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While we push for women's equality so that working or being a homemaker should be choice, we need to push for a similar choice for men too. That's true feminism.
While we push for women’s equality so that working or being a homemaker should be choice, we need to push for a similar choice for men too. That’s true feminism.
There is a narrative that has been quite prominent recently and has gained a lot of understandable support. It is on what feminism is intended to provide – a freedom to choose for women between working, or not. To choose between being a full-time mother and homemaker, or having an earning. How it should be a viable choice for women to not work and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that
I want to clarify right here itself, that the emphasis here is on choice. For many women everywhere in this world, it’s not a choice to work, and I fully recognize this fact. I am speaking here for them – not to them.
Recently, Chetan Bhagat and his wife’s (or to be correct, ‘not his wife’s’) phulkas have caused quite some consternation, as has the study on working mothers and the benefits reaped by their children, published on TIME. Most of these consternations are by women, who feel unfairly looked down upon for being homemakers by such narratives.
I understand and sympathize with this. Women are overwhelmed everywhere, trying to bear the load of social and self-imposed expectations, and are often stretched thinner than our male counterparts. So it is understandable that we feel frustrated by what progress has led us into – an arena where punches are being thrown from all sides – and don’t want to play anymore.
There is also the fact that caregiving is often overwhelmingly a responsibility women find themselves with, either by choice or compulsion, and in many households, what makes the best sense is a choice to prioritize. Home over job. Mind (sanity) over matter. Many women also make the argument of preference and skill set to justify the choice. But with all my sympathy and understanding, whenever faced with any of these narratives, I can’t help but wonder: do men also get the same choice?
Because women’s equality and men’s equality are after all two sides of the same coin.
Every time a man gets looked down upon for not providing for his family or doesn’t get to choose what the society segregates as ‘homely’ – from wanting to stay at home instead of his spouse to pursue his interests, to taking a primary role in caregiving or homemaking – we are making a statement. That the man is less of a man for making such a choice. So the question becomes, if a man is less of a man for staying home or rearing children, is a woman less of a woman for stepping into a boardroom? We can’t really win the argument of equality and right to choice at the same time until both genders get to choose. And whenever we women bring in skillset, preference, gender, and examples from the animal kingdom into this – we do no one else but our own gender a disservice.
The other part of this is the other kind of jibes. ‘Of course he messed up placing the dishes. He is a man after all!’ ‘Where does your spouse leave his socks? Everywhere of course. What else can be expected of men?’
The thing is, through all our statements and jokes establishing our superiority in doing dishes and house chores (no disrespect meant for either), we ourselves are leaving no one else to pick up but us. A man can wash a glass as well as a woman. He just needs to not know that he is a man while doing so. I have seen this, living with men from some European countries who didn’t know that they are supposed to suck at some chores because of their gender. It might be also relevant to mention here the Gender Similarities Hypotheses – a good read for those who need convincing.
Most importantly, I feel that we as women do have a choice. But bigger is the burden of our responsibility to maintain and build upon the struggles of those who came before us, that has allowed for this choice to be possible. For other women of the world who will come after us, we need to safeguard our right to work and earn, and that can’t be done just in theory. Numbers need to be built up still, not reduced.
Growing up I saw my mother exhausted beyond description trying to be the perfect hostess, the best cook, a good mother, a dutiful wife and still keep working. I asked her why she couldn’t just quit her job. My father worked and earned enough to sustain us. Everyone asked her to quit. A pediatrician my sister was taken to was confident and adamant, that the high fever she had had to do with our mother being a working woman. So why did she have to work?
Her response would always be: For you. If I stop being a mother and a homemaker, no one will take that right away from you in the future. But if I stop working, someone, someday, will make a stronger case against working women. You will always have the choice to not work. But I need to make sure you have the choice to too.
I pondered a lot on this. After all, didn’t nature intend for us to divide roles? Why can’t we humans just abide too for the sake of peace and ease?
Not only sustenance, our excelling and influence is controlled by our financial independence. Women have accepted their role as nurturers and homemakers for centuries. But society, which men predominantly have controlled and defined in lieu of the aforementioned, didn’t keep their end of the bargain. So right to education, right to work, right to pursue a passion, even right to have an identity was mass erased.
We have come quite some way but there are miles left to go. Also, equality comes with rights and rights can’t be sustained without performing the duties. Just like we women concern and berate ourselves, men flounder under their burdens too. Indian men and American men have told me that whether or not to earn, get a job, provide, is not a choice for them, even if they would like to be a full-time father instead.
So we need to ponder honestly on this question: if the men in our families suddenly said they want to choose not to earn or provide for the family, will that be acceptable to us? Will we rise up to the occasion and be the primary/sole breadwinners?
Therefore, I don’t see feminism as a quest for choice in regards to being able to not work. Nor do I find glory in countering narratives that seem to support working women. Of course, a choice should exist, for both men and women, in a case by case, family by family manner, to choose to be a stay at home father or mother. But as a society, we have a responsibility to not define feminism by the availability of that choice for only women because earning a living is as essential for human survival as is air and water.
So what about our overwhelming loads? I feel equality and compromise again is the answer (after all, not everyone can hire help to make Phulkas). We co-parent, co-cook, co-launder, and co-work. And even if sometimes the chores don’t meet the standard I feel I could have otherwise attained, I have trained myself to be OK with that.
I can’t want to stop working, even on the toughest of days, because I believe true equality means I don’t have the choice to not provide for my family just like my husband doesn’t. Because we are so far still from breaking the ceiling, that I can’t risk reducing the number of working women even by one. Because again, women’s equality and men’s equality are both sides of the same coin.
I have resented my mother at times growing up for missing playdates. But I understand and am proud of her stance today and I know my daughter will be too one day no matter how many not so well prepared meals we have to feed her growing up.
Image source: shutterstock
Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...
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