March 11, 2016

#ShareTheLoad: Start now

I recently watched the Ariel's latest TV commercial and was very impressed with the sensitivity and brilliance with which they dealt with gender prejudice, an issue prevailing in all sections of our chauvinistic society. Since time immemorial, we Indians have been brought up on the notion that women are supposed to be the care givers and men the breadwinners. Later down the line, women's liberation fought for the right for education, equality , and emancipation. But how much of this have we really achieved? 
With building awareness and literacy, women are now allowed to study and work out of the house. However, not at the cost of cutting them some slack at the home front. With their capacity challenged, and stress doubled, women are now expected to manage home and work in tandem, and any kind of lackadaisical behavior is taken as proof of incompetence. The typical Indian male, however, is expected to work a nine to five job, after which he comes home and plops on the sofa in front of the TV while his poor wife continues to run odd chores around the house. She carries his briefcase inside, serves him tea, sets out the night clothes, feeds the screaming toddler, cooks dinner, prepares for an office presentation, and even answers the doorbell a couple of times in between all this chaos. All this while, the husband is watching his favorite game, not moving a finger except to change channels during commercials. This is the common scenario in most Indian households. Seems unfair, isn't it?

Well, this gender prejudice is a topic that is casually brushed under the carpet or  nervously laughed upon in most families. While we are often guilty of succumbing to it, what we fail to acknowledge is the face that it is the main reason for the skewed gender bias prevalent in our country. We have seen so much of it happening everywhere, that we have learned to accept it as a way of life.

As a child, I remember playing with Barbie dolls. For most children my age, including me, Barbie then would pose as not just a play thing but as a sort of role model. Besides the beautiful blonde hair, pretty dresses, and glamorous looks that we were so much in awe with, it was mainly the various roles the doll was available in, that really mesmerized our young impressionable minds, setting her apart from all the other dolls. Barbie could be anything she wanted. There was Doctor Barbie, Beauty queen Barbie, Homemaker Barbie, Traditional Barbie, Sports Barbie; the list was endless. Owing to its increasing fascination among young girls the world over, the makers of Barbie eventually introduced her boyfriend Ken and sister Skipper in the market. But they could never beat the popularity Barbie managed to create. 
Thinking back, we, even as little girls, had been fed this idea of a complete woman. Barbie was this multifaceted personality who was not just an independent, enterprising woman but also one who managed to look graceful at all times. Indian doll makers went the whole extra mile by manufacturing Bridal Barbie and Traditional Barbie. 
Knowing my stupid fascination for Barbie and her world, every relative would gift me a Barbie doll or the accompanying accessories as gifts. So by the time I was twelve, I had the entire Barbie collection. I remember conjuring up imaginary situations with my play friends, situations in which Barbie would eventually save the day. She'd either cook a spread, or provide first aid to an injured doll, or do some other remarkably ridiculous thing. In short, she was meant to be Barbie, but she was actually super-woman. Ken, being the typical male doll, was hardly ever brought to the forefront. We were too busy dressing up an overworked Barbie for office, parties, festivals etc. The only time Ken was brought into the picture was during the imaginary dates Barbie used to spend hours dressing up for and eventually end up looking like a diva..

While Barbie played multiple roles, trying to balance both personal and professional life, Ken with his rippling muscles and limited accessories only featured as her significant other on occasions he needed to be seen. (Yea, to think we grew up calling them an ideal couple!). However, what we did not realize then was that with every play scenario we concocted, somewhere we secretly wished and hoped we'd grow up to be like this multi-talented, omnipotent, glam doll.

Cut to present day, we have outgrown Barbie. But the influence she managed to create on our childhood still remains. There are days when we still wish we could have that size zero body image. We still strive to fit perfectly into the multiple boxes society has carved out for us---a doting mother, a caring wife, a dutiful daughter-in-law, an independent professional from 9 to 5, and a loving home maker after that. 
Since when did we go from being our Daddy's little princess to being Invincible Superwoman? 

In a way, maybe we are ourselves responsible for this prejudice. For a very long time, I confess I too mentally labelled all men who helped in household chores as 'wuss'  or 'sissy'. I'd laugh at the thought of my better half helping me cook or do the laundry. The stereotypical image of Indian 'Mard' was so ingrained in my mind, that it refused to acknowledge that division of tasks was not fixed. However, this delusion shattered when I realized how people can take advantage of this submissive mindset, how despite being 'Superwoman' you are never enough, how the expectations from a woman never end---it's like a bottomless bag that demands to be continuously filled. 

