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Sex = Female. Status = Married. Address = Kitchen. Do You Know ‘Her’?

Posted: March 7, 2015

If the kitchen is a woman’s territory, what does it mean for her ability to venture out beyond it and fulfil her true potential?

Ms. Little Princess (3+ year old girl, curious, quick learner and a keen observer) said, “Mummy! I want a kitchen set. That is only for girls to play. I will grow up and cook food for you and everyone at home. That’s what girls should do, right?”

Ms. Pre-schooler (5 year old girl living in a new age nuclear family) said, “Mummy! Papa made a sandwich for me. But he’s not supposed to enter the kitchen. That is your room, right? You are there all the time.”

Mr. Primary school kid (7+ year old boy living in a joint family) said, “Mummy! You’re not supposed to go to work. You have to be in the kitchen and cook food for me. See that is what grandma does all the time. That is what the girls should do.

Mr. Teenager (15+ year pampered school boy and only son) said, “I will eat only if my mother cooks for me tasty hot food of my choice. I won’t enter the kitchen and do anything. It is what every woman should do, right?

Ms. Ambitious College Student (23+ year and pursuing a professional course) said, “I want my mother to cook fun lip-smacking food that I like all through the day. Else, I’ll just go out and buy myself some junk food. It is the least mom can do for me when I am studying so hard. And I will not eat food that I don’t like.”

The newly wed bride (26+ years and corporate career woman ) said, “We’re newly married, and it’s true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. So I ensure I serve my husband food of his choice. After all, we are just married and it is the least I can do as a wife.

The newly married dude (30+ years, well-educated and in a high-flying/paying job) said, “I want my wife to learn to cook like my mother. After all, what am I earning for if I cannot have good food. And no better cook than my mom. My wife better learn sooner than later.

Mr.Corporate Honcho (35+ years, well qualified and in a high paying corporate job) said, “My wife served me breakfast 5 minutes late, so I slapped her and walked out of home without having a morsel. How can she serve me late? Is it not her duty to ensure that the breakfast of my choice is laid on the table so I can have it on time?

Mr.Entrepreneur (40+ years, well educated and successful entrepreneur) said, “My wife spends the whole day in the kitchen so that the family has hot meals three times a day custom-made to the tastes of the entire family – kids and myself. That is her primary responsibility. And yes! She is well educated. But now, her primary goal is to look after the family. And food is one of the most important aspects.”

Mrs. Home Maker (40+ years, stay-at-home mom) said, “After all, we all live to eat right? And if a woman cannot provide hot home cooked meals for her family, then I don’t think her life is worthwhile. In any family, it is the woman (mother) who should sacrifice, compromise on very many dimensions so that the family grows and prospers.

Mrs.Neighborhood Aunty (55+, and has a view on everything ) said, “I judge a woman by how clean or well maintained her kitchen or fridge are, when I pay a surprise visit to her house!

Mrs.Grandmother (63+ years, wise and experienced) said, “I have given my everything for my kids – so that they are healthy and happy. Food is very important for any child’s growth and development. I put myself last, and have surrendered by body, mind, heart, money, soul and everything for the family. My food, health and well-being comes after all their needs are met.

Mr.Retired (70+ years, well-educated/qualified and retired) said, “I want my wife to make what I want to eat – no matter when I ask or how she is feeling. That is the purpose of my wife’s existence, and she will do it.

Lest you thought I was setting the stage for a family drama, let me burst your bubbles. All the people described above are real people and what I’ve shared above can possibly and probably be instances of what you’ve seen, heard or experienced as the reality in very many (modern) Indian homes. These narratives are in some way a reflection of our society and the reality.

