The image of a man lost within a domestic space without the aid and rescue of a woman is deep-rooted in our psyche due to patriarchy and the assignment of gender-roles to housework and domestic responsibilities. Thanks to the pandemic some of this has been exposed given men and women both had to stay home, sort of calling out who has been doing majority of house work and carrying that domestic load. There are more people at home, so more food has to be cooked, more clothes have to be washed, and similar excruciating and physically demanding chores to be executed. Women, by default, are expected to be in charge of household work, even when they have work-schedules that are hectic and sometimes even busier than those of their male counterparts. Despite the presence of men who should be held equally responsible to participate, women are expected to manage it all on their own.
The representation of domestic life in popular culture further perpetuates this kind of thinking. Men’s inability or disinterest in participation of domestic responsibilities is represented in frivolous and comical ways in film and theatre. But is the humour really that harmless?
In most of our WhatsApp groups, family chats, and of course friend circles, there is the conversation on the man who either doesn’t know housework or is glorified for the one time he laid the table. A full-grown adult man, of the 21st century, being clueless about purchasing grocery, unable to tell the difference between various kinds of daal, for he has no idea which is which and other such visuals are put up as a comic factor in these portrayals.
It can be argued in their defence that these men have probably spent their entire lives, enjoying benefits of a patriarchal system that allows them to keep their lives perfectly intact, without having to know any of the essentials of housework. The lockdown may have forced them to participate in activities they did not have to do before, and so they should probably be allowed to mess up. Everyone can mess up for that is how we learn from our mistakes; but the normalisation and popular acceptance of a full-grown adult man knowing absolutely nothing about basic life-skills such as cooking, cleaning and organising is deeply problematic.
Our entire familial system encourages men’s non-participation in housework, and barring a few attempts here and there, popular culture does not criticise this dependency of men over women.
Rather, a major chunk of popular culture thrives on the normalisation of the cluelessness of the man, more so now, when men are at home and asked to dispense household duties during the lockdown.
Men who need to be taught basic life-skills from scratch should not be a material for comic relief. It is a serious indicator of the glaring incapacity of a gender to take care of itself, and a testimony to the lop-sidedness of a systemic cycle of discrimination that our culture facilitates without engaging with the necessary interventions.
Women in our society grow up being fed with stories that perpetuate the lesson that their most important life-goal should be to succeed in marriage and household responsibilities, and their excellence in anything else is viewed as an impediment to that goal. A woman who tries to break the mould and follow her passion or dreams is constantly told that she must be able to manage everything by herself- house, relationships and employment.
If she struggles or at times fails to juggle all the responsibilities together, she is labelled as vile and undeserving of love. There is a narrative circulated and reinforced by popular culture and media into our perception that a ‘superwoman can do it all’ which is nothing but a corollary to the ‘man who is lost in a domestic space without a woman’ narrative which makes sure that women continue to take on domestic responsibilities to fit into societal expectations, even when they have other opportunities, ambitions, tastes and feel completely exhausted.
This is a jugglery for survival that men are never required to endure. We really need to stop the ongoing anti-female narratives that normalise male privilege; for art imitates life, and to find humour in discrimination is oppressive. Food, clean laundry and organized rooms are everybody’s need and responsibility, and a man who contributes to housework is just doing the needful. There is really nothing “magnanimous” or “great” about it.
Learning something from scratch can be daunting for anybody, but there are ample opportunities to learn and imbibe basic life-skills such as cooking, cleaning and organising a household if we stop shifting the onus of it entirely upon women.
Moreover, we need to stop glorifying the notion or idea of a ‘superwoman’, for beneath the praise, it is actually a very brutal patriarchal strategy to hold the perpetually tired bodies and minds of women guilty when they struggle to juggle everything together, not necessarily because they want to, but because very often they are not left with any other choice.
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