I recently read about a survey that AC Nielson conducted for Ariel. Statistics revealed that 78% of Indian girls agree that they should learn laundry as they'd require to do it in later life, 2 out of every 3 children think that washing clothes is a woman's job, 81% of married men agree that their daughters must learn household chores as that would only make their life easier after marriage.
However, what I always find surprising is that, boys or men are hardly expected to help in household activities or learn to carry out household tasks. Even in a modern day generation like ours, the children in the house are brought up relying on their mother alone (and never on their father) for their neatly pressed uniforms, systematically packed tiffins, freshly cooked meals, and clean washed laundry. The husband too, unaware of the strenous responsibilities on his wife continues to pile on his own set of errands on her. This goes on and on as the entire family depends on the woman for all their needs, not once stopping to think whether she could do with a break. 
And hence the need---the need to end this gender prejudice, the need to remind the men to share the load.

Some tips that can be followed in this direction: Let's begin by starting at home.

  1. Share responsibility of at least one meal a day. This means the male of the house should fix at least one meal of the day. Maybe he can fix a simple breakfast of OJ and sandwiches, or a light dinner. Whatever it might be, this will ensure that the children in the house grow up seeing cooking as a joint activity. Your son will know that there is nothing shameful about a man cooking, and your daughter will realize that its not wrong to expect her man to help her in the kitchen.
  2. The man of the house should help with the laundry. This would really help relieve a big load off the woman. Offer to load and unload the clothes into and from the washing machine. Learn how much detergent goes in the washing. Now with Ariel, you can get the laundry done within minutes. It's easy as pie, and the sparkling white clothes will leave her with no reason to complain. Besides, you will be a good role model for not just your children, but also for the other husbands in your wife's extended family, because she is sure to talk about what a darling you are.
  3. Every once in a while, fix your own cup of evening tea. Don't forget to ask your wife how her day has been. Chances are she has not had a moment's rest. Surprise her pleasantly with a gentle neck massage or warm back rub. Treat her like a queen, for she deserves to be treated as one. If not, at least treat her as an equal.
  4. This is for the women of the house. Stop orthodox practices like eating only after Pati Parmeshwar has eaten, keeping fasts every third day as a sign to show your love, pressing your mother-in-law's feet and other forms of seva. Our daily soaps might have inspired these. I don't see men keeping fasts, or staying hungry until their wives return from work. Putting an end to these orthodox practices would keep the expectations realistic and equal. Don't be a door mat. Act sensible. Your daughters are looking.
  5. Do not bring up your girls on false ideals. Instead, teach them how to recognize when they are not treated right. Explain to them the limits of adjustment and compromises, when to stay in and when to walk out.
  6. Alternate doing the dishes. Just like the laundry, you can help with the dishes too.
  7. Do not bring up your sons on false hopes. Do not pamper him or treat him special just because he is a boy. The loser will end up expecting the same from his wife. Instead, teach him to help you with the groceries. Ask him to run a few household errands. Don't raise a boy, raise a man!
  8. Stop that ridiculous game of 'House-house' that most Indian children mostly play. This is where the skewed idea of responsibilities stem from. Instead, insist that your daughter plays student-teacher, shopkeeper-customer, doctor-patient, or even chor-police for that matter. Do not box her in the role of a domesticated pretend-housewife making pretend-tea in pretend-teacups for a chauvinistic pretend-husband reading the newspaper. If being children, they still insist on playing 'House', then make sure you patiently break the stereotype in their mind and ask them to divide the role equally, because that is what responsible married couples do. They share the load.
  9.  If you haven't created a very good example yet, now is the time. Be the man you'd want your daughter to marry. Show her what she deserves to expect from her significant other. Convince her not to settle for anything less. Your princess will only realize her worth when she sees her father treating her mother like a queen.

Ours is a progressive country. We have a long way. But a progressive country needs not just to understand but also to respect the role of women in society. It needs to realize that it is not just liberation that is important, but also a sense of equality that begins at home. Only then, we can call ourselves a truly liberated nation.

Last but not the least, all men should understand one very important thing---Your wife, like you, is only human. There will be days when she will be vulnerable, upset, or even mad. Such times, you might have to bear the brunt of her misdirected anger. It might be something at the work place, or something at home. Times like these, lend her a patient ear. Show her some love. Take her out to dinner. Do not worsen the situation by slamming doors or yelling and screaming. There is huge mental load in every woman's mind. Overburdened by the burden of the expectations from society as well as from herself, there might be instances when she cannot express the way she feels.

Understand the weight that is weighing her down. Share the load.

 I am joining the Ariel #ShareTheLoad campaign at BlogAdda and blogging about the prejudice related to household chores being passed on to the next generation.

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