The research on ‘leisure’ has underscored its importance in the lives of both men and women alike. It is a proven fact that leisure acts as an inalienable factor and resource that contributes to mental health of individuals. But research also indicates that women’s leisure in general and that of the working women in particular is constrained. With a sharp rise in women entering the organized employment sectors, they have been experiencing role overload and strain. These are likely to affect their mental health, unless they manage some space for their leisure.
Key words: Working Women, Leisure, Mental Health.
On 10th December 1984, The General Assembly of United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). One of these rights has been the right to rest and leisure, viz., Art 24 of the UDHR emphasizes on, besides a reasonable limitation of working hours, every individual’s right to enjoyment of periodic holidays with pay. This is obviously because many a psychologists have proved a positive correlation between leisure and the quality of life (Mannel and Stynes, 1991; Wankel and Berger,1990; Driver et al,1991), not only of the leisured individual but also of his associates (Ornther and Mancini, 1991; alien, 1991). These effects manifest themselves through direct improvements in the quality of one's life and are usually defined as increased good mood (Mannell, 1980; Hull, 1990), happiness and enjoyment (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFever, 1989). Leisure has also been shown to help buffer the mind against life's daily stressors (Iso-Ahola, 1994).
Among women attending groups of mothers, positive associations between time spent in leisure activities and indices of mental health or life satisfaction were found (Wearing, 1989). Further, the research also points out that, the type of and amount of leisure participation contributes to the perceived well-being and individuals who perceived freedom during leisure participation cope better with life stress than who perceived their leisure as constrained (Siegenthaler, 1997).
Most research findings support the hypothesis that, leisure acts as a buffer against the adverse effects of psychosocial stressors (Wheeler & Frank, 1981; Reich & Zautra, 1981; Caltabiano, 1995). The benefits of leisure for health and well-being run into several outcomes, such as quality of life, life satisfaction and protection from mental health problems that run from mere psychological symptoms to psychiatric illnesses (Ponde and Santana, 2000). The congruity of these research findings gives considerable support to the hypothesis that participation in leisure protects mental health.
Why Focus On Women’s Leisure?
In view of these observations by scholars, an examination of the impact of leisure on personal development and subjective well-being of women, becomes a necessity in gender studies, for, many ideas associated with leisure work suggest that women’s leisure is no different than men’s leisure. Leisure acts as an inalienable factor and a resource which contributes not only to women’s subjective well-being and development, but also with its inherent aspect of freedom of choice, it helps to rejuvenate their energies and spirits. According to Borg and Clark (2007), an opportunity to enjoy one’s leisure gave women space in which they could experiment with different lifestyles as well as opportunities for identity development.
While pursuance of leisure or leisure behaviour is a vastly researched subject in the West, there are practically no empirical studies on leisure or leisure behaviour in our country, especially on women. Since, there is a pressing necessity to involve women in the process of development and harness their potentialities for the betterment of the society, it is but inevitable to focus on their leisure, and facilitate them to have their independent space and develop their identities in their own right.
Such an empowerment of women not only benefits the self of women but also contributes to their family, neighbourhood and the society at large. As the famous adage goes, the status of women in the society mirrors the culture and status of a society. Hence, an attempt has been made, to probe into the leisure choices, leisure seeking behaviour and its impact on their life satisfaction and emotional wellbeing of Indian working women in this paper.
Working Women And Leisure Constraints
The neglect of women’s leisure needs could be attributed to the very interpretation of leisure as the time left out after one has fulfilled the demands of one’s work or employment. Since women’s work-especially the domestic work or the social production in which they are engaged, unfortunately, has seldom been treated as ‘work’, could be the main reason for the neglect of their leisure.
This trend cannot be accepted today because women have come out of their traditional roles and it is an established fact that slowly and surely women have entered the professional and semi-professional occupations (Saur and Mahapatra, 2008) and have been performing two thirds of world’s work (UN Report, 1985). The rise in women’s employment does not seem to favour women always, as it has not accompanied by a reduction in their unpaid household work (Siddiqui, 2005). As the roles of an individual are governed by the norms of the society, it is still expected that irrespective of social class, women’s job should not compete or come in between her primary role of wife or mother (Desai and Thakkar, 2001).
These societal expectations overburden these women with dual or multiple responsibilities and they writhe under great pressure due to role overload and ambiguity. Working women always try to maintain a good balance between their family duties and their duties in their work place. While juggling between these multiple roles, women tend to deprive themselves of their leisure as they are constantly budgeting their time to fulfil their other demands. Bianchi and Shaw, (1994) point out that most of the research on leisure constraints for women though did not argue that women had no leisure, but pointed out that they had less leisure, or faced more constraints than did men.
This can be evinced from the observations of Hochschild, (1989), who stated that women who were employed in the labour market experienced a ‘second shift’ and had little time for leisure (Shank, 1986). Further, the time budget research has also shown that, both employed and non-employed married women have had less access to leisure time than did their husbands (Shaw, 1985). This clearly indicates that the extant gender inequality in many areas of social life has also been observed in the area of leisure.
