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Why Can’t Women Relax As Guests?

Posted: December 10, 2014

Gender roles in Indian society allow men to relax while the hostess and lady guests slave away in the kitchen at family meets. Why do men not contribute? Why can’t women relax, like guests are allowed to?

“Hello, how are you doing?”

When we visit a relative, we exchange such pleasantries, sit on the sofa, and within five minutes, the women disperse to the kitchen.

Duh! We visit relatives with a mission to relax – both physically and mentally – but women end up slogging even there!

Great expectations

The men discuss politics, property, cars, educational systems, and a lot more – most of the information gathered from newspapers and news channels, not really bothered about who brought in their tiffin and coffee. And if you meet a relative for lunch at their house, you are enrolling yourself to prepare lunch for the entire bunch.

And because this is get-together time, you, along with the lady of the house should prepare numerous dishes – sweets, vada, two different vegetable curries, vegetable salad, sambar, rasam, mixed rice varieties, plain rice, and appalam (these are the vegetarian dishes prepared predominantly in South India, I am sure there is a similar list of non-vegetarian dishes as well!).

Anything less is considered disrespectful, and you being the guest and your husband being a prominent fellow ought to expect this from the host. Also, the visiting lady should reach the relative’s house along with her husband as early as possible to help in the preparation of lunch. It’s not that we don’t want to be of any help, but putting us in such a position is way too much! These are some of the invisible rules in the handbook of Indian customs.

There is another tradition followed in India where men are supposed to be supplied with food first; not the guests, not the hungry ones, but the men!

There is another tradition followed in India where men are supposed to be supplied with food first; not the guests, not the hungry ones, but the men! So they seat themselves around the table and the women wait on their men, serving dishes. Once the men are done eating, their plates are gathered by one woman, and there is another woman near the sink to hand out a towel for the men to wipe their hands with, once they wash off their hands. It is perhaps a good thing that women are not expected to hold their hands under the tap to help them wash off!

The men then retreat to their cozy chamber to start talking from where they had left their conversation.

That is not all – women eat the leftovers (usually having generously dumped the food onto the plates of their men). They also tend to pay less attention to what goes inside their mouths. Dish-washing, table-cleaning, kitchen-floor-sweeping follow, and by the time these tasks are done, it’s time for a cup of coffee.

So, in goes the hostess to the living room to address the men and check their interest in coffee – to which all men nod their heads in unison with specifications on the strength and sweetness of their coffee. Thus starts the ritual of coffee preparation, its delivery into the hands of men, waiting on the men to drain their cups, and then retrieving all the cups and bringing them to the kitchen to be washed.  There are also men who expect to be treated specially not only by the host but also by their own wives in the presence of everyone.

 There are also men who expect to be treated specially not only by the host but also by their own wives in the presence of everyone.

I really don’t understand what kind of special feeling that is! When you visit someone’s house, you are supposed to adjust yourself to their surroundings, not the other way round! Every household may not have all of these things happening but every household definitely has similar happenings.

There are some women who enjoy doing all of this and some who do not want to encourage any of this. I fall in the latter category, which I am sure is pretty obvious by now!

Gender roles in Indian society

Ordinarily, nobody pays attention to these kinds of things because these are petty matters that don’t have to be argued about.  No wife can discuss such matters with her husband or elders because it is her responsibility to treat everyone with respect and provide everyone with what is expected. Period! That’s the rule.

When questioned, the husband will probably tell his wife that these things happen once in a while and should bear no complaints. Agreed! So why don’t the husbands, instead of chatting away with their guests, get into the kitchen with their wives and participate in the food preparation so the work is finished soon and both of them get to spend equal time with their guests?

Men seated with the guests comfortably, chit-chatting about the happenings of the world, and the ladies stuck in the kitchen sweating and panting is not how things should work! Both of them can share the work in such a manner that the guests do not feel unattended to; that’s where smartness lies. If men are not the ones who regularly cook at home, here is a simpler suggestion – they can help their wives or mothers with the basics such as grinding, cutting vegetables, sorting the dishes in the shelves, and cleaning the house to welcome the guests.

