I leave work at 5.30.
This is a dirty little secret of my work life. In my 22 years in advertising I have not given JWT my nights. I know how bizarre it might sound. It’s a pretty Ripley’s believe-it-or-not fact but it’s true. Almost as scandalous as doing drugs or sleeping with the boss. There have been times I’ve romanticized people who work late, often found them cooler, sexier and more talented than me. And still I have found myself picking up my bag and tiffin box latest by 7 pm. I can’t do this night lagana in office.
And I know many, many of my male colleagues have judged me and hinted that I’m a slacker. They’ve looked at the watch pointedly around 5.30 pm and said, “Isn’t it time for you to pack up?” Men often think it’s a very cool provider thing to stay back in office. They even get that President Of The World tone when they call their wives and girlfriends to say, “I’ll be late”. The tone suddenly acquires a fireman at work or a doc in ER urgency. The call is always brief. Tight. Compressed. But right after the call I have seen them saunter into the smoking area, send the canteen guy for an errand, debate endlessly on Sachin’s retirement, slowly sip a cup of tea — more slowly than you would in a Polish art film — and then maybe huddle on some work issue very, very, reluctantly. They play games on the computer, get to know the new people, reunite with the old ones but all along with a sense of purpose. Work is a corporate club of a different kind but a club for sure. (You have food and games and also dim lights. Only no swimming pool.)
Why can’t women enjoy the afterwork hours like men? Here’s why. When we return late we feel guilty. We imagine the anguish of our kids when they are waiting. Or our girlfriends. Or moms. We know that when it comes to our work life, even our girlfriends are not so empathetic. They expect us to be there. Like our kids and our dogs. Our maid. Or maybe even the mali.
For men it’s a different story. Every Indian mother thinks mera beta khoon pasine ki kamai karta hai. Mere bete par bahut work pressure hai. Bada heavy stress hai. And that’s why men like this staying-at-work thing. It helps them perpetuate this myth of hard-working male provider. If you spend just 2 hours extra doing just about nothing at work, you’ll get a hero’s welcome at home. The wife will get the tea. And the mother will hush your children rudely if they are running around in the living room. If you come home by 9 pm, the children are already in bed and obviously you cannot help them with their homework even if you wanted to. And if you come home at ten, it’s even better. You don’t even have to walk the dog.
For men coming home late has all kinds of privileges. It’s a badge of honour, a moment of quiet pride. And that’s why they are proud to stay late. Proud to hang in the office. Proud to be absent. It doesn’t work like that for us. We want to kill ourselves if our kids go to sleep without seeing us. We are scared of what the class teacher might think of the shabby homework. We feel terrible if our kid goes to a birthday party without a gift. So we come home on time to do the stuff we have to do. And then stay up at night to do the work. We do it privately. Quietly with no show and tell. That’s the way it is with us. So next time you pick up your bag at 5.30 pm, do it with your chin up, chest out! We women do double shifts. Men don’t.
Swati Bhattacharya is the national creative director of JWT India.
Image credit: happyworker via Flickr