Indian society is largely patriarchal, governed by socially and culturally constructed gender roles. Although these gender roles are not biologically innate, society makes them appear to be so.
When a child is born, immediately they are moulded according to socially accepted gender roles. In fact, the stereotypical mentality of the society plays a major role in bringing up the child with a similar notion of gender roles permanently ingrained in their mind. This can account for the ‘natural’ tendency of a male child’s preference for toy cars while a female child’s ‘preference’ lies in playing with dolls.
From times immemorial, women were made to engage in work that revolved around their home and involved less physical strength. This was done for a simple reason – they were considered to be the weaker sex. The men, however, could go out of their homes and engage in their choice of work. The fact which is completely overlooked is that the work society makes women engage in also requires physical, mental and emotional strength. Cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, taking care of the household, rearing children – these are no less important but often this labour goes unnoticed, unpaid and not included in the country’s GDP calculation because these are not regarded as proper work. Proper work, according to society, is only that which provides money in exchange and since household work is done for one’s dear ones, it is not regarded as work.
According to the general belief, a woman cooks food, washes clothes, cleans the household out of love for her family. These tasks have no monetary exchange involved. But why can’t men also partake in this kind of work – in taking care of some of the household chores? Does this mean that a man does not love his family? We know that is not the case.
In some affluent families, women are not allowed to seek work but are allowed to take care of the family business. But even this labour is not recognised as it is said that they are only contributing to their own family’s welfare.
Therefore, most women live a marginalised existence where they provide labour but are not appreciated in any way. They go on living a where they devote every second to their family members. Their household work takes up a major part of their time and very obviously, they are not left with much time for themselves. Gradually, they come to live a life that is dependent on others and in due course, they become habituated to it.
In the case of working women, the question of priorities comes into being. Many working women are made to shoulder double responsibilities or twice the burden. When a man returns from work, he expects his wife to tend to his needs but a woman returning from work cannot provide that. She has to first take care of her household and then her work. Even when she returns home dead tired, probably equally exhausted as the man, she is supposed to carry on with her homely duties. Therefore, a woman working just for her own happiness, satisfaction and the fulfilment of her dreams is not accepted by the society.
A woman is taught to be a good wife and a better mother. Her education is directed towards getting good marriage prospects and pleasing her husband. The economic independence of a woman is not allowed as that would elevate their position and status in society – perhaps more so because then women might refuse to be subjugated. The patriarchal society wants to go on wielding their control over women and dismiss them as the ‘other’. The stereotypical concept of a woman is that of a mere passive being, she cannot speak for herself. ‘He’ represents her, ‘he’ speaks for her and constructs her identity.
This maze will get disrupted if women are let out of their households, the place from where male domination originates. Many women are probably aware of this perverted play of power but are too reluctant to rid themselves of this age-old trap because that is how they have been brought up by their mothers and that is what they have been told to do.