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“Do Women Have To Be Permanently Pregnant For Husbands To Contribute In Household Work?”

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By Meenal Thakur:

Browsing through The Hindu’s e-paper, I stumbled upon an article titledFor 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.

Punjabi_woman_in_kitchen

“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?”.

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  1. Ducard

    This is a clear example of how feminism wants men to turn into slaves. Men are obliged to earn for their wives, not the other way around. Men are already financial slaves and now they must cook too. God help the man who marries a feminist.

    1. Swati

      I disagree Ducard that this article is about turning men into slaves. The article does not talk about some feminist theories. It instead, in a very simple manner asks for a 50-50 contribution in household. You say men are obliged to earn, but in examples cited- these were “working” women. To run a household , equal contribution is desired. Both people have to earn in today’s household to have quality of life they desire. Its not just quality of life, but both of them should be financially independent. But on other hand, both of them should contribute equally toward household activities. If women does cooking, men can clean dishes or help children in homework etc.

    2. Meenal Thakur

      Dear Ducard, neither are men ‘obliged’ to earn for their wives, nor does feminism aim at turning men into slaves. It is this narrow understanding of feminism that is the problem here. Feminists want equality, plain and simple, equality. Equality, even in the most basic of work, cooking being the case in point here. No one is asking men to stand in the kitchen the entire day, all that we ask is for men to lend a helping hand, but, without attaching any expiry date to it.

      Men bashing is no where on our agenda. Trust me.

  2. Ananya

    Everytime I see an article like this, I cringe at the half-baked ideas that feminists are fighting for. I feel feminists should demand respect and equal opportunities for women. But they should respect the fact that men and women are not the same. No sex is superior to the other. They are just different. I agree that in most societies, women are expected to cook. Then again, in most societies, men are expected to do all the physically strenous jobs. I have never seen any man whoop woth joy when he is expected to carry the heavy bags. No man likes to file the taxes and yet in most couples the guys do it. Not because women are incapable of doing it. But because sharing chores does not have to mean sharing each job 50-50. It could mean some chores being done by the man and some by the woman. If in those chores the woman cooks and cleans while the man gets the car serviced, files taxes and drives I do not see the inequality!
    PS: Trust me, if you stay in a city like Delhi or Bangalore, cooking is way more fun than driving.

    1. Meenal Thakur

      Agreed. But firstly, no is asking for a 50-50 division of work, that would be unrealistic. Right? The way household work is divided between men and women varies from family to family, yet the basis of this division depends on how ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ the work is. Cooking , as i said earlier, is just a case in point.

      We are so comfortable in our spaces that we tend to ignore these divisions and how they have been normalised.

      Also, I completely agree that cooking is much better than driving when you live in a place like Delhi. But again, aren’t we reinforcing gender stereotypes when we say so?

    2. Ducard

      Why is it that I must work, pay the bills, rush to buy groceries when I return exhausted from work, take my wife to the doctor, call the plumber, go to the petrol station, get my vehicle fixed, run all the errands, have my wife emotionally blackmail me to have sex with her, and listen to her complain endlessly about anything and everything.

    3. Ananya

      Ducard: Really?? “…emotionally blackmail me to have sex with her, and listen to her complain endlessly about anything and everything.” The article is least of your concerns, man.
      Plus there is no “must”. Do as you want. As far as exhausted goes, your wife doesn’t exactly have to eat muffins and play with rabbits at work. She is exhausted too! You do some of the work while she does some. There is no need to crib! Try not to describe women as monsters and men as victims!

    4. Ananya

      I am genuinely confused. By what parameter is a job described as being feminine or masculine? (Not being sarcastic. I really want an answer.) Anyway, assuming that driving is a masculine chore. Now instead of the conversation you heard, imagine this: the woman says that her husband always cooks for her. But once she gets back, she has to set-up the stupid music player and and then wake up early to drive her kids to school. Would that conversation signify that we have finally got equality? Would a day where the men are expected to cook while the wife has to drive be considered as a momentous occasion? Till the time neither of the sex is simply slogging away while the other sex is enjoying, it shouldn’t matter how the jobs are divided. No chores are fun. They are all mind-numbingly dull. These are just things that have to be done.

