“Khaana banana seekhle”, the uncle living in the house right next to mine shouts over the balcony as my brother brings me a bowl of Maggi. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to cook, it’s a basic life skill, argues his son when he sees me frown.
How am I to explain that it’s a life skill for me because apparently, only women eat.
We’re not alien to the fact that there’s a certain set of skills and responsibilities attributed specifically to men, as there are ones attached only to women. Whether it’s earning money, making investment decisions, running errands, or doing anything involving an interaction with the world outside, it lies in the realm of the man’s responsibilities. Cleaning up around the house, taking care of the elders, or ensuring that the kids are getting raised right, call the woman to the task. There’s no problem with dividing tasks, but why are we so bent on this gendered differentiation of roles?
Work from home vs work for home
Why are women, by default, the homemakers? Why is it exceptional when women decide to get out of the house and work?
According to a Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce – India 2020 survey conducted online, only 19.9% women make up the total labour force in India.
As COVID-19 exacerbated and jobs declined, more women were left unemployed or were subjected to severe pay cuts as compared to men.
One might like to think this differentiation is limited only to the lower middle class or middle-class households, or ones where educated women are still a myth. But this gendered difference transcends all boundaries of class, education, and caste.
Take for example the case of Ayesha Mehra from Dil Dhadakne Do. Zoya Akhtar’s portrayal of the rich, upper class woman plagued by the pressures of rearing a family is one that has been widely recognised. Ayesha’s attempt at making a name for herself and becoming an established entrepreneur is constantly undercut by her parents’ and husband’s expectations of her.
When Manav remarks, “Maine Ayesha ko allow kiya business chalane ko”, we are brought back to the question: why does Ayesha need his permission?
‘Advocates’ of equality may argue that women these days are earning and taking up jobs now more than ever. But the point is still missed – why is it so exceptional for a woman to work? Why is our normative structure one that ties women to housework?
Women who go out and work – who earn money to be precise – are often questioned for their choices. Unquestionably so, because when a woman decides to stop being the housewife, she is taking up arms against years of patriarchal beliefs that are sustained by confining women indoors.
She is going out and seeking money, seeking independence, seeking freedom, and seeking a sense of self that is separate from her family.
In Tumhari Sulu, take a look at Vidya Balan’s happy-go-lucky portrayal of the jovial housewife who is always on the lookout to win something. But when she finally earns a ticket to financial independence, she is inevitably questioned by her formerly supportive husband. His is an insecurity that arises from Sulu’s profession – she uses a seductive voice to appeal to late night callers on the radio.
But his conflict on how to come to terms with Sulu’s new job finds its resolution when he gets to pin the blame for their son’s misbehaviour on Sulu.
Suddenly, she becomes the mother who was responsible for taking care of their son. In going out to work, she is flouting her primary responsibilities.
A working woman is a threat to society
Once a woman starts earning money, she gains agency that is not agreeable to society. So, to no surprise, society despises women who can make money. Whether it’s an actress putting off getting married for her career, a teacher deciding not to conceive to establish herself in the field, a doctor leaving her kids at home to practice her passion, or an entrepreneur starting up a small business out of her home; they are all a menace to society.
As per a survey conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly 30% of the men worldwide prefer that women stay at home instead of working outside.
For anyone wondering why this blog is addressing problems that are tales of the past, here is an example to redress your concerns. My ‘modern’ cousin is looking to get married. As someone who has lived in major cities like Pune, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, and Jaipur, one would expect him to be very open about his beliefs. When asked if he wants his prospective bride to be a working woman, he says it’s better if she works so she doesn’t get bored at home, and in a year or two she’ll have a kid to entertain her. I ask him what if she wants the money, what if she doesn’t like the idea of rearing kids so early on?
He smirks and asks, “Why is she getting married at all then? I will be earning enough, what does she need her own money for?”
This hate that is spewed on working, independent women makes itself known in many ways. The humongous set of obstacles they face at work in the form of sexist remarks, mansplaining, harassment, and unequal pay is one. Being compared to men by saying that equal opportunities exist for both, is another.
The most prominent one is how working women are constantly forced to match the homemaking levels of homemaking women.
Since working outside is treated as an extra skill, a mere hobby, if you will, their real test is how well they take care of the home.
If you ask me, I’ll say this happens because society is scared of women becoming independent.
If a woman steps out and realises her full potential, she ceases to be the second sex.
She ceases to be a wife, a mother, a daughter; she is her own human. She is capable and complete. She isn’t complacent or quiet, she is curious and courageous.
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