I didn’t need the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to tell me that Indian men do only 19 minutes of housework per day. Despite claims that the statistics in this particular report are old/dubious, and I think I speak for almost every other Indian woman when I say this, Indian men very much deserve the low(est) rank that they’ve scored. So, thinking aloud –
How many of us ever saw our dads cooking or, more importantly, doing the laundry, washing the bathroom or cleaning up after a party? We did, however, watch our mums waking up first in the morning, picking up plates after dinner, cleaning until the time everybody went to bed.
Growing up, we became more entangled in this division of labour with girls, often subtly, being asked to help mums with a bit here and there. But never boys – in fact, as Santosh Desai, social commentator and columnist, says, “It is not just a cultural practice, it is a glorified cultural practice. Mothers celebrate the fact that their sons never lifted a finger at home.” Can I then be surprised that men of my generation don’t see housework as their responsibility?
Taking into view that we’ve all grown up in a patriarchal society in which women have been expected to slave away to keep men happy, maybe I should be a bit sympathetic to Indian men who simply do not know how to do housework. Maybe I should keep pushing gently to get my partner to do his fair share of work in the house. But isn’t that pushing, commonly synonymous to the heavily gendered terms ‘nagging’ and ‘pestering’, work in itself? By initiating housework, am I not perpetuating the gendered understanding that a house is a woman’s responsibility?
Having said all of that, I know Indian men who are making an effort to be more participative in housework, including cooking, childcare and cleaning. But somehow, cleaning seems to be the last item on the list.
We have managed to make the image of the metropolitan man who cooks and pushes the pram fashionable but the man washing the dishes or, worse, sweeping the floor is still an object of ridicule. I have heard a lot of men explain that they simply ‘like’ cooking more than cleaning but how many women have that choice? This individual preference for one type of housework is owned by men and should therefore be acknowledged as gendered.
And finally, isn’t the ‘open-minded’/’liberal’ man who cooks every now and then for the woman in his life the epitome of kindness, sweetness, love itself? Women dote over such men and it’s understandable – something rather than nothing! I only wish more women could think like Rita O’Grady of ‘Made in Dagenham’ who led the women’s strike for equal pay in 1968 in Britain.
In a row, Rita’s husband Eddie claims, “Christ, I like a drink, but I ain’t out on the beer every night or screwin’ other women, or… ‘Ere, I’ve never once raised me hand to you. Ever. Or the kids.” And Rita says, “Right. You’re a saint now, is that what you’re tellin’ me, Eddie…You don’t go on the drink, do ya? You don’t gamble, you join in with the kids, you don’t knock us about. Oh, lucky me. For Christ’s sake, Eddie, that’s as it should be! You try and understand that. Rights, not privileges. It’s that easy. It really bloody is.”