Celebrating men comes effortlessly to our society. If a man locks his door for work and doesn’t help out at all with household duties, he is applauded for being career-oriented. If he takes out time to cook a meal for his spouse twice a week, he is applauded for being romantic. But when genders are switched, society loses all its enthusiasm. Cooks three meals every day for her husband? Isn’t she just doing her duty? Doesn’t help out with household chores, always busy with meetings and work commitments? She is such a terrible wife.
The hypocrisy here isn’t as black and white as it may seem to be. While men are applauded for cooking a meal once in a while, society will start scrutinising them, if they start doing so regularly. Why does he cook for his family? Doesn’t his wife know how to do that? Joru ka ghulam hai kya, why do you make tea and serve it, every time someone is visiting? How are you okay with your wife being so career-oriented? You seem to have no control over her. So like women, the lives of Indian men too are restrained by endless stereotypes that keep a close eye on their behaviour and life.
The only difference here is that male behaviour – good or bad, is mostly rewarded and only course-corrected when it challenges the set gender dynamics of society. Besides, most Indian families want to appear liberal but only do so from within their comfort zones. So a man cooking an anniversary meal will be applauded because everyone wants to appear modern and progressive. But if he starts cooking every day, his family members, friends and acquaintances might turn up the heat. He will face resistance from those around him to stay within the boundaries that were set for him.
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Men cooking for wife: An occasion, not a routine
Cooking can be art, an expression of love or just duty, depending on who is performing the chore and how they feel about doing so. A chef in a professional kitchen or a home cook might see it as an art. A husband or wife might see it as an expression of love. But when you have to make three meals everyday, when your day begins and ends with the same question – khane me kya banau, then it becomes a mundane and exhausting chore. And like all chores, this duty should also be divided between a husband and wife.
This means that the burden of cooking shouldn’t fall on a person by virtue of their gender. Both men and women can cook to make a romantic gesture and simply fill hungry bellies at home. Also, just because someone is cooking to put food on the plate doesn’t mean they are not doing it out of love.
So what needs to change is how we look at that plate of food. When we remove the gendered outlook – what we might see is care and warmth – which should always be appreciated and a lot of labour, which should never go unacknowledged, no matter who was cooking in the kitchen.
Views expressed are the author’s own.