What exactly is it about housework where a man doing it makes him a saint and yet the women who’ve always been doing it hardly get a nod?
Well, many things don’t apply for women under patriarchy, so we’re not even getting into that argument. But the point remains that as we’re seeing the long awaited inversion of gender roles, somehow the idea of men in the kitchen (or in the home) seems to be romanticised a bit, while women at work get the exact opposite treatment. We wonder why?
Take a look at a recent Hindi film, ‘Ki & Ka’. An entire film concerned with the reversal of gender roles where Kareena Kapoor’s Kia plays a successful businesswoman against Arjun Kapoor’s Kabir’s more house-husbandly status. Yes, yes ‘Ki & Ka’, we all got the joke. But the point the film (and its trailers) focus on appears to be Kabir’s acceptance of his role as managing the household which even in the movie is played up to be either a great personal sacrifice or something that affects his ‘manliness’. The fact that the film goes out of its way to say that nope, Kabir is still totally the one wearing the ‘pants’ (both metaphorically and literally) even though he’s now playing the role of ‘housewife’ kinda brings home the point they’re missing. What is the big deal if men choose to stay at home?
One, it really, really brings to the forefront how little household work is respected as real work, even though it can amount to as much as 56 hours a week. And for those people out there who don’t think that household work constitutes as work, newsflash: it absolutely does. The second thing it does is repeat history’s irritating habit of making golden everything that men touch even though women have always been doing those things, absolutely unappreciated. For further distressing details, look up women in computing (starting way back from Ada Lovelace to the likes of Adele Goldberg and Grace Hopper), DNA (uhh Rosalind Franklin?), science fiction, and the genre of the novel itself. The list is endless.
In Indian society, the idea of the woman being in the kitchen and making food is often doubly reinforced by the tradition which often expects them to not eat before their husbands. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t apply to husbands when they’ve switched the role around. The point remains: gendering of work just creates an unnecessary division of labour instead of expecting both sexes to shoulder an equal amount. Thus we can have a world where people like Kiran Bedi (the first woman Inspector General of police in India), Zama Mohammad Hadid (the first woman recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Award), Maryam Mirzakhani (mathematician), Anuradha Pal (first female professional tabla player) stop being exceptions. Women are thus breaking out roles assigned to them in a patriarchal society and redefining what ‘women’s labour’ means.
In reality, work is just work and while it’s always nice to help out, you don’t get a 21 gun salute for it. We must bring the household (seen primarily as a woman’s realm) and the outside (seen primarily as a man’s realm) on the same plane of importance and stop gendering them. In doing so, both men and women can receive equal credit for sharing work rather than expecting to share an entire world’s worth of work by themselves.