“Household is the only activity at which men are allowed to be consistently inept because they are thought to be so competent at everything else.” –Letty Cottin Pogrebin
There’s a Jewish proverb which says that a mother understands what a child does not say. And I think the reverse is also true to some extent, especially when we are young. With a toddler at my place, my four year old niece Tvisha, I can vouch for this fact. She cries if her mother is ill or suffering from any kind of pain. Yes, a child is sensitive at this tender age. And not to mention, impressionable. What they see is what they learn. I often see her giving the pat reply, “Aap bhi toh aise hi karte ho”, meaning “You also do the same” whenever her parents are teaching her to act in a certain way, becoming of her age.
That sets my mind rolling: What are we teaching our child? In most Indian households of which we are a product too, we have grown up seeing strict impositions of gender roles, where the husband/father is entrusted with the responsibility of earning the bread and butter for the family while the wife/mother tends to the household chores. Of course in urban areas these days, most of the women are employed too. But looking after the housework still befalls upon a woman. She labors long hours at workplace and then return home to take charge of the duties that only she is supposed to manage. This particular advertisement by Ariel is a glaring example of this widespread phenomena seeped and engraved deep into our minds, so much so that we, at times, fail to see anything wrong with the system. The advertisement that Surf Excel Matic aired had me disturbed and concerned for very much the same reasons.
To pass these prejudices and the gender-based-division-of-labor to the next generation does not require anything special to be done. Just their parents and adults indulging in such acts is reason enough for the children to emulate their behavior. It hurts the parents when they see their daughter taking upon herself all the household work while her husband sits around but the same parents do not condone such attitude or crib when their son, who is also a husband of a woman who is someone else’s daughter, is a part of the same situation.
Stereotyping is very much a reality, and both the genders are at its receiving end. To pity one against the other will be a mistake. If we teach our daughters to act in a certain way, which mostly includes being docile and soft, then we also teach our sons to be tough and “manly”. The trailer of the upcoming movie Ki and Ka had me intrigued for the same reasons. When Arjun Kapoor decides to be a “house husband”, his father is all furious and asks him to do a quick check on his manliness ( 😉 you already know what I mean by that, don’t you, you naughty brain? If still a no, check out it’s trailer).
Such notions are something we have been fed upon since our birth. And this embedding starts right from our childhood. It’s not just about what they see the parents and adults doing but consists of various other factors and situations. To exemplify, girls and boys are supposed to play with toys that befits their sex: girls with dolls and boys with cars and guns-laden-men kind of toys. Have you not seen Kinderjoy (the one manufacturing those chocolate balls dipped in white chocolate) perpetuating this notion in its range of gender specific toys that it provides with its chocolate? Another example would be how we often end up ridiculing a boy who is merely a child if he even wants to dress up as a girl or start calling a girl a “tomboy” if she dresses up as a man. If Aamir Khan’s PK showed us that a person’s religion is so commonly identified based on their attire, then isn’t their sex too? Why are we so hell bent on perpetuating the societal constructs of gender and identity?
In my literature classes, we often discussed on such topics. And what I realized, along with many others, is that how we are a mixture of both. At times, we feel like a woman, at times, like a man. There’s nothing wrong with this. One of the many names of Lord Shiva is ardhnareeshwar, meaning, half woman. Isn’t this a cultural way of recognizing the duality of our identity?
Anyways, coming back to the point, children are very fragile creatures and they come with the warning tag- Handle With Care. I think it is utmost important to address this issue so that the prejudices that we were raised with and have faced in our life are not passed onto the next generation as a baton to be carried forward. And such gender biased notions are not just a burden but also a hindrance in the lives of the ones facing them. To see a society progressing in real terms does not mean demeaning and depriving one half of its population. Actual growth, in true sense of the term, is possible only when this other neglected half receives its proper due.
Sharing the load in household works is only a very small step in this direction but not an unimportant one surely. It not only lightens the truck load of responsibilities that a woman has but also becomes a silent but the best way to say that you genuinely care. It’s an unsaid acknowledgement of their brilliant multitasking abilities, without ever making a fuss about it, for you might just come to realize how she manages such humongous tasks with such ease and grace. And for all you inexpressive species called men out there, it’s just the easiest way to say that you love that woman, be it your mother, or sister, or daughter, or wife. For don’t they say that actions speak louder than words? 🙂