If letting men work in the kitchen is wrong then letting a lady guest work in your kitchen is equally wrong, and letting the wife toil like a slave is unforgivable!

Holding themselves responsible for such tasks reduces the workload of women to an extent. If letting men work in the kitchen is wrong then letting a lady guest work in your kitchen is equally wrong, and letting the wife toil like a slave is unforgivable! Nowadays there are men who work on par with their women and share the household chores, but still, a majority of men are ignorant on this front. Imagine the plight of the hostess if there are going to be only men visiting her house. Her husband will be too busy with his friends!

There is also a much better option of taking the guests out for lunch or dinner, where everyone enjoys the company of everyone else. Yes, money has to be spent but this is only a one time affair. “These things happen once in a while,” remember?

But elders feel that providing anyone with homemade food is only the right manner of conducting oneself, failing which, they think might result in drastic consequences where even relationship ties might get broken! Sadly, nobody realizes that it is all about living comfortably and in the manner they wish to lead their lives, not succumbing to others’ interests and age-old ideas.

And because Indians have been sticking to these orthodox ideas for ages, it is difficult to put some new ideas into their minds; ideas that are only going to provide them with comfort and freedom. At least let the current generation and the generations to come lead their lives with ease, and hopefully with no such interference from elders and their ancient beliefs.

 This post was first published here.

Pic credit: Image of a woman in the kitchen via Shutterstock.

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  1. Amazing article!! How true it is and how much of it we have seen around ourselves. Still everyone lends an ignorant look, we are that blinded and scared in this “traditional” (read patriarchal) family setup.

    • Yes, we are scared to fight against it because we are scared we might lose our loved ones (which includes our husband, parents and friends), scared that the society would look down at us, scared about a hell a lot of things.

  2. Hi Anusha,

    Good that you have brought up a discussion, which was for sometime bothering my mind in the past. I felt very weird to have such thoughts amidst groups of women, who took it upon themselves to serve men and the discussions inside the kitchen was also about food, recipes, how to make prefect round vadas or rotis, etc. I do not have any problem in talking about cooking, but talking ONLY about cooking, kids, husband’s appetite seem to provide me only less avenues for discussion. There was nothing spoken about good books, hobbies, art, politics or social issues.
    I felt claustrophobic in such atmosphere. But I had to prove to my husband that I am a good cook and make yummy dishes for the host, single-handedly. Hence I did it for a couple of times then expressed that it is not my passion.His initial reaction was as can be expected from any Indian man, but when I highlighted how it curtailed the women from talking about wider aspects, he slowly got the point. Either we go as 2-3 families to a restaurant or he goes out to dine with his friends and I with mine.
    But if there is a need for women to undergo this transformation, every woman should try to express boldly. Also elders should learn to respect this and not treat such women as poor at social skills.
    Thanks for expressing your thoughts on something which is very imperative in every household.

    • Hello Chintu… I believe that only a woman is another woman’s enemy. We have been responsible for what we are facing right now. A woman pampers her husband and son therefore the son expects the same from his wife, but if his wife fights back then there begins all the problems, like how it happens in almost every serial in the TV. So it is we who should show our men that certain tasks need not be undertaken by just women.
      And yes, I absolutely love cooking very much. But as you have mentioned, I don’t want to be forced into something. I would like to do a lot of other things as well. If I don’t want to be just a domestic person, let me not be so. So, yes, every family should encourage their women to be how they want to be.

