When guests come over, it is typically the daughter of the house who is expected to serve them. It does not matter if she is the younger sibling in her early teens and has an older brother who will be able to carry the tray of water better. It is presumed she will do it because she is a girl. This tiny sexist tradition is not founded upon capability, but gender differentiation and has now eased into the daily lives in Indian households like other nuggets of patriarchal conditioning.
Navya Naveli Nanda in an interview last year with SheThePeople hit the nail on the head when she reiterated the stranglehold of sexism inside all our homes. The 25-year-old hails from one of the most prominent families in the country – she is the granddaughter of film veterans Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan – and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.
“I have seen this happen at my home where if guests are over, my mother would always tell me to fetch something or the other. I have to play the host as opposed to my brother who could also be doing the same thing,” she told us in an interview, a clip of which is amassing thousands of views on our Instagram page.
This is an experience, which cuts across generations and class, and most girls and women in India will relate to it. When it comes to household duties, the daughter is inducted into them as naturally as ideas about being career-driven and money-minded are ingrained into the sons of the family.
Navya Nanda on sexism: What constitutes a ‘good Indian woman’?
These gender roles are reinforced at disturbingly young ages in our society. And all in preparation for what? Marriage? Shouldn’t qualities of household maintenance as well as financial knowledge be duties that fall into the share of every individual for sustenance?
‘Usse ho nahi payega‘ is how moms usually justify giving their daughters kitchen duties and not their sons. Shouldn’t parents teach the son like they teach their daughter? Will it not be then that he will learn and do?
The more disturbing aspect of it all is how patriarchy permits and conditions society to link morality to our actions, rather arbitrarily. A woman investing herself in building a career and not her kitchen immediately becomes a ‘bad woman.’ With the intention of scaring her into submission, she is told no one will marry her.
The guidebook to being a ‘good Indian woman’ has only one rule enshrined in its pages: bow down to patriarchy.
Nanda, who has co-founded the women-centred health startup Aara Health, also talks about how conditioning of women into gendered ‘duties’ impacts their health. “Women don’t necessarily prioritise their health care when it comes to a family setting. It’s always you know, the health of the child, the health of the husband, the health of the overall household… And I think that stems from the fact that women are so used to having their bodies controlled.”
“From a very young age we hear things like, you’re too skinny, you need to put on more weight, how can you give birth in the future once you get married? This has almost led to this problem of women not being able to prioritise their own health and safety because they think it’s something that’s going to be controlled by anybody else.” Watch Nanda talk about consent and more here.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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