Woman with basket

In an earlier blog, I had reflected on the need for women (and men) to have more access to what one may call “free” time: time that can be used on non-productive work and on non-maintenance (that is, non-family care related) activities; time to do nothing if they so wish; time to pursue creative urges; and time to occasionally waste.

I stand by that recommendation. But one needs to clarify that free time cannot and must not be endless. For most of us, life acquires meaning through jobs to be done and jobs well done, whatever these jobs – paid or unpaid, fixed or flexible, home or factory or office based. The word “job” here does not refer only to employment. Although it is often best defined by employment, anything that needs to done and needs to be done by oneself, not by any old substitute, is a source of so many kinds of pleasure and security – financial, emotional, physical – that the global trends in rising unemployment or in the untrammeled mechanization of life need to be viewed with some concern.

But they also need to be viewed with concern because of some of the pernicious consequences of unlimited free time. Leisure is enjoyable and satisfying largely when it breaks the monotony or the physical or time demands of work, not when it becomes a condition of life for one’s entire day, whether because one does not have the opportunities or the skills or the demands to do something or because one is too wealthy (and too much wealth can indeed be a disease that harms its owner as often as it relieves him of responsibility or drudgery) to need to do any work.

Seen in this way, the idea of women’s economic empowerment (or WEE as the now trendy shorthand would call it) acquires a much broader significance. WEE makes the windows of non-work life more satisfying and joyous. Having a certain number of hours of one’s time accounted for, especially by well compensated, safe, and interesting work, enhances the value of those hours that fall outside this routine. Even boring routine has its advantages for this reason. It provides the axis around which the fun parts of one’s day can be organized, it provides the pleasure of something to look forward to when the boring work is done, and it provides the motivation to find ingenious ways to reduce the boredom of many kinds of work.

A busy day also uses up some of the energy that can be so easily dissipated by those of us that lack the self-discipline to make good use of a free day. More importantly, it relieves one of the burden of finding malignant or dangerous uses for ones long hours of free time. Sociological research has in recent years begun to think of the almost natural ways in which pastimes become not hobbies or special interests, but instead ways of literally passing time. All too often they become ways of killing time, with the word “kill” acquiring literal meaning in extreme cases.

All these ideas are expressed in a recent article that I published in an Indian newspaper.

That article is written in a somewhat personal light-hearted style, but its central message is far from personal – it calls for much more effort and investment into finding avenues for the productive use of people’s time. Since in most societies it is women who are supposedly free from the need or the ability to work, it is in effect calling for much greater investments in increasing women’s economic activity; not only for the direct benefits of such activity but also for its indirect benefits on women’s appreciation and use of free time.