We were visiting a friend’s house once who happened to live in a rustic duplex house on the outskirts of the city, quite a few kilometres away from the local village. While the place was absolutely picturesque, I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed groceries, traveling to school and work, etc. staying so far away from the main city. On discussion over dinner I realized that they seemed to be quite comfortable and settled with the daily routine and the difficult traveling. The hostess, my good friend explained how she had three maids coming to her from the village nearby for all the house work and how they were an absolute blessing, as they were always on time, never took leaves and willingly worked tirelessly.
I was amazed to see the house help come over in the night to wash the dishes after our dinner. I came to know that she was about 5-6 months pregnant and she had come all the way walking from her house uphill here for the second time in the same day. I also got to know from my hostess that she didn’t mind doing this in her condition for some extra money, as she was in dire need and her husband was a jobless drunkard who would live off her, lay around in the house while the poor girl juggled with her own house chores and work.
I got speaking to her and asked her if she worked so hard why couldn’t her husband at least help around in the house, to which she replied, ‘didi, pati se ghar ka kaam karne ko kaise bol sakte hai, woh toh aurat ka kaam hai, mard ka nahi.’
At that time, along with empathy, I felt a certain helplessness. I put some money in her hands and turned away. I realized that I was one of the lucky few women who had the luxury to talk about feminism and state it as my ideal way of life. However, what with all my education, ideals and modern outlook, I had not the slightest power to better even this one person’s life. I could maybe talk to her and try to convince her that housework is a shared responsibility, and not just a woman’s job, but what would that change? She would just feel worse about going through the same ordeal every day, now with the realization of her fate and her unsupportive husband.
It was almost impossible for her to change her husband’s mindset even if he was sober. A male is bred ingrained with the belief that he has to be served and cared for by the woman, while he goes out to make a living. But what about women who go out to make a living and come home tired to a home where they cannot even expect someone to make her a cup of tea?
Society has defined roles for men and women in families, and as women we pass on the so-called wisdom to our daughters to care and serve for their fathers and husbands, abide by their rules and take care of their wishes. But we hardly guide them to take care of themselves. Gradually the women themselves learn to be selfless and sacrificing. They put their families' needs before their own, and live to serve. We admire and appreciate such women, give their examples in society and glorify them.
However, if a woman assumes the role of a bread winner, and the man has to take care of the house we discourage the prospect. We criticize such men, and look down upon them. Why do we do this? Isn’t this role reversal also a part of the modernization that we all strive towards?
By revering the men in our families and discouraging them from domestic chores we are in fact doing a disservice to them, and rendering them incapable of doing even basic tasks by themselves. Research has shown that men who help around in domestic chores turn out to be better husbands and fathers, are more sensitive to their families' needs and develop healthier happier relationships. Many men have embraced professions that were initially deemed fit only for women, and have succeeded beyond the boundaries of societal acceptance. Then why do we still have tags for men and women who are open to share each other’s responsibilities?
People have accepted working women in society, but have only made her life difficult, as her responsibility is now coupled with house work. Is this really progress? Or a regression?
True progress will start and sustain only when we start teaching our children the concept of shared responsibility and the value of human effort beyond the egotism of job descriptions. Women should not feel inferior about the work they do, especially if they are homemakers.
Similarly, men should not be glorified for being incapable of handling basic housework because they are too busy doing ‘real work’. Instead of defining jobs for our sons and daughters, we need to equip them with the right mindset and skill set to choose their line of work. We need to teach our sons to respect the labour of women, whether at home or as a professional, and create a support system that encourages them to pursue whatever path they want, without feeling inferior. We can make our men more supportive and capable by teaching them to take care of themselves and their homes with the same level of interest and enthusiasm as the women. After all, men and women both like going back to a clean home and a warm meal, right?
I was snapped out of my silent monologue by the patter of rain. We bade our hosts goodbye, and as I was leaving, I hoped and prayed that with the little one in the womb of the helper woman, a little revolution would also take birth.