Kiran Manral: Gender and housework have always been a mine field of conflict
Let me state right off the bat that the division of labour in our house is most skewed. I do almost nothing. Put it down to laziness or sheet incompetence, but I do the bare minimum that I am required to do with good enough cheer and the occasional grumbling. The spouse does his bit, sometimes unbidden, at others with so much nagging I can see a mare reflected in the mirror when I look at myself. But I am in the minority, and I recognize that I have the privilege of staff at home to handle most daily domestic chores, and they do a far better job of it than I ever could.
But the fact does remain that while marriages are all equal these days, some being more equal than others to filch from Orwell, and with incomes being pooled into a common kitty, the share of housework still does tend to fall, rather unfairly onto the woman. Most domestic chores, laundry, cooking for another, childcare, and more are shifted smoothly onto the woman’s to do list, and we do have to do lists a mile long every single day. While most men have thankfully grown out of the wet towel on the bed level of domestic incompetence, they still do think of household chores as primarily a woman’s department, never mind if they now hang out the wet towel to air dry without being reminded to.
Never mind that women are launching satellites into space, brokering megabuck deals, founding start ups with venture capitalists raining down the funding on them, at the end of the day, the home more often than not, still remains the woman’s ‘department’ and all it includes, children included. From daily menu plans, play date scheduling, drop and pick up, car pool to classes, why, even school whatsapp groups are primarily a woman only domain.
Gender and housework have always been a mine field of conflict. Even though women today are earning contributors to the family coffers equal to the men, they still struggle with child care and domestic chores. Very often, being bracketed into traditional home making and child care roles does leave an impact on a woman’s career graph.
Never mind that women are launching satellites into space, brokering megabuck deals, founding start ups with venture capitalists raining down the funding on them, at the end of the day, the home more often than not, still remains the woman’s ‘department’
While more men than before are definitely becoming more egalitarian partners in domestic chores as well as child rearing, the numbers of men who can handle diaper changes and night feeds is sadly still in the minority. Men who will do the cooking and cleaning are in another minority of their own. While they might cook on occasion because they enjoy it and treat it as a hobby, few men take on the drudgery of handling the quotidian menus.
What is the solution? Having a roster of duties that splits down all household chores down the middle? Keeping a tally of who did what and when, and making sure one partner doesn’t feel short changed. In theory this sounds all too good, but in practice following a clean split of duties is much like arm wrestling with an octopus and can be as messy. And yes, we forget about said octopus’s suction cups on them tentacles which can make it all the more difficult for one to extricate self out of a situation that one does not want to be in. Most household chores can’t really be quantified by the hours put in. Child care and raising are tasks that can’t really be split equally—despite one’s best intentions. Sometimes a child will want Mamma or Pappa as the individual preference might go, sometimes Mamma might be better at soothing a baby bawling his or her cranium off, at others Pappa might be fabulous at rough and tumble play to exhaust a hyperactive toddler before bedtime.
But yes, it definitely does help if there are certain tasks that are earmarked to either spouse. It just saves on a lot of energy arguing about who should do it, and who did it the last time, and why should it always be me, and it is your turn now and ad infinitum.
Recent research found that married women do more housework than their husbands. According to the findings of the research conducted by Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK, eight of 10 married women do substantially more chores than their husbands and only one of ten married men do the same number of household chores as their wives. In India, Indian men spend an average of 19 minutes on housework in a day according to research conducted in 2014 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In contrast women spend 298 minutes a day on housework in India, according to the same research. Women also end up spending a lot more time in elder care, not just child care and domestic chores when compared with the men folk.
Other research states that the most stressful thing in their lives, most women agree, is housework. It never ends. But then aren’t we also equally culpable by taking on the onus of housework completely, and focusing so much on it, allowing it to beat us down and wear us out. Or is it just an extension of our nesting instinct, keeping the cave neat and clean? Or do we not recognise that what we think is our sash and tiara of being efficient multitaskers and micromanaging the home is actually the ball and chain we manacle ourselves to.
But while my generation still struggles with the division of labour, the fact is that we grew up in homes where the division of labour was pretty traditional. In our homes now hopefully, our children see things changing, with their fathers pitching in a lot more with domestic stuff than their grandfathers ever did. Perhaps moving towards a completely egalitarian household isn’t something that will happen over the course of our lifetimes, but we could definitely be the parents who teach our sons that housework isn’t a woman’s domain by ensuring we model some egalitarian division of household chores in our own marriages.