    5. Meenal Thakur

      The way cooking ( requiring less physical strength) and the example you gave of a man carrying heavy bags ( requiring more physical strength) are divided is what I am talking about. Again, this just one of the many divisions. Also, I would love to hear a woman say that, it would break stereotypes, wouldn’t it?
      I am afraid that would not be a momentous occasion, because I am sure that happens in many households ( as I said I apologise for making generalisations). But these ‘many’ households will fall under the minority when it comes to calculating how ‘all’ households fair in this field.
      Once again, cooking is just an example, cited keeping in mind the conversation of those “working women” and many more like them.
      YES, till the time neither of the sex is simply slogging away while the other sex is enjoying, it shouldn’t matter how the jobs are divided. But unfortunately, the general scenario is emblematic of one sex slogging while the other enjoys.

      I feel we are in the same book, but not on the same page. I completely agree with what you are saying, infact you are adding substance to what I said by bringing in other household work and not just cooking.

    6. Ananya

      While it would be interesting to hear a woman say that, it would not be an achievement for our sex. It would be a shift in the general perception. But in my opinion it would be an insignificant change. It would affect nobody’s life, for good or for worse. I am a feminist through and through and what I really want is a day where even in the smallest village a girl’s birth is not mourned but rejoiced; the love, education, nutrition a child gets does not depend on its gender; a woman is not judged by her clothes; a day where I can freely walk on any road at any time without worrying about my safety and nobody assumes that a woman is a not good marriage material if she is ambitious.. These are the things truly worth fighting for.
      Also I beg to differ with your statement “…the general scenario is emblematic of one sex slogging while the other enjoys.” The tasks assigned to men and women may be vastly different but men are in no way relaxing at the expense of women.

    7. Meenal Thakur

      What you are saying is right but it comes from a personal experience, an environment that is different from mine, that is different from many others. I speak for those whom I have seen slog, and trust me I have seen many and I time and again apologise for generalising. The things you feel are truly worth fighting for are things I want to fight for as well.

      Let me put it this way, what we aim to achieve through our fight is the same, just that the issues we raise along the way are different. What matters to me may seem trivial to you as I speak from an experience which is different from yours.

    8. Ananya

      I believe that my experiences since childhood have shaped my opinions. And while I respect your opinion, I can’t relate to it because I have been lucky enough to have seen families where both the husband and the wife do the chores. Let’s hope for a day where articles like these are not needed because equality is not just a theory by then.
      Completely off the topic: you’ve restored my faith in humanity! This is literally the first time I’ve had a civilized discussion on the internet. Most times it ends with unwarranted comments on character and upbringing.

    9. Meenal Thakur

      This feeling is mutual . I am glad it ended this way 🙂

    10. Ducard

      Women want a world of equality where men do the majority of the work.

    11. Meenal Thakur

      Has any girl ever said that to you? I am sure not.

    12. Fem

      “Women want a world of equality where men do the majority of the work”

      Every time I heard this sentiment it is from men. Every time a woman speak about this matter she stresses on equality, equal division of labor and opportunities. And every time she keeps her demands, a certain section of men take it as personal affront and moan about the fact how women are making slaves out of men.

      Equality people!! Look it up!

    13. Caleb

      Spoken like a true feminist: cranky, illogical, and condescending. Women like you, and all the other feminists have destroyed marriage. Ever since feminism has taken hold, divorce rates have skyrocketed and children have been living fatherless. Fatherless children are much more likely to be criminals, commit suicide, have mental disorders, and a whole slew of other problems. In your eyes this is a good thing, because you are “free”. In reality, the modern woman is tearing society apart.

