When we think of the term “family”, we draw a certain image in our mind of a mother as the homemaker, father as the working man and children as dependent entities. Family is a framework under which the role for women and men are defined differently. It is the basic unit on which the bigger structures of society are established. The members of a family are dependent on each other due to their own vulnerabilities.
In a patriarchal society like ours, the distribution of work in a household is on the basis of division of labor in the family unit. This labor is decided on the basis of age, gender and physical ability of members in a family. A general household in India is one wherein a woman will take care of the children and provide for the family by performing household chores while men go out and earn a living. For instance, since my teenage years, I have been pushed to learn cooking and cleaning. My father always emphasized that a home where two girls live (my sister and I) should always be neat and tidy. This article tries to understand how family as an institution legitimizes gender inequality.
Society believes that due to the reproductive function being performed by a woman’s body, it becomes the major responsibility of the mother to raise children. She takes care of children by looking after basic needs of sanitation, food and health. Along with the physical burden of bringing up a child, women are also supposed to develop an emotional quotient in children. In this way women also provide emotional labor to children.
The continuous labor that goes into bringing up a child is seen as “care” and “concern” women are supposed to do which is always unpaid. This is nothing but glorification and legitimization of oppression that is a result of patriarchy. Socialization of girls starts happening at a very young age when they are always told to first think for the family and then think for themselves. They are taught the basic skills of cleaning, washing and cooking during teenage years. They are often told to take care of their younger siblings.
Therefore, they are expected to mature faster than boys and they often do mature faster because they are laden with responsibilities from a young age. Even when girls are pursuing higher education, they are told to multitask and perform household chores along with their education. Same is the fate of a working woman. In most cases, she is allowed to work after marriage by her in-laws. But, she has the inherent responsibility to manage both work and home. Such women perform double labor in which only one is recognized. Meanwhile men have minimum contribution in household chores as well as in bringing up a child. This inequality in the structure of a family is problematic.
In this way the labor provided by women becomes invisible because the state doesn’t compensate them for their time, energy and efforts. This invisible labor of women is the basis of functioning of a family. It further strengthens the position of men in the family who help run the family financially and think their significance is more. Their power and authority to make decisions for the family remains unchallenged along with their position as a patriarch.
Due to this division of labor in the family, the identity of women is seen, in a collective sense, as someone’s wife, mother or daughter but rarely as her individual self. Such labor reproduces oppression and inequality in the family. In order to tackle this problem there is a need for bringing this discourse of politics of care in the family and to start a conversation around distribution of work on the basis of gender.
Holding the male figures in your family accountable for their share of work will help. Young boys should be sensitized about the unequal distribution of work in the family and should be taught the basic skills of doing household chores. Women deserve to have agency of their own with a sense of their unique identity. In order to change the greater structure of patriarchy, it is very necessary to start within our own home by questioning this family structure that fuels the oppression of women.