It’s doubtful anyone who reads English is not familiar with (and sick of) the details of Indra Nooyi’s interview at the Aspen Ideas Week. A resounding gasp echoed round the world at the idea that even a powerful woman can’t have it all.
To me, Nooyi’s tone in the video didn’t convey that she herself thought she was about to reveal a shocking secret. In fact, she sounded a bit wry, maybe just at having to answer that work-life balance question especially reserved for women, once more, with feeling.
Illustration / Amit Bandre
She spoke of an emotional hurt and we know the media loves a ‘personal story’, so they got immediate viral fever. But, Nooyi’s comments offered a necessary opportunity to revisit the important discussion on why, even while women change, the world does not always change along with them, and the difficult interplay in this truth.
Some did take the conversation ahead, most notably Barkha Dutt, who spelt out ways in which women do not function in a level playing field personally or professionally and Shobhaa De, who said it was about time we gave women love and approval more readily than criticism and doubt.
Then came the flood of critical responses. To summarise: 1. No one can have it all 2. Define your own ‘it’. 3. If Nooyi can’t handle having kids, she shouldn’t have had them. (And if a girl doesn’t want to be sexually harassed, she shouldn’t leave her room, hai na?) 4. I’m not a perfect mom, but I spend quality time with my kid so I still win (jaise ki, I don’t diet, I’m just naturally thin) 5. Her seamless parenting is non-parenting and she should have said NO to her mother. Because that’s what I would do, and obviously what I would do is perfect for everyone. (Yani ki, I squeeze myself into one size and that’s the one size that fits all).
Men hardly commented because, to come to summary point no 6, men struggle with the same dilemma, but poor things, don’t say it out loud. That explains their silence! It’s not because why should men discuss what’s happening to women, that’s not really like, a world issue, unlike, like, football, no? That’s why it’s called the World cup, na?
Nooyi’s comments may not apply to every woman but they do mirror a common experience, and she shares her particular responses to them. So, why are we in a discussion that implies all women are the same, as if class, caste, race and sexual choices to name a few categories, have no bearing on their experiences? Why these binaries of white Nooyi and black Nooyi when even in her talk she offers a grey Nooyi?
How come no one wanted to query Nooyi on whether her personal experience had led her to introduce a different perspective into the big corporate she works in and about the very nature of corporate culture’s outdated masculinised separation of work and life? Why can companies spend so much on fancy office renovations but not give employees sufficient paternity leave, provide child-care of flexi-time options? But that would mean questioning ourselves and the world — far easier to make it about women.
These analyses of Nooyi’s remarks ensure that we don’t question status quo, wherein life must always give in to work, and work is arranged as if people don’t have any other lives. Instead, the discussion yet again put the onus on women, and their choices in a world which limits those choices in a highly gendered way. Why make it about money, when you can make it about mommy, no?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.