Let me also highlight a few more points:

  • Food plays a vital role in human existence. It is important for survival, sustenance and growth. Someone has to take this responsibility of providing food to the family at home, and it ends up being the woman in most instances.
  • Health is wealth, and one of the most important parameters for good health is to eat right. Someone has to take the responsibility of putting healthy food on the table, and it ends up being the woman in most instances.
  • Freshly prepared home-made food is the best for anyone’s health. Someone has to take the responsibility of cooking at home, and it ends up being the woman in most instances.
  • Even if you are in the same family, no two people’s preferences in food will be the same at all times of the day. So in any family, if there are 3 people, everyone will like to have food of their taste/preference – provided someone makes it! And if someone has to do it, it ends up being the woman in most instances.
  • From personal experience, I observe that the average Indian cooking takes more time than other cuisine. And since we are raised the ‘Indian way’, we are conditioned to have the Indian cuisine for most of our meals. Someone has to do it, so it ends up being the woman in most instances.
  • Anyone who has any experience in managing a home will know that the scope of work in the kitchen is way beyond cooking. There is cleaning, organizing, stocking, arranging, maintaining the kitchen-ware. All of it takes time and effort. Someone has to take the responsibility of managing the kitchen, and it ends up being the woman in most instances.

So if I had to make sense of all the above points, then this is the logical inference – realistically, if someone in any house has to take ownership for the ‘kitchen/food department’ – it is invariably the woman of the house. That can be your grandmother, mother (-in-law), wife, sister(-in-law), daughter (-in-law) or maid! And this is how it has always been – from time immemorial to the modern times we live in.

So what is the point I’m trying to make, you may wonder?

Here’s the thing – what a family decides to do within the four walls is based on the context and circumstances of the family. So if a woman (married, mother or anyone else) spends most of her time, energy and efforts in the kitchen by choice, that’s wonderful.

What if she wanted more?

However, what if she does not want to spend her every waking minute in the kitchen (married/mother/otherwise)? What if she does not really want make the kitchen her permanent abode, but has to due to lack of choice?

Is it really the best use of all her knowledge, skills, experiences if she is spending almost all her waking hours in the kitchen?

Is it really the best for the family that they leverage her time for purely their domestic requirements?

Is it really the best return on investment for society if after the education of the girl child and the experience of being a working woman, she spends most of her adult life in that one room in her home?

I don’t have answers to these questions. Do you?

As I sign-off, I leave you with two conversations I had recently with people dear to me.

The first was with a wise old grandmother who always gives me nuggets of wisdom. She said, “50 years back, most married women/mothers used to spend all our time from dawn to dusk in the kitchen. We used to live in joint families, and had to cook for a large number with traditional tools and techniques. Interestingly, I find that many women (especially married/mothers) today still spend all their time in the kitchen in spite of being in nuclear families and having accessible technology/tools for the kitchen to do things faster. I think the reason is that even though families are smaller today and affordable tools/technology are accessible to all, people are rigid in their preferences and spoilt for choices. So, they don’t eat what is put on the table. Everyone wants to have something exotic or customized at every meal and so the woman ends up spending a significant part of her every day time in the kitchen. I don’t see a difference between many of the new age modern women and me in terms of how our everyday routines are – at least as far as the kitchen is concerned. I don’t know if it is good or bad, only time will tell!”

The second was with a dear mummy friend (and one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever known) who is now a stay-at-home mom (for lack of any viable alternative in her personal context/circumstance) when she told me, “I sometimes wonder what is the purpose of my brain, education and professional work experience if my everyday routine is no different from my mother, grand-mother or great grand-mother? We all spend most of our time in the kitchen and give our lives for the family. I sometimes worry and wonder about how things will be for my daughter or any girl child in the future. First we educate her, we show her the sky, give her wings (and dreams) and when she is all set to fly, we cut her wings and tell her, ‘Your place is on the ground. Don’t aim for the skies’. It just does not add up!”

Both have left me pensive. What do you think? Leave a comment to let us know.

Image of a lady in kitchen via Shutterstock

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  1. This so true. When I look around , my friends are forever stuck in the kitchen slaving away and churning out Indian food. I feel like I’m the odd one out…. I don’t particularly like cooking but will cook out of necessity. That itself is frowned on by most women so I just keep my thoughts to myself. If I disclose that I have made a one pot dish ( although it has all the healthy stuff my family needs) or bought ready made chapatis , I can sense the disapproval from my peer group of Indian women. I suppose I am imperfect then 🙁

  2. True Nischaa and Vrusali. When I said that I don’t like cooking and that it just a responsibility, a male relative commented that the kitchen should be my temple and cooking should be my worship!

