In almost all sociocultural environments across the globe, labour has been segmented into breadwinning and caregiving which primarily reinforces gender stereotypes. Sociologists have also suggested how within the gender spectrum, stereotypes are often a reflection of our socio-cultural environment and are perceived as the shared beliefs about the generalised characteristics of males and females. What we cease to realise is that sex is a biological fact and gender is a result of social construction. Therefore, people do not have any innate psychological or social differences between them, but it is the society that attaches stereotypes and roles guised as gender.
However, before discussing the attributes that constitute a woman’s social role, it is imperative to note its origin. Before we shifted to sedentarisation, the nomadic society encompassed clear sexual demarcation between men and women by assigning different tasks to them. Furthermore, even structural functionalists suggest that gender roles were developed during the pre-industrial era wherein domestic responsibilities were ascribed to females, and bread-winning activities were assigned to men. Sure, these roles might have been functional in the era they were birthed, but they kept passing on to generations and what we observe in the 21st century today, causes dysfunction more than regulation. Therefore, even though the world became industrialised, our society remained stereotyped.
Today, the unpaid domestic sector consists of 90% of the women in India, which lies in stark contrast to the 27% of men who participated. Whereas, 71% of Indian men participated in monetary-related activities while the sector witnessed only 22% of women. Despite the caregiving activities being relatively more physically taxing and time-consuming, they are still not considered to fall under the realm of economic labour since no monetary remuneration is given in exchange for these services. In exchange, these activities are considered the societal responsibilities of women, served to them with a sugar-coated term – the labour of love. What’s shocking to uncover, is how unpaid work can support the economy by being valued at about 40% of the GDP, which is significantly more than the contributions made by the manufacturing or transportation industries.
However, why is it that this sector is still heavily entrenched with stereotypes? One answer could be due to socialisation, which suggests how the belief behind a woman’s ‘duty’ has been reinforced thanks to the age-old norms and ideologies about gender. As Parsons suggests in his social action theory, we individuals are bound in our sociocultural system and our behaviour is a consequence of the social experiences we engage with. Moreover, according to social behaviourism by Herbert Mead and the social identity theory, individuals develop their identity through social interactions, and hence, the self becomes a product of social experience that is heavily regulated by sociocultural norms.
When we look at the standpoint theory suggested by Dorothy Smith, one can confer how women have always led a life of double consciousness, and are more often than not implicitly forced to spend time on cultivating an ‘ideal’ family, leaving them with no moment to spend on education, leisure, or paid employment. Moreover, those who choose to step out of this constrained spectrum, are often subjected to guilt, among other things. Sadly, a woman is someone who continues to have to wake up every single day and decide between her personal and professional roles, only for her efforts to be viewed as unimportant politically, socially, and economically.
However, after the feminist movements kickstarted, perpetrating gazes led to the development of discursive analysis around domestic labour. Emerging in the second wave of feminism, the ‘Wages for Housework’ movement united the housekeepers, or as Marx would call it, the proletariat, and urged them to recognise and fight for their rights, with an attempt to redefine the ideal imagination around a household. Even though significant changes are yet to come, the onset of feminist movements transformed women’s work from being invisible to being recognised.
Alongside the feminist movements, Neo-Marxism conflict theorists suggested how the 1960s witnessed the shattering of the wall of false consciousness built around women, which led to revolutionary changes in the legal systems as women demanded equal pay for equal work. However, as explored over the last few decades, the relationship between values and changing times has never been consistent. Gender inequality continues to be ingrained in individuals today primarily due to the fractured perception fostered as a result of gender role socialisation. For example, an opinionated man would be perceived as a leader whereas a zealous woman would be viewed as a rebel.
However, although Marxist theorists discussed this ‘labour of love,’ there were minimum conversations around the unequal division of labour, which were later characterised as a product of patriarchy and capitalism by the feminist perspective. After all, any subject that is labelled as ‘exotic’, is exploited. This exploitation by the bourgeoisie capitalists is a medium through which the patriarchal society tries to control female sexuality by defining their role as a caregiver – robbing them of equal opportunity, equal recognition, and equal pay. Thus, it highlights the necessity of unlearning social conditioning that has been infused with patriarchal constructions, to bring a change around unpaid domestic labour.
Furthermore, with the help of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) that conducts a yearlong survey once every three years to measure domestic labour, it is now possible to empirically view the unequal distribution of labour between men and women. According to the last survey carried out in 2018, women contributed 352 minutes of domestic labour per day whereas men weighed in at 51.8 minutes per day on an average. In a country where about 66% of work performed by women is unpaid, they are still considered as non-workers, despite around 160 million women stating their primary occupation as domestic tasks.
However, these findings considerably changed after the onset of Covid-19. Due to this worldwide pandemic, workplaces, schools, and other public places were placed under lockdown which resulted in the additional burden of childcare, household chores, and emotional labour. In addition to this, the work from home provisions crumbled the barriers between the workplace and home.
The pandemic has indeed encouraged us to reimagine our perception around domestic labour which can prove to be one of the primary steps to empowerment, lending a voice to the individuals who identify with domestic labour. Furthermore, recognising and accepting not only domestic work, but any work carried out by women, will lead to a new definition of labour – one that detaches from the traditional connotations of monetary compensations. To emerge within contemporary structures for the fair and equitable distribution of this essential yet invisible work, it is imperative to develop a holistic understanding around domestic labour, its importance, and its impact on those who produce it.
Conclusively, empowerment can’t be brought about by simply acknowledging the sector of unpaid domestic labour. Till the day the question “who will do the household chores if women step out to work” is asked, the gendered version of domestic work will continue to prevail. There is also a very intrinsically intersectional aspect to this problem: when upper-caste, upper-class women get the opportunity to step out to work, it will still be women (of the oppressed castes and classes) who will be left doing the household chores.
If we were to include the emotional hours of labour a woman puts up with just to manage the adversely stereotypical notion of a family, the majority of the men would begin questioning their so-called ‘masculinity.’ We as a nation, need to continue to radically progress towards disengaging roles like a leader, boss, and a domestic worker, with gender. Mitron, it’s time to be woke and raise a glass to the women who raise us.
Vanshika is a Digital Writer at Condè Nast India and apart from exploring the patriarchal roots of social narratives, she is keen on unravelling how pop-culture can be a catalyst for change. She can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
Featured image source: epl.org