By Meenal Thakur:
Browsing through The Hindu’s e-paper, I stumbled upon an article titled “For a great marriage, men must cook”. Despite the content of the article made obvious by the title, I decided to continue reading it. In retrospect, I am glad I did. The piece would have managed to hit the nail on the head but for one line. I am not targeting the author here, because her opinion, like most others, was painted by the dominant discourse on this subject which unfortunately is set by the patriarchs controlling our society.
“Wouldn’t it be so unsympathetic of a man to let his pregnant wife stand in front of the stove heat for hours? If she can go through the pain of bearing a child for a year, so a man could cook too for a year. Doesn’t this sound fair enough?” On face value, this sentence makes perfect sense and all marriage counsellors would swear by it. So what’s the problem here? The problem is that, it is sentences like these that not only strengthen but also normalize the already deep rooted notions of the position of women in a marriage. Statements like these are a subtle reminder of the true worth of women in this society; a society that values women mostly for their ability to reproduce and add another branch to the family tree, for their ability to contribute to the growth of the nation by ‘reproducing labour’, as feminist theorists would put it.
Why is it that husbands (and I apologise for taking the liberty to make generalisations about all husbands) are willing to go that extra mile to cook, work and run errands when their wives are pregnant, and after nine months these efforts either die down gradually or get limited to one day of the week/month/year? Does this mean that a woman has to be permanently pregnant for her husband to equally contribute towards running the house?
This reminds me of a conversation I unwillingly overheard, sandwiched between two women, while travelling in the Delhi Metro. It was about 7 PM and they were cursing their boss for the extended staff meeting. One of them had soaked chanas (gram) before leaving and had to get back home and cook them, while the other was gloating about how it was her ‘day off’, as her husband who prepared dinner once a week was going to cook that day.
Clearly, the first woman needed to sit her husband down and explain to him that she wasn’t his personal butler. It was the other woman I was confused about. Should I be happy for her or be sad about her unfounded happiness? After all, she at least had that one day to look forward to. But what about those 313 other days of the year when she would be rushing home from work, simultaneously making a mental note of what to prepare for breakfast the next day.
Thousands of women like her live with this false reassurance that their marriages are working because of the sustained efforts of both the partners. This is because in our patriarchal society, household work has always been the domain of women and therefore any kind of help, however meagre it might be, seems like a great consolation.
Household and office work has been divided between men and women into watertight compartments, and over the years, it has been normalised to such an extent that whenever there is a weakening of these rigid boundaries, it is treated as an anomaly. An anomaly which most patriarchs dread but many women revel in. Girls are not born with pans in their hands, neither are boys with pens, so what is the basis of this division?
How regressive are we as a society that many women still celebrate when their husbands cook for them? Have you ever come across any man saying – “Do you know last night my wife took me by surprise by preparing dinner for me and said she’ll consider doing it more often?”.