In an Age of Comparison, Busy does not Equal Productive

It seems that we have forgotten what it’s like to intentionally choose rest. When we do, we feel as though we are derailing our lives. It plagues us with guilt. I believe that this thinking is rooted in a culture of shame, pride and comparison.

How can shame and pride thrive simultaneously?

If you think about it, one cannot exist without the other. A culture of shame, lurking behind our obsession with productivity, is deeply embedded within society. And I would argue that it affects women more harshly.

One of the greatest threats to our peace of mind and ability to enjoy the present moment is the idea that busyness equates with productivity. We obsessively praise and admire what looks like productivity.

Instagram stories, facebook posts and twitter updates fuel the phenomenon. We see our friends’ elaborately organised desks and cups of coffee as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds, feeling guilty for not doing more ourselves. These constant comparisons and feelings of falling short pose a serious threat to our mental well-being.

When did our mental energy become less important than being recognized as worthy and successful by society?

Picture this: the ideal woman. She is able to multitask at all times, dedicates a perfect amount of time to each task, and always looks flawless. Effortlessly efficient in the workplace, she still makes it home in time to make dinner from scratch. She spends time with her family and gets the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

For real? These are impossible standards to live up to on a good day. More than anything, they set us up for burnout.

The dominant message is that it’s okay to compromise our health and wellness at the expense of appearing successful and gaining praise from others. We are expected to keep it together at every moment of every day, and to carry the emotions of our children and significant others while seamlessly managing our own. We should not express or even identify as feeling any anger or irritation. We are expected to love perfectly.

This is what is implicitly perpetuated by a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. How busy we are has become an indication of our worthiness.

Busy does not equal productive. 

Breaking down, being vulnerable, admitting to sometimes not being able to handle everything: we view these as weaknesses. Can you see it now? Little old pride, rearing its head, spurred on by shame and ready to put up a fight.

It is time for this narrative to change. We need to make a conscious individual and collective effort to fight back against this mentality, especially at a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever.

Periods of rest should not be scorned and embraced only once we are exhausted beyond recognition. Rest should be an intentional form of self-care to maintain good mental health, not a last-minute strategy to salvage what’s left.

Women Who Do Too Much

The exhausted woman is a cultural trope.

It’s a scene repeated in books, movies, our own lives: she arrives, apologetic, to a lunch appointment or meeting, straight after her last appointment or meeting.

Somehow, between mouthfuls of food, she remembers what’s been going on in your life, updates you on how she’s been juggling her career and her personal life and her family responsibilities, periodically checking her phone to answer an urgent text, share that contact you needed, forward that interesting article, and then rushes to leave on time for another appointment or meeting or to pick up the kids.

Even looking at the mythological modern woman is exhausting. Being her is next to impossible. A whole industry has been spun around the herculean task that is living up the feat that is being a successful modern woman.

Artist Emma Clit, who followed up her viral comic You Should Have Asked with The Consequences, used both to brilliantly highlight the multitudinous invisible burdens women carry with them every day. The psychological wear and tear is hard to see, but significant.

Women of all ages – from as young as adolescents – may recognize the heavy psychological effects that stem from the expectation that they can be everything to everyone.

So, what can we do about it? Recognize this in yourself? Want to know what to do next?

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’ve taken pride in being there for the people around you, taking time for yourself – even when you desperately need it – can feel like self-absorption or failure. A helpful trick is to think of ourselves as our best friends: if they came to us, worn out and frazzled, we’d insist that they turn off their phone and think about taking care of themselves for at least an afternoon.

Running or Swimming or Yoga (or Something Else)

We’ve heard this ad nauseum, but it really does help. Any kind of exercise helps lower stress levels and does wonders for our health. We don’t have to run marathons or join dance classes (unless we want to!) Free youtube tutorials teaching you how to stretch or moonwalk or kickbox or anything that gets you breaking a sweat are just as good.

Schedule You Time

The way we’ve been told we need to make time for our jobs, our partners, our friends, is the same way we need to make time for ourselves. It is okay to say no to the party and stay in to rest if you need to (it really is). It is okay to tell your significant other you need some space to recharge.

Be Your Own Advocate

(Warning label: This can be the hardest one to do.) Learning to insist on helping and breaking patterns is a difficult thing to do, even when they’re patterns we don’t particularly enjoy, but it’s crucial to maintaining our mental health and the health of our relationships.

Further Reading on Girls’ Globe

Will Education Alone Suffice?

In a not-so-small village in India, where people earn their livelihood by farming, education is booming. In the last decade, this village has seen the birth and development of a government school and several private schools. A couple of these are even elite ‘English medium’ schools.

The village has also seen the opening of a pre-university college. But to pursue any vocational or professional course afterwards, an individual must travel to the next town. With no frequent bus connectivity, this higher education remains a distant dream for many. But the people of the village are still ecstatic.

Their children can now say a few words in English. They can identify the English alphabet. They can – sometimes stutteringly – say a sentence in English too. Their children are educated – a word whose purpose and worth many of us fail to comprehend.

In a real-life scenario, each family enrolls their child/children in school dutifully. Fees are low, midday meals are provided and children are taken care of while the parents work in the fields as daily wage labourers. By the time the children are back, parents are back at home too.

When boys reach 5th or 6th standard, they drop out of school to work alongside their parents. Another breadwinner for the family is more important than learning English – which ‘they will never use anyway’.