  3. Hi, similar thoughts have been through my mind on several days. I just have a few opinions to give, which came out of my thought process. It is not that we did not enjoy our parents playing the traditional or conventional roles, or some of the women following the same; it is the acknowledgement, that they have not received and the way they took it is the problem. To explain further:
    1. I have heard some men say (whose wives have great cooking skills and are patient mothers) – “oh, my wife. what does she know, apart from cooking and taking care of the house?” When the daughters saw this, they got the feeling that cooking is not acknowledged and it is a menial task. These women whose husbands spoke that way, accepted it smilingly as if this is the maximum they could expect.

    2. The next generation thought, let me cook and also earn. Their husbands now demanded, “whether you go to work or not, is not my problem. But you should cook for me, the kids and my parents”. Unable to let go off the new found liberty in earning, she agrees. The next generation thinks, ‘ok. if my mom worked in the kitchen and still slogged out in the office, then I can also do it’.

    3. Now she feels the burden of increased expectations from office, and role conflict happens in the house. She does not get into a deal with other members to share her household work, fearing that they would ask her to sit at home. She looks at other women – both who are at home and those managing at office and compares herself. Result – low self-esteem, as she feels that she is incapable.

    4. She also thinks that her worth is only with the money earned, as that is what is valued more.

    So, where are we making the mistake –
    1. we do not have a proper plan before our marriage, what is expected out of us and what we need to do. Do we discuss with our parents and husband that we need to follow our career, not only for earning, but also for using our academic and other skills.

    2. we failed to discuss with our husbands that parenting is both husband’s and wife’s duty and need to support each other without shifting responsibilities to the grandparents, so that we will clearly know the responsibility of bringing up the child and plan for future babies too.

    3. there is nothing wrong about cooking if it is a passion for some. But such women need to help their husbands and others understand that they do it because it ‘one of the skills’ and not that women need to play that role every day, and just like they are contributing towards family well being, it is everyone’s responsibility, for the healthy upkeep of the family. We are just one of the team players (for eg,if the living room is dusty, then everyone who uses the room should clean it, and just not the woman, whether she goes to work outside or at home). I did this in my house, and it gave an insight into everyone, how challenging some work can be at times, and they learnt to respect me whenever I did it. (their initial reaction of course was “oh, are you that lazy, wish your parents brought you up better,blahblah”) I just chose not to pay heed to such nonsensical comments. It worked !!

    4. I have seen some women who work outside, ask the other women who are working at home – “so, what do you do at home? watch serials?” Let us stop this stereotype question to our own gender. This is one way of negating the enormity of task which is done by the women at home. work is work. whether at home or outside. But let us pass on to the next generation that there is dignity in EVERY work.

  4. I am now 62 yrs old.I have been spending a greater part of my life as a house maker looking after the needs of my family.I had also worked as a school teacher for some years,House keeping is not a small job.It requires lot of dedication and patience.What i feel when the child is born you should be with the child atleast till the child is 5 yrs old.It is not proper to leave the child in daycare when the child cannot express their needs and feelings and the result there is no bonding.One can take up a suitable job later on Also the hisband and the children should help her in her work.Learning cooking and house keeping is an asset and it would be helpful in the future for the husband and the children.This should be the trend in future in Indian families.

  5. When my son was a toddler, he loved to play at pretend cooking. Someone gave him a plastic tool box set . He put a real kadai on a pretend stove, put all the plastic nuts , bolts and screwdrivers into the kadai and stir-fried them with a plastic saw. Seeing his fascination with cooking , one of my friends gave him a stainless steel cooking set, with lovely miniature realistic utensils. But I was shocked to see what was written on the box. ” This toy will help your child become a good daughter-in-law !” .. Of course, we joked about it, and no matter how hard he tried, it was clear that my son will never be a daughter-in-law, much less a good one., but the message it is sending to little girls is outrageous!

  6. I accept the author’s thought. Today women are highly educated and talented. today’s world, both men and women have work. Kitchen is not for women place. Men should learn cook, at least they help cutting vegetables,cleaning utensils etc. If someday, if female got tired and unable to cook during fever, men is responsible to care and cook food.

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