  3. TempleTwins

    I cook my own food most of the time. So cooking is not an issue, division of labor is. My brother recently shifted his place, the heavy things are to be carried by me and my brother, while his wife & my mom would cook, I would gladly take cooking instead of the heavy lifting but I know for a fact that neither my sister-in-law or my mother would do the heavy lifting. To put it simply what is deemed as housework which is traditionally done by women is so easy after post-industrialization even men can do it. Are women ready to do the heavy lifting? ready to ride the car throughout the night assuring the safety of everyone involved?

    About feminism just wanting equality, Ranjana kumari suggested that men should not just share their marital property during divorce but also their ancestral property, claiming that 71% of Indian women are dependent on their husbands. If a feminist quoted a statistics it must be true, so it clearly shows both patriarchy and feminism is pushing men to be providers of women, since it benefits women.

    Now they want men to help in household chores as well, which if women were working and put an equal amount of money on the table, then it can be accepted, considering she would also do the heavy lifting, driving etc. But knowing that most women are hypergamous, and less likely to do heavy lifting and driving and probably earning less than their husbands generally, the variables doesn’t match so no 50-50 but I guess most Indian men are gynosympathetic so they would help anyways.

    1. Meenal Thakur

      Sure, what is deemed as housework which is traditionally done by women is so easy after post-industrialization even men can do it. But do men do it? Some do some don’t. Most of them would rather buy the wife a machine that’ll help reduce her work but won’t take up the work themselves.

      A washing machine is meant to lesser the burden of women, esp the ‘working women’ but ultimately it is the women who has to press the button, the man will just buy it ( even if the woman buys it ).

      Now obviously, we can’t have a debate over who presses the button. My point is, despite technological advancement women still do what they were doing, just the amount of time involved is less. They just have a machine to help them now, not the man ( in most of the cases, not always).

      Again, cooking is just an example of household work. Division of labor is clearly the issue here, but cooking does matter, as it is household work.

      Yes women are ready to ride the car throughout the night assuring the safety of everyone involved. Just that in today’s sorry state of affairs, the women will have to put herself in danger before doing so, nevertheless it is doable and should be done. We need to reclaim public spaces.

      The ancestral property remark is debatable, I won’t refute for the sake of refuting.

      Lastly, no one is asking for a 50-50 division in just one field, it can be evenly spread out across the various chores one has to do on a daily basis.

    2. Ducard

      Men are forced to work, men have to give alimony, men have to propose, men give child support, men have to run to buy groceries, men have to take the vehicle for repair and to the petrol pump, men have to scamper for medicine in case someone falls ill, men deal with everyone from electricians and plumbers to doctors and lawyers, men have to stand on public transport, men are victimized by the law ….phew!

    3. Jahnawi

      Men don’t HAVE to do anything.

    4. Green Lantern

      Well said, I agree.

    5. Ducard

      I am merely Ducard, but I speak for Ra’s al Ghul.

    6. TempleTwins

      Most of them would rather buy the wife a machine that’ll help reduce her work but won’t take up the work themselves.

      Like I said Industrial revolution had made most of the house work easy. If the wife is not going to press the button and do the laundry, What is her role then? Like my statement before 71% of women being dependent which means, majority of women aren’t bringing money on the table in majority of the household. If they are working they are less likely to earn as much as their husbands which means they are paying less of a rent for their stay etc but they are contemplating on who must press the button?

      The washing machine or most of the other machines are probably invented by a man and most likely bought by a man in our country, so what is your role?I would say being a stay at home housewife is like living off someone else money and watching tv most of the day in todays time. Most men doesn’t have the liberty to be stay at home husbands in our country, so context is important here.

      Yes women are ready to ride the car throughout the night assuring the safety of everyone involved. Just that in today’s sorry state of affairs

      Every time we travel as a family in our car, it is either my brother or me or my sister-in law had to ride the car. My sister in spite of knowing how to drive would rather let us men do the stressful driving? Now if the tire is punctured, they would simply be sitting on their asses while we had to change the tires, find a local mechanic shop, carry the tire to the shop, while they are sitting on their asses, princess complex anyone? What women take from men, they take it for granted, yet they complain when they had to their part. I say lets all embrace equality and take our turns.

      no one is asking for a 50-50 division in just one field, it can be evenly spread out across the various chores one has to do on a daily basis.