    • Hi Anusha,
      You are right in saying women need to put their foot down. But we cannot say that women are against women. It is the patrirachal attitude, which makes anything or anyone, related to a woman as lesser in status. For example, a son-in-law (male), is not expected to treat his father-in-law (another male) with respect, and infact the son-in-law, can extract money from him, for marrying his daughter. Though I do not say that this happens in every house, it happens in majority of the houses. Whereas the daughter-in-law is made to treat even the husband’s younger sister with respect. (because she is related to the husband, as sister). In such cases, even the husband is not feeling bad about treating another man (elderly), in this way. NNor does he tell his younger sister to stay away from his family boundary. He does this, because he enjoys aa lot of privileges. But sometime, a lot of expectations and burden also comes as a combo offer, which they are not talking against.
      I am unable to go deep into how patriarchy affects men too, but the following links will help all the readers who read this, get a much clearer picture.


  3. Perfect apt and stated in the most simple words….one of many Indian traditions which are gender biased. And to add to this, if the elder lady in our home finds that a male is helping out in the kitchen it is as if it was a crime or how could the dear male child do such a work..come out of it people. The best part you mentioned was ‘if you go and talk about this to your husband he will says that it is in our tradition..and happens only sometimes so no worries’..really don’t know when our society will come out of hard core lines of what is ssupposed to be done by men and those by women..sharing of workload has little space in our tradition..workload is workload.. please start sharing it !!

    • Yes, there are certain issues that the society feels should not be argued about. If a girl baby is born, the path that it has to walk by is already designed by the society which I feel should be broken. Women are normal humans who have their own interests and fantasies.

  4. better late than never -

    So good to read this. For the longest time I thought I am the only one to be not OK with this bias…it seemed like the most natural thing to people around me.

    • Hi… Everybody around us has their mind trained that way. They were brought up to think that women have got to be submissive, softly spoken, stick to their houses and families and not roam around with friends, cling to their husbands, satisfy their needs, be selfless, bear children, become mothers, cook, clean, watch serials in TV, gossip with neighbors, always think about god and a lot of other things. It is hard to change things around us but definitely not impossible. We will pave the way for it.

  5. I have always believed that a woman has to fight at three levels; the first one being the house. Her own home. This is the place where she has always been taught to serve. The ideal woman always serves. It is rightly put that the household responsibilities are divided between a man and a woman and it won’t be humanly possible for women to do all of them. But what happens if she doesn’t like cooking. What if she wants a switch? What if she is OK paying bills, doing outside chores, and taking financial responsibility? Are men ready to switch? No. Men are physically stronger and they actually can work at office and at home with adequate energy levels. But this is not what’s happening. Women, to be able to work outside have to take up two jobs. One being the thankless home job. They are made to feel guilty for minor mistakes at home front. Why so? My mother, on the seventh day after her neurosurgery, was standing in the kitchen. My father never entered the kitchen… Not even once. I believe that after a days’ long work, even I should get food as soon as I reach home. Even I feel hungry and I don’t possess the stamina to cook at that time. But I know that speaking this will be futile, as the only reply I will get is leave the job. Nobody thinks that leaving cooking is even an option for me. Nobody thinks that my fight at the second and the third front, i.e, the travel and the work place is even worth a fight. The answer which comes back to me is… Quit.

    • So true Smiti..how much hard work grl do, she never gets the same respect. We both are engineers and earns somewhat same. I used to take care of my office,food and other household stuffs irrespective of that whenever my in laws visit us they expects me to wake up early and do household things and asks not to disturb their son & let him sleep as he must be tired .
      I never understand this logic of theirs as I’m the one who is taking care of house & office how come he be more tired?

