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In a recent interview, actor Neena Gupta opined that she feels sometimes that women had it easier in the past, when they had only to play the role of the nurturer. But is that really true?
In a recent interview with Atika Farooqui, on the different kinds of women, in which she shared space with Richa Chadha and Ashwini Iyer-Tiwari, Neena Gupta was asked if she has been able to categorize herself.
Her answer began well enough and was relatable. She shared how she is sometimes the “gharelu” woman who does housework and cares for her loved ones, how she is sometimes the “sexy” Instagram model, and sometimes the actor. Women are multi-taskers, and there are many women hidden inside one woman. She also shared that while women like her, though they have their own struggles, somehow manage to get ahead, it is the plight of poor women, that truly disturbs her.
However, what she said next, is something that I found deeply problematic.
“I feel that women in the past had it better. Man was a provider, woman was a nurturer. She took care of the kids at home and the man went to work. At least that way she got some rest…in the evening she would dress up and wait for her husband. During the day she would gossip, and even have a nap in the afternoon. Now she works all day, because in Mumbai, both spouses have to work. So now, she works all day, and then comes home and even does all the housework. So her situation is really bad, but what can be done about that. She has been educated…and now that she has been educated, she will earn. And if she earns, well…” she said, with a smirk towards the end.
I’ve listened to that section over and over again, because I wanted to be sure of what she is implying, and I’m still not sure. Is she really saying that the root of all the trouble is educating women? That women should not aspire to careers? That they will be happier if they just stayed at home and took care of the kids?
I honestly don’t know what Neena Gupta’s intention was in making that statement, or what she means by it. This is also not a call for her to be “cancelled.” I can only say that it reminds me of the many, many sarcastic statements that I’ve heard about “aaj-kal ki auratein.” The proverbial “modern woman” who is “too educated,” “too independent” and “too selfish.” Not to mention that the statement is riddled with stereotypes about housewives.
It makes my blood boil.
Let us first consider the statement that women are nurturers. Yes, women are the ones chosen by nature to get pregnant, give birth and to breastfeed etc. However, just because they biologically can, doesn’t mean that every woman wants to or has to be a nurturer. And what about the women who biologically cannot bear children, such as women who suffer from infertility or transwomen? Where does that leave transmen who can give birth? What about the many single fathers who love their children and do nurture them?
Biology is not destiny.
Some women choose to have children and to spend their time and energy in raising them. Some women choose to be childfree. Some women give birth, and do their best for their children even though they don’t feel “maternal.” Some women give up their children for adoption. There are many different choices that women make, with respect to child-rearing and all these choices are equally valid.
I’ve been both a woman who works outside the home, as well as a homemaker, and the most irritating question that I keep hearing is, “what do you do with all your time?”
The truth is that work always expands to fill the time one has. The notion that women who work at home have all the time in the world to relax and deck up is an inherently patriarchal one that devalues women’s unpaid labour.
It’s time to retire the stereotype of the “gossipy, TV serial watching, lazy homemaker.”
Given that homemakers work hard for no pay, it is hardly an ideal situation. The lack of financial independence keeps them tied down, in what are sometimes very abusive situations.
Sure, some women do find happiness in domesticity, but that is their choice.
Women who also work outside the home do have to juggle both, but the fact that they must struggle to do so is because traditional gender roles dictate that housework is “women’s work.” When families decide that no work is “women’s work,” and that men too can take up the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, taking care of children etc, the woman’s life gets a lot easier.
Women have dreams and aspirations of their own. Education and the opportunity for paid work allow women to reach for those dreams, and they must get these opportunities, just because they are human beings. To deny them that is an abuse of human rights.
Instead of wondering how “lovely” the life of women was when they “only” had to take care of the kids, we should be working towards creating a society where women’s work, whether at home or outside the home, is valued and rewarded. The aim is to liberate women from the shackles of home and hearth, and to allow them to live up to their full potential.
It is possible that Neena Gupta meant something else by her comments. It is hard to believe that she said them in earnest. However, while it is bad enough that such flippant statements are made by people around us, it is especially problematic when they are made by a public figure. Especially a public figure who herself has been celebrated for being a bold, independent woman.
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