By Nishikant Gupta
As she struggled to get her wailing three-year old into her school clothes, Saraswati heard the milk hiss away in the kitchen. She frantically looked up towards her husband, who was busy watching the morning news on his mobile.
He looked back at her, smiled, and got on with his business.
Saraswati left the t-shirt half-on on her daughter and rushed towards the kitchen, nearly tripping and falling over the toys scattered on the floor. She had hoped to put them away last night, but by the time she had put her daughter to sleep, fed her husband, washed the utensils, cleaned the kitchen, ironed the clothes, and eaten, she was exhausted to the core. She knew she had to be up at five tomorrow to prepare tea for her husband, which she would serve to him in bed, and had decided to call it a night.
As Saraswati hurriedly switched off the gas burner, frantically blowing at the still rising milk, she heard a loud cry. Her daughter had tripped over and fallen. She rushed back out, tripping and cursing the toys this time, and picked up her darling to console her.
Her husband didn’t budge but instead spoke in a demanding tone, “Is my breakfast ready?”
She looked at him. He smiled again as he walked towards the bathroom for his beauty shower.
Saraswati’s darling was still crying in her arms. She hugged her real tight as tears filled Saraswati’s eyes.
The scene set above is a hypothetical one, but one might argue that it could easily be unfolding in any home in our part of the world.
Women are expected to be solely responsible for all domestic tasks. The expectations made of women do not change even when they are involved in the agricultural, business, and service sectors; the responsibilities increase, so do the chores. Washing, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children and older family members – women of today are managing these even as they manage their careers.
One look at the available data, and an alarmingly worrying global trend emerges. According to an analysis conducted by the University College London (UCL), United Kingdom, published in the journal Work, Employment and Society, “gender norms remain strong” when it comes to household chores. The study further stresses that women spend up to 16 hours every week doing household chores (including a bulk of the domestic duties), while men spend closer to six hours. Another study reveals that traditional gender roles still affect the way women and men manage work and family interaction.
There are some partners who go out of their way to help each other with their daily chores as much as possible, so it is unfair to say that all households face this issue. Although I know of men who take care of their children both in the mornings and when they return from work in the evenings, they are few and between.
It is also important to note that it is not right to lump certain traits to rural areas and others to urban ones. I have encountered men in remote areas helping out with a majority of the domestic work, and seen men from the cities and towns shying away from the same.
So, where do we go from here? How do we pledge an equal world? How do we ensure that we’re responsible for our own actions? More importantly, how do we challenge stereotypes? Throughout the course of my research, which has spanned a decade, I have had the opportunity to survey many households.
A long time ago, I possessed a single-minded notion – it’s the fault of the men, they are so preoccupied in their own world, they do not see the drudgery of their partners. This perception has now evolved, and become more complex.
What I have discovered over the years is that men are content with this gender-specific role which favours them tremendously. They often point out that they are simply part of cultural norms and traditions that have persisted for generations. The women, on the other hand, are so bogged down by these same moral values, that they often feel like if they do not follow these chalked out guidelines, they will not be considered complete. And although many have also disagreed with this notion, most point out that they are merely doing what they have seen their mothers and grandmothers do.
A friend from college, who is now married, once said to me, “Why try to break out of this stereotype? It will only create more problems for me… ” Another friend, also married, says, “If my mother did this, I am sure it is what I am expected to do. After all, my mother is always right.”
The task is herculean to say the least. What is needed is a change in attitude whereby all spouses come to care for and think about their better halves. We need to put ourselves in each other’s shoes.
As men, we must examine how we would react to having to be solely responsible for all domestic chores, and then decide whether it is right to expect the same from the women in our lives – our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters. Yes, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world, but we can do this only when our mindset becomes more sympathetic.