  6. Smiti, it is nice you have expressed something very nicely. At every step, the woman is asked either to quit suddenly or pick up a job and earn as much as the man of the household, not considering the break she has taken for bringing up the kids and taking care of the elderly.
    I was going to work before marriage and able to take care of my career, mainly because of my parents who supported me by preparing the dishes before i came and taking care of the dresses to be washed. I also used to do my share of work, like cutting vegetables, drawing water from the well (we used to get water only once in 2 days from the overhead tank), buying provisions, etc. When i get married i support my husband fully in the homefront that he need not worry about these chores or the kids. It is because of THIS support that someone gives in the house, the men are able to work and relax in the house. But they never think of that. If anybody is there to support the woman, when she goes for work by taking care of the house hold work, then women can earn as much as men and update themselves. My question to men is, if they require someone to do all these so that they can earn for the family, isn’t it essential that the women of the household also need to be provided the same support. It is not that women do not want to have careers. That does not mean those who are at home are not worthy. It is a choice taken for the benefit of the family that everyone need to acknowledge and not treat her like a burden if she is not earning.

  7. For the benefit of all the readers, I am forwarding a link which may be useful to understand the discriminatory attitude prevalent in our society.

    Thanks Anusha for bringing up this discussion.


  8. It seems like you have penned down the exact thoughts that always lingered in my mind, every time I would visit a guest. This is so true! With no offense to my mother, I never understood why she always asked me to get up and help the hosts whenever we would visit the guests. I mean, my father and brother would just sit there, read newspapers and discuss stuff but irrespective of my unwillingness, I would have to go straight to the kitchen to aid the ladies of the house. I understand that its a basic courtesy to lend a helping hand to the hosts who are preparing so much for us but why men weren’t ever a part of that helping hand, I never understood.

  9. I agree on your thoughts but do know that the trends have changed in recent times. As an example, If the lady cooks, the men may do the dishes, and this is something my 62 year old father does even at this age (although we have a helper) if she sees my mom working in the kitchen all evening.

    The socializing part of it I think it’s mostly due to respect. If my friends come over, my wife makes tea or drinks. If my wife’s friends come over I let her socialize while I arrange the tea and drinks ..
    If the guests who come over who are friends of both mine and my wife, we arrange food from outside.
    There is always a solution without just one person having to suffer.

    • Hello Aman. I have already mentioned in my article that nowadays men and women share household chores. But you don’t see this happening in many families. My dad does every household work too from sweeping the floor, to cleaning the toilets and making us dinner. Point is how many men still shown a blind eye to their wives or mothers hardwork. Ilyes, working outside is difficult but that doesn’t mean household chores are easy. And today’s men are a helpful lot but in joint families these issues still persist because no parent wants their son to indulge in household chores and some men really dont help their wives in the presence of their parents. Your dad may not mind, my dad may not mind but a lot of others still mind and are ignorant.

  10. We women are as much part of the families as men are and many of the traditions mentioned in the article are followed because generations of women are diligently carrying it forward…men as you said were/are mostly busy with discussion on global or national politics and sports… We women have to step up here and start negating ideas from others when it comes to ask for help from female guests, or serve special to the male guests…hosts can always ask both the guests for help…I have friends who are couples and both male friend and my husband take over the kitchen at times…We women sit and discuss over children, work and other things…sometimes it is other way round ..depends on what’s cooking in the kitchen and who is more comfortable cooking that…even if you live in Joint families some small but sure steps can be taken by you to bring changes in traditions like serving the male members first and so on….this off course becomes easier when both men and women in a family go out for work…women gain more weightage in their voice and are listened more …
    Many men don’t have the eye to understand the inequality going on around them because this is what they see since childhood but you can take the liberty to point out the fact…most of today’s men are sensible enough to see through the point…we need to raise our girls to be able to say. I if she does not like cooking and raise boys who should be open to enter into the kitchen…

    Be the change you want to see… Change what is under your control…other things may change through ripple effect…

  11. This is a pet peeve of mine. I will be writing on the topic too, about the men being fed first and not the hungry. Many is the time I have had to wait my turn and make do with whatever is left over because the men have lavishly gobbled up the major portion without thought of the women who have not yet had their food. This is something that never happens in my own house. So it annoys me considerably to be treated as a second class citizen in other places.
    As for slaving in the kitchen, women are to be blamed more. Many of them feel they have to *show off* their skills at household work wherever they may be. I have seen this happen time and again.

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