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(5) Myanmar women and careers in the 1930s
     It is surprising that there should be prejudice against women taking office jobs when most of the retail shops have always been run by women. Perhaps keeping shop and petty trade had long been regarded as "women's work", but to have women at the office desk was something different or alien.
     Even then a new generation ofwhite collar women was rising. One of the first jobs to be accepted as suitable and proper was teaching. A popular dog-gerel of those days runs:
     Don't ever a school marm adore.
Nor with finger tickle your sore,
If ever a school marm you adore,
Hen-pecked you will ever be,
And If with finger you tickle the sore,
Poison and infection will pursue thee!
That meant school marms were not regarded as good bargains in the marriage market. It was still important that women should sell in the matrimonial fair. Families were therefore shame-faced and apologetic about having a working girl in the family. "You know it's a pity to let her education go waste..."
     Every attempt had to be made to wipe away the impression that any girl had to help out with the family finances. "It is only for a while before she decides to get married-you know; there have been so many offers"... It was still how many offers of marriage a girl had that gave her prestige, not her achievements in school or at her career.
     The idea of a married woman keeping her job was preposterous. It would damage her husband's image. Even though there might be perfectly good reasons for a married woman holding on to her job,-like having to support a widowed mother with young children... such reasons were not recognized. It was the snobbery of the 'general class' and it was considered even more humiliating having to depend on "a woman's earnings".
     Since a married woman had to be explained away with excuses and apologies, she earned herself an unflatering image of "a woman who does not wish to stay at home". The husband of such a one often cut a sorry figure, the one who never had a square meal, whose buttons were never sewed on et cetera, et cetera. It was one of those situations where people were generous with epithets like "never".
     Such attitude often gave a sensitive woman a queen size guilt complex. She had to try extra hard to be a good wife "as good as anyone who stays at home", because whatever contribution she might make towards the family budget did not count as anything womanwise, or in the womanly way.
     At work, a married woman, therefore, was often regarded as a liability; since she was too overburdened with household cares. She was usually dead beat when she reached the office desk; for one thing shehad to live up to the tradition that men must be waited on hand and foot, and that women must always be a men's beck and call. The brain-washing of her grow- ing years was not without effect after all.
     Women taking jobs were not taken seriously just a stop-gap while looking for a suitable husband. Hence departmental heads would rather appoint men than women; and they could hardly be blamed for that attitude, for it was only too true that many women left their jobs after marriage.
     Women in the department created problems, they said. Single ones were not dedicated, because they had their eyes on eligible men who would take them away from their desks. Having married women meant upset schedule every now and then because of maternity leave absences... that is not counting the casual ones because of other domestic demands.
     At the same time economic pressures were at work. It was not always possible for a family to live on one person's earnings and more women entered offices as clerks and secretaries. Some took advantage of the professional courses at the university, like medicine in the first instance, and law at a much later decade.
     Then came political unrest, agitation against the colonial rule. Public media went on with exhortations to women to come forward. If women had so far got but a grudging tolerance in careers, they found themselves a potential force in political organizations. More horizons were opened out for women. Here again they came up against the old enemy - male chauvinism. This will be the subject of my next article.
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