The other important factor which comes in the way of women’s leisure is the ‘Ethic of Care’ which is an integral part of almost every woman’s moral development. Women by nature owe to the ethic of care, wherein they often provide for the needs of others first, thus neglecting themselves and their day to day needs, which also include their leisure needs. The ethic of care is also linked to women's role as the primary caregiver in the family and thus helps to explain how family commitment and family structures constrain women's leisure (Green et al., 1990; Harrington et al., 1992).
Further, the dominant ideologies such as those associated with traditional views of “feminity”, “masculinity” and “the family” reproduced through cultural practices also come in the way of women and leisure. Another way in which leisure participation functions to constrain women’s lives is the narrow range and stereotypical nature of the activities society deems to be appropriate for girls. As leisure is an activity, where an individual decides at his/her will, of what choices to be made, this decision making power is often suppressed by these attitudes and women are expected to enjoy the family leisure or leisure activities which are docile and home bound and also impose several restrictions on the mobility of women and bar women’s staying out doors till late in the evenings.
Working Women’s Leisure And Mental Health
While discussing the issue of leisure and mental health of working women, it is inevitable to make a note of the life course which provides a framework for analyzing the dynamics in the roles and relationships within a family and how an individual moves through sequential roles. The women, who have the so called dual loci which consist of family and work roles, undergo a possible conflict, when it comes to allocation of resources, which is especially acute for those who have to strike a perfect balance between family and work roles (Pleck, 1985). This is especially true when they become mothers, as they try to stick on to the cultural ideologies and maintain the stereotypical parental role. This acute conflict is often mediated by their own self-standards, which is a combination of self-expectations and as well as the societal expectations, wherein these women try to hold multiple roles (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993; Woeigel, Weigel, Berger, Cook, & Delcampo, 1995). If they do not adhere to the traditional role of a wife, mother and they do not maintain their households in perfect order, people around them may tend to look down upon them. These traditional family values are so strong that, these women feel guilty if they lapse from those roles (Borg and Clark, 2007), even when they are employed. Women are held responsible for making or breaking their families. With their struggle to keep up with these societal expectations, these women try to be a ‘super woman’, who is a master in handling multiple responsibilities with ease. In this struggle, there are indications that these women tend to feel rushed, tend to multitask all the time and are always on the run.
This impact of multiple roles and lack of time for personal needs becomes one of the most critical factors affecting the relationship between work, leisure, and mental health for women. The issues of time pressure and emotional well-being emerge as central to young women’s health and identity (Fullagar and Brown, 2003). There are many recent studies which support the idea that the perception of roles, particularly role conflict and overload, is related to women's psychological health and overall well-being (Pearson, 2008). Focusing on the relative balance between role enhancement and role conflict among married professional women, it was found that, for women in dual-career relationships, affective stress in both the parental and professional roles (as opposed to just the professional role for men) was directly related to distress (Guelzow and Bird 1991).
As these role conflicts can bring subsequent stress and strain in working women and as it has already been mentioned in the introductory part, the importance of leisure for health and well being using several outcome variables, such as quality of life, life satisfaction (Ponde and Santana, 2000), leisure can be used as a protective factor for the working women, to come out of the stress which is triggered by the role overload. In the case of leisure, the finding meant that people whose leisure participation was high or who were satisfied with their leisure were less vulnerable to the adverse effects of life stress than those who were less active in and satisfied with their leisure.
Leisure not only helps these working women to relax and have a positive psychological health, but also helps in social association, interaction, and companionship outside family circles. Through these interactions, these career women can look forward to making an identity of self in their own right through social association, than through their spouse or family. According to Maslow (1954), since this is also one of the important needs mentioned in the ‘need hierarchy theory’ propounded by him the lack of opportunity to social association, friendship and acceptance, has a bearing on an individual’s psychological health. These finding, obviously, indicate a correlation between leisure and mental health of women.
The research pertaining to gender issues is one of the most important areas in social sciences, the issue of dual responsibility of working women, the consequent stress experienced by them, their coping strategies, etc., being some of the popular themes examined by the researchers. But, the issue of leisure seeking behavior, the constraints experienced by women, the impact of lack of leisure on the physical and psychological health of women has virtually escaped their attention, despite the importance of leisure in one’s life being often stressed by psychologists. Finding this gap, the researchers attempted the present paper.
The issues discussed in this paper, has brought out many interesting aspects about leisure behaviour and its impact on the mental health of the working women. It is a global phenomenon where women internalize the theory of Ethic of Care and compromise their personal space, time and leisure by prioritizing their duties towards their children, family, etc. Such a self negation and deprivation will obviously have a negative impact on the emotional health of these women-resulting in mild to serious psychological problems.
The importance of leisure in the lives of individuals has always been underscored by many-a-psychologists. Women being the primary caregivers and a binding force in the family – the basic institution of the society, unless their health is protected and preserved, it may adversely affect the quality of life of not only the women but also the entire family. Hence empowering working women to maneuver their way amid their dual responsibilities and have some exclusive space for them to pursue leisure to rejuvenate their energies and enjoy sound mental health, which is the highlight of this paper becomes essential.
Ms. Rashmi Pai
Research Scholar, Department of Social Work, Karnatak University, Dharwad.
Dr V B Pai
Professor, Department of Social Work, Karnatak University, Dharwad.
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