The girl child, however, is sent to school to complete her education up to the 10th standard. Some progressive families will even allow their daughters to study up to the 12th. All because it increases their demand in marriage.

A boy educated up to 4th standard will work from the age of 9 till 24, manage to buy an acre of farm land with the joint earnings of his family, and then approach the family of a well-educated girl with a marriage proposal.

If all goes well, the proposal is accepted and a marriage is celebrated by the families. The daughter-in-law dutifully takes up her responsibility of cleaning the house, cooking three meals, tending to the cattle and bearing children – often before she herself is even 20 years old.

This is the story of young adults in most villages here.

Is there any need for change? Who is to blame? Does something have to be done, or is this something to be left alone?

Schools and colleges were, at some point, new to many living in villages across India. Yet most people accepted them with open arms. My question, though, is if this education does not translate into a good job and decent pay, is it of any use to poor farming communities?

Ensuring we don’t just stop with providing schools, but focus on creating livelihoods through relevant vocational training is a major need for our people.

Making opportunities for working and earning available to girls and boys equally is the responsibility of every government.

What use is a 12th standard education if a girl is unable to support herself financially? After all, financial independence is very closely linked to security and safety.

I believe that societies change and adapt to the opportunities presented to them. Law makers, influencers and policy makers must understand the needs of a population with a view to future growth, rather than simply providing dead-end educations!

Women in Glasgow are Striking for Equal Pay

Thousands of people marched through Glasgow, Scotland this week in the largest equal pay strike the UK has seen since the seventies.

Around 8,000 city council workers – most of them women – walked out of jobs and picked up placards to demand equal pay for carers, cleaners, caterers and support workers.

The strike marked a culmination of a dispute that began more than a decade ago, in 2006, after a newly introduced pay scheme enforced existing inequalities within the system. Female–dominated roles within the council, such as cleaning and caring, were penalized through complicated methods of measuring a job’s value in ways that male-dominated roles, like gardening and refuse collection, were not. 

The Politics

Back in 2006, Glasgow City Council was run by the Labour Party. Over the ten years that followed, Labour reportedly spent £2.5 million on legal fees and staff costs so that they could challenge women who were claiming wage discrimination.

In 2017, The Scottish National Party (SNP) took control of the council, with a promise to “end Glasgow’s years of pay injustice”. However, in the months since, workers became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and voted to take strike action, despite the council’s claims that industrial action was unnecessary as progress had not stalled.

Photo by Public Services International

How We Value Women’s Work

Amanda Green, a care worker, explained that the women taking part in the strike carry out some of the city’s “toughest and most valuable jobs.” “The value of these jobs,” she continued, “is just not recognised – that’s the problem Glasgow has.”

But it’s not just Glasgow. The view that work carried out by women holds lower economic value than work carried out by men is a global problem. Our perception of jobs that have traditionally been more female-dominated – cleaning, cooking, looking after children and the elderly – is tightly interwoven with cultural norms of a woman’s ‘natural’ role in families, communities and wider society.

Ensuring everyone else is fed, watered, warm, safe, educated and comfortable – these are things we continue to expect women to bear responsibility for, and do for free, in their personal lives. It’s therefore not hugely surprising that we don’t take it seriously when women carry out similar roles in a professional capacity.

And yet, despite being undervalued, under-acknowledged and underpaid, society would grind to a halt if women stopped doing this work professionally. “We’re the ones that make this city come alive in the morning: we get children fed, we get elderly vulnerable people up and out of their beds so that other people can go to work. We go into schools at 5AM to clean them so that children can get an education,” says Shona Thompson, an at-home carer.

This week, after years of being dismissed and diminished, women across Glasgow withdrew their labour for 48 hours and suddenly, as if by magic, there was a newfound mass-recognition of their worth. “Schools and home care disrupted by Glasgow equal pay strike,” said BBC News. “Thousands of women bring city ‘to standstill’,” announced the Independent. Women spoke of the immense guilt they were being made to feel, as though “because of the job we do…we don’t really have the right to strike.”

Photo by Public Services International

Gender, Class & Equal Pay

Equal pay is rarely far from UK headlines at the moment. The BBC came under intense scrutiny over pay inequalities at the end of 2017, and over the summer the pay gap among professional tennis players received widespread media attention. We learnt that female actors earn thousands and sometimes millions of dollars less than their male co-stars, and Ryanair’s pay gap report led to intensely infuriating debates about whether men are perhaps just naturally more suited to being pilots than women are.

The salaries in the stories at the forefront of the equal pay conversation have tended to share two common threads – a disparity linked to gender, yes, but also a multi-figured nature. The equal pay debate seems to interest us a little less, and make fewer headlines, when discrimination affects women whose annual salary falls below the national average.

And so Glasgow’s working women haven’t, up until now, received the coverage or the solidarity I think they deserve. As one Scottish journalist commented: “Compared with the rightfully extensive coverage of Birmingham’s refuse strikers or Hollywood’s abuse scandal, is it that they are too female to be a proper workers’ rights story, and too working class to be a proper feminist one?”

If this week’s strike has proven anything, it’s that the jobs most of us want neither to do nor to talk about are the ones holding our communities and cities together. It’s that equality and fairness are for everyone, regardless of hourly wage. It’s that equal pay is a very present issue facing women in Scotland today. It’s that if a job is so essential that a city will cease to function without it, we should pay the person doing it fairly.