or society. And he wanted different for me.
My father wanted me to wake up every morning feeling accomplished; but more than that, feeling complete. And although he would tell me I could feel this sense of wholeness by being a wife and/or a mother, he would also tell me that one day, I will wonder why I didn’t pursue my true passions; why I didn’t try to become someone. I still wonder why in so many cultures, a man is given the liberty and encouragement to be so much more than just a son/husband/father. But a woman is only given the appreciation and recognition of only being a daughter/wife/mother.
The honest truth is, we all have a passion before we get married. Many times, we bury that passion somewhere deep in the ground, hoping that whatever blessing we have at the moment is enough. Most times, we don’t feel a lack of wholeness. But sometimes we do. And we wish we had made something of the skill or passion we were blessed with. I think about all the years my dad spent trying to tell me that besides being a wife and mother, there is something even more important; having a sense of personal identity.
So, before I got married, I made my aspirations and goals very clear to my husband. I told him I will give my passions and skills the same time and dedication as he does. Thankfully, he’s been supportive of all my decisions relating to my education and career. After becoming a mother, I had to put my career and education on hold. My father was right. Marriage and motherhood make everything more difficult. It becomes harder to juggle multiple roles but I’ve learned that it is not impossible. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way. When I decided that it was time to resume things, I had the utmost support from my family and my husband. Whenever I need to prepare for an important meeting or get tasks done, I know I can count on them to babysit for a few hours.
However, balancing my roles in both my home and professional lives began to invoke a sense of unwanted guilt. I reflected on where this guilt emerged from, despite having parents who continuously push me to excel in my career and education and despite having a partner who supports me through all my personal and career endeavours. I asked myself why the guilt of pursuing my own passions and career always seemed to surface.
I’m a woman and no matter where I live in the world or what space I step into, I will be at a disadvantage. On every continent, women are given fewer opportunities than men, paid less for the same roles as men, given more household responsibilities than men, etc. Society has drilled into me the notion that if a woman pursues a career or a passion, she is doing it at the expense of being a good mother or a responsible wife. And I really wish this didn’t have to be the case. Because I really don’t want to be known for only being someone’s wife or someone’s mother. I do not want my identity to be narrowed down to just that. I want to be known for the milestones I achieve in my professional life.
I love writing. I love managing projects. I love operations management. My love and passion for these things give me immense happiness and allow me to feel complete. And so does my marriage and my child. I refuse to be boxed into gender roles; to let anyone tell me that I can’t be successful at both. I have learned to give time to all the things that matter to me. I’ve created a lifestyle for myself that has allowed me to fulfil my passions unapologetically. I hope others also find a space to coexist with all the things they love. It’s difficult, especially when you have so many eyes watching you. So many people are ready to see you fail. But the key is to not let any of the things that are important to you slip away. I’ve come to understand that giving the things and people I love the time and dedication they require is ultimately what makes me the happiest. So no matter what people say or think, at the end of the day, I choose to do me.
Zainab Khan is an Author, Storyteller and Entrepreneur.