Working Women’s Plight

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By Sreepriya Menon

In India, more and more women have entered the professional sphere. Study of the lives of working women is  demanding more attention since it is now more widespread and consequential. Thus, I wished to review research conducted elsewhere and examine the psychological constructs that may explain the reality of working women in our country. What are their underlying needs and what traits drive them to achieve a balance between a nurturing family-oriented woman and the power suit of an empowered independent individual?

In a study conducted by Dr Jacqueline Mitchelson of Auburn University (Alabama) and others, out of 288 adults it was found that a higher proportion of women felt they did not meet their own high standards with family and workplace commitments. Such perfectionism can have a negative effect on the work-life balance. The authors found that, at work, 38% of women did not feel they met the high standards they set for themselves, compared with 24% of men. When it came to home and family life, 30% of women felt they were failing to meet the standards they wanted to achieve, compared with only 17% of men.

In this study, what can be further examined in detail is the construct of perfectionism which is the need to be or appear perfect. How this need is expressed in women can be explained through the work of Hewitt and Flett the Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS). According to PSPS , there are three aspects of perfectionistic self-presentation: advertising one’s own perfection, avoiding situations in which one might appear to be imperfect and failing to disclose situations in which one has been imperfect.

Further, the need for perfectionism predisposes to various negative repercussions. Socially prescribed perfectionism, believing that others will value you only if you are perfect, has been associated with depression and other problems, including suicide. Other-oriented perfectionism, the tendency to demand perfection from friends, family, co-workers and others can be particularly damaging for intimate relationships and self-oriented perfectionism, an internally motivated desire to be perfect, is a risk factor, or vulnerability, for many psychological disorders.

Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT), one of the mini theories under the self determination theory of motivation, argues that autonomy, competence, and relatedness predict psychological well-being.  Therefore, contexts that support versus thwart these needs may invariantly impact wellness in women by creating feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

This seems to be the case with women: the closer they move towards their goals, the inadequate they feel; the stronger they project themselves, the weaker they be psychologically; the more they want to have it all: fulfill societal and personal aspirations, the more they are pulled apart in two directions; the more they become perfect, the more they wish others to be. That’s what the society does to the woman, who was meant to rise but wished to be like any other woman. 

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