Dear Men By Prachi Gangwani shows how Indian men across ages navigate romantic relationships in a country that is still teetering on the cusp of modern and traditional. An excerpt:
Women’s financial freedom has been the driving force behind many changes in gender roles in the last couple of decades. Being financially independent has meant that women can walk out of bad marriages even when they don’t have family support, fight the pressure to get married by being able to afford to look after themselves, and finally, demand equal treatment in relationships. But these dual working relationships are a relatively new phenomenon, and many couples are the first in their family lineage where the woman too is out working. For many women, this means they now have two jobs — one at the office and one at home.
Nitin grew up watching his mother prepare meals for his father, have dinner ready when he would come home from work and not expect him to partake in household chores. His parents have been happily married for forty-three years. Nitin, thirty-three, is the youngest of three siblings. Newly married and living away from his parents for the second time in his life, he has had to make many ‘unexpected adjustments’.
‘If I have been out working for ten to twelve hours and I come home tired, is it unjustified for me to expect my partner to serve me food?’ Nitin wonders aloud. Nitin is an earnest and hard-working man who takes pride in being a husband. Married for two and a half years, he has had to do a lot of unlearning and re-learning. ‘It was difficult for my wife in the beginning. We used to fight a lot. We had a cook, but she would come in the mornings only. I like to come home and watch TV, just relax, you know? So, she was the one taking care of dinner. It led to a lot of fights. I would ignore her bickering.’
The lockdown forced Nitin to come face-to-face with the responsibilities of running a house. ‘Now our cook is not coming at all. So we have to do everything. I don’t like it. There’s no need for us to live like this. I’m trying to convince my wife we should move in with my parents but she’s not ready. So we are still fighting, but now I also help her with chores.’
I feel compelled to point out that in saying he ‘helps around the house’, Nitin still holds on to the idea that running the house is the wife’s domain, and that he is entitled to living in a fully functioning home without putting in much effort.
According to Ayush Chandra, a clinical psychologist practising in New Delhi, this tug of war between the new and the old ways of living and loving is the cause of many problems in our society. For Nitin, and many others like him, who have subconsciously imbibed the gender stereotypes they grew up witnessing, the tug of war seems to be between being the provider versus being a partner for his wife.
For our parents’ generation, where the patriarch of the family being the sole provider was the norm, many men felt that since they were out working hard to make sure the family was well taken care of, their needs at home should be taken care of by the family. For many families and couples, like Nitin’s parents, this arrangement worked. But children don’t always understand such subtleties. They watch. They observe. They imbibe. They mimic. The byproduct of this is that many young boys have grown up mistakenly believing that they are entitled to a woman’s care and attention just like their fathers were.
But what happens in double income relationships where the woman doesn’t need to be provided for by the man? In many of these relationships, men still feel entitled to a woman’s care. Monetary success seems to have been replaced by good behaviour, but the expectations, for some men, remain the same — that if they are nice to a woman, she should pander to his needs.
Excerpted with permission from DEAR MEN: MASCULINITY AND MODERN LOVE IN #METOO INDIA By Prachi Gangwani published by Bloomsbury Publishing India.
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