Over the past few decades, the feminist movement has progressed rapidly. However, equality is still a distant goal, and gendered issues faced by both men and women are yet to be addressed. Male allies have played an important role in pushing the feminist movement forward. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent passing has brought to the forefront the role played by her husband, Marty, in the making of the notorious RBG. Several men advocate for change and work towards a more inclusive society, despite not being the direct beneficiaries of this advocacy.
However, there still exists a yawning gap between men and women when it comes to household chores. In this COVID crisis, I have been working out of my parents’ home where my mother does a vast majority of the chores. My father is a feminist and has always helped out around the house. However, when my mother fell ill and was unable to work for two days, the household crumbled. I had to take on the responsibility of ensuring the household ran smoothly, my father having absolutely no idea what chores needed to be done. Neither could he stick to the schedule I gave him.
This was an eye-opener; it made me realise that most men live in deliberate ignorance of the chores that ensure their lives run smoothly. They live as the seven dwarves did – coming to a house that’s magically in order with hot food served from time to time. Meanwhile, women either do the chores or manage the help that does the chores. The help, more often than not, also tends to be female. There is an implicit understanding that household chores are a woman’s business.
Not only is this burdensome for women, it is also harmful for men to live with such a dangerous level of ineptitude. Chores are an essential survival skill. In a hypothetical post-apocalyptic world, despite what the movies tell us, maintaining a shelter in good condition will be as crucial as building the shelter itself. There is nothing effeminate about chores, and gendering chores is short-sighted; it also infantilises men.
A statistical study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Indian men spend an average of 52 minutes per day on unpaid work, while women spend a whopping 352 minutes. Of course, the urban-rural divide contributes heavily to these statistics. However, studies very clearly indicate that working women do more chores than working men. Stay-at-home fathers do less work than stay-at-home mothers. Women are socially conditioned to be responsible for the home, while men are conditioned to delegate that responsibility to women. Men, overall, have more leisure time than women, regardless of who among them is employed. The ongoing COVID crisis has precipitated this divide; working from home and not having access to domestic help has increased the burden on women to manage a household while also keeping their careers on track.
There seems to be an undeniable correlation between a task that is unpaid and its delegation to a woman. Women traditionally do the cooking at home, but paid chefs are predominantly male. Women have to take on thankless unpaid labour as a result of tradition steeped in violently sexist history. The other side of the chores divide has men handling maintenance work such as electricals and plumbing; women rarely ever play a part in these ‘masculine’ tasks. Gendering of chores no longer bears any practical value now that women have found their way into every industry and are taking on the same amount of work as men. Its persistence is a reflection of a lethargic society whose status quo is maintained for the convenience it affords to one of the sexes.
From my cohabitation with women, I have realised that the quest for equality has given rise to an increasing trend of women choosing to ignore essential household management skills in response to the unfair expectation. This, however, is the opposite of progress. Household maintenance skills should be a non-negotiable skill for all, regardless of gender. This gender divide commences at home and parents are the culprits, more often than not. There is a cultural reluctance to make boys do chores. Introducing it as part of school curriculum could perhaps increase awareness and ensure that parents are obligated to get their sons’ hands dirty. Sensitisation at workplaces could also go a long way in ensuring the same.
(Edited by Varsha Roysam)