Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Childhood and Relationship With Parents and Family,where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences that we all have experienced in some form or the other in our birth or chosen families and have been negotiating with them everyday. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Rushil Kohli
How often do we hear that one uncle or that one elder saying “Beta, sab kaam aana chahiye.” This projection of words which is done so effortlessly seems more like a mere statement to gain traction of that family gathering where everyone starts to adore this golden statement coming out of a “man.”
I am not here to add to the debate that patriarchy is unravelling its consequences in everyday lives of women and of men; this topic does not need debate, it needs recognition, validation and more importantly, tangible and transformative action. If you are here to tell me that there are two sides to patriarchy, and that as a man, you face its ill sides too and that it should be an egalitarian world blah blah blah…STOP. We cannot keep tackling a structural problem in our worlds by redundant defensiveness. We rather need to restructure this defensiveness into vivid introspections, let me tell you some of mine.
Someone out there is doing work, not being paid and still being okay with it. Sounds unreal?
According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), women spend about 352 minutes per day on domestic, unpaid work. This is 577% more than what men spend on the same work (52 minutes). Not only does this indicate an enormous gap in terms of equity of work distribution and access to pay for unrecognised household chores, the social barriers that arise out of such numbers gives a purview of the gendered nature of roles and responsibilities in the Indian sphere.
Now, a lot of arguments direct their way back to the fact that India is a developing nation with an enormous population of 1.3 Billion people, 22% of which live under the poverty line: that is more than 28 crore Indians living under Rs. 50 a day. With these nerve wrecking numbers, how does one even expect to bring out the understated problem of gender inequality on the table?
In a domain where people are working twice the work hours and women are dwindling between household chores and extra labour, do we, as a society, have the right to subjugate the issue of gender roles and their ill effects? Can that one ‘anti-feminist’, ‘pro-economic development’ voice say that issues like poverty need to be tackled first?
The answer is NO.
Our answer lies not far away from the unique ideas originating at home by economist Amartya Sen. Sen, in his capability approach talks about real development as a function of enhancing people’s real freedoms. What real freedom comprises, are factors contributing to an individual’s overall well-being, which encompasses physical, economic, psychological, social and environmental needs. When people have the freedom to make choices, when they experience equal access to opportunities, when gender roles do not limit their lives’ purposes and when their personal and psychological states are addressed, that is when their capabilities as humans are drastically enhanced. Subsequently, the utility that they derive from their work and commodities increases.
Over-Appreciation: Lessons I learnt from Making ‘Chapati’ (Roti) Every Day
Not just one day, EVERY DAY.
Now that I (and the data, of course) have (hopefully) convinced you all that the gendered nature of roles and responsibilities trickles into possibly every Indian household, let me take you to my experience up close. When one speaks of orthodox gender roles set by the patriarchy in a household, very naturally an image of the ‘man’ being the so-called breadwinner and the ‘womxn’ being the home maker (in a lot of cases, with a full-time job) comes into the minds of people who have not seen the other side of their conditioned structures.
Over the years, my brain was conditioned in similar ways as I observed my family throughout my childhood and tried to decipher the emotional and structural reasons behind the roles that everyone was adhering to. It was only six years ago that I could see the patriarchy playing in front of me when my sister got married and was expected to relocate and recondition herself to her husband’s house and his family’s way of living.
That is what I said to myself as I started to ponder over these subtle idiosyncrasies of the deep-rooted patriarchal system. And this was just one of the many examples that began to startle me. The feeling of being ‘fair’ and ‘equitable’ to a person on grounds of being human continued to escalate and emancipate my thoughts. This incident triggered an arrayed train of thought within me and I wanted to un-learn, re-learn and re-condition myself.
An important constituent of this re-conditioning process was to deeply understand why we are construed with a certain set of values and why we are not able to break through them.
Are these values inclusive?
Are they inherent?
Is this how the world is?
Any rationally thinking mind would say “No.”
Very naturally, the thinking develops in how our parents have been conditioned, how we grow up, what we see around us in our developing years and at what time we tend to realise that this mundane pattern of processes is, in reality, a flawed one.
Men should not be over-appreciated for doing the bare minimum. The COVID lockdown forced us all into re-evaluating ourselves; a blessing in disguise for me was to see gender roles up close and how doing an activity, as simple as making a chapati every day, could make me understand the value of household work and the amount of unnoticed effort that goes into it.
So, while it so happened that when I learned to cook chapatis and successfully made one, I was appreciated as if I had struck gold and done wonders but when my sister learnt to do the same task, she was appreciated too, but not in the same way. On the days when I did the task of making chapatis for the family, somehow everyone knew that I had made them, but when my sister or mom did the same task, there was no discussion, it seemed normal. In an overview, it felt like I was breaking a gender stereotype but my sister was just expected to know the work.
Source: YouTube Capture
My ambiguity flustered to its maximum extent as I couldn’t figure what was going on. This household work, I suddenly understood, was something that gender had been defining for ages and it seemed to me that I wasn’t ever able to see it without the ‘gender filter’ till that date. I understood the cluelessness that men faced in the kitchen and could make more sense of that ‘extra’ appreciation that men get for doing these tasks.
“Extra? Why is there an added dosage of appreciation to men doing such tasks? Why is the same amount of appreciation not being given to womxn?”
All these questions started to fit in a picture as I learnt my definition of the bare minimum, something I define as ‘processes which we do in our daily lives but when looked through filters of social construes, they seem to be special’. For example, taking my share of responsibility in cooking food, cleaning the house, respecting privacy, respecting space and so many more such tasks. For these, I should be appreciated, not over appreciated, just the same appreciation and acknowledgement that the female gender would receive. If one gender who is ‘expected’ to fulfil this task is not appreciated for the same, then the opposite gender should not be glorified for completing these tasks too.
Re-learn your values, question your virtues and start small, it’s not that difficult!
The entirety of these accumulated experiences draws me mostly to one big, yet small conclusion: Change, as we want to see it, is an arduous and time taking process. Change is subjective to people’s values and experiences. But change starts SMALL and then becomes big (like that big font size). Only when we start introspecting these tiny bits of unequitable endowments in our own lives, can we see the magnanimity of issues that others around us face.
Rushil Kohli, 21 years old, is a Bachelor’s student, studying Economics at Symbiosis International University. He loves to sing, play the guitar and enjoys a game of table tennis. He likes to read self-help books and frequently finds himself in conversations about gender equality, philosophy and meditation. You can find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.