      I agree yet this article is about just women complaining their role for example when she said ‘Clearly, the first woman needed to sit her husband down and explain to him that she wasn’t his personal butler’. But men are ATM machines for women, they made sure they are forced to be one legally. So if you force me into labor which I have no choice to say no and forced to share my resources just because you were married to me, why shouldn’t men see women as butlers, if you are capable of being an an independent individual you wouldn’t extort mens finances by legislature.

  4. Jigsaw

    Meenal, you may not have placed your demands verbally and authoritatively, but you have achieved your goal by other means, quite vociferously, clearly knowing that your words are dripping with venom. You seek to merely achieve the goal of poisoning the minds of women, thus staining your soul.

    While you feverishly try to bridge gender roles, your writing lacks benevolence and reeks of ingenuousness. You continue indulging in false vanity and need to brush aside prejudice that you have so emphatically soaked in.

    Will you now learn and assimilate the veracity brought at your cognizance, or continue to lack candour about irrefutable facts?

    The choice is yours.

  5. Essential Logic

    Women are rising up and ruining the lives of their children. People don’t like being oppressed? Well, women are oppressing their children. They treat the children they don’t want like garbage by aborting them or leaving them at hospitals (which U.S. law allows) and treat the children they do want like meal tickets by collecting welfare and child support. Women didn’t participate in the world before because they didn’t want to do the work. The world was dangerous, hostile and violent so women hid behind men for protection. Then, when men made the world safer, women decided they didn’t need men any more and then destroyed families all in the name of freedom. What is the result? Today, there is more poverty among women with the rise of the single mother. More people in prison then ever before and over 85 percent of them are the products of single mothers. Being free does not mean humping bad boys, getting pregnant, demanding welfare and child support and then raising children through a string of boyfriends and irresponsible behavior. That’s not independence, that’s recklessness

  6. TheSeeker

    What about women who don’t work? Will the husbands still help them like butlers? I think a deeper issue needs to be solved here, that is, the option that women have to work or not to work. And also, India has one of the lowest female workforce participation percentage in the world. This is a lame issue you’re fighting on.

  7. aashi

    wow…i just finished reading the comments here… Why is it that we r assuming these role divisions. I understand that our society has conditioned our mind for years on end to these divides… After reading the article I just had one thought… The urgency in a woman’s voice shouldn’t be there..look of a husband and a wife work..and the husband reaches early he can cook too… Similarly women can drive or pick heavy bags (if she has the strength…this applies to men also). A small example to this matter… My mum loves re decorating rooms…that means shoring heavy furniture and sometimes picking heavy bags and transporting them to new rooms from the first to ground floor… My brother was always a weak kid so till almost 20 I did all this for her…n if I wasn’t around she did it herself… I’ve always been the one to pick up luggage while seeing off people n my father n other male members always stop me… They end up helping instead… That’s equality… If I am sick or my mum is … Then we don’t do all tht… But whenever there is an opportunity to do something … Just do it… The reason we in India are lagging behind is because of shaming certain types of work… Y is it that driving is considered superior than cleaning clothes? Why is it that we consoder our maids and drivers as untouchables so give them thier separate plates and cups.. It’s these little things that our the problem… N the associated thoughts that arise from it.. It is because as a society we think cooking and cleaning and laundry are lesser jobs as compared to driving and paying taxes… Not doing both types of jobs would have devastating consequences… Treat them as such and I think this whole “women vs men” issue would find some relief…also duncun m Sry to say but u seem like a highly frustrated guy…so either ur highly unstable or ur wife treats you horribly… Again apologise for the personal jab but amongst all the retorts to this article you seem to be spitting venom for some reason….do tc

    1. aashi

      I apologize… I meant ducard …. Tht was autocorrected

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