‘Housewife’ To ‘Homemaker’: Is There Really Something In The Name Change?

We are urged to use the word ‘homemaker’. There is definitely something in the name change. Homemaker is a more respectful and dignified term.

It has been politically incorrect to use the term ‘housewife’ for some years. Instead, we are urged to use the word ‘homemaker’. There is definitely something in the name change. Homemaker is a more respectful and dignified term. Also, it removes the gender element which the earlier ‘housewife’ regrettably had.

So, what’s stopping us from calling men homemakers?

The Supreme Court of India came out with a ‘Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes’ in August 2023 in which it has mandated that the word ‘housewife’ be replaced by ‘homemaker’ while writing judgements or filing cases before courts.

While this is a big, progressive step from the apex court, and ‘homemaker’ sounds so much better, does the change in nomenclature change the ground reality?

Time use survey

Women are still doing significantly more housework and caregiving than men. This applies to both urban and rural women in India. The first national-level Time Use Survey in 2019, which covered 1.38 lakh households, reveals a regressive pattern.

In the 15-59 age group, 92.3 per cent of women did unpaid domestic service for household members while the figure for men was 28.9 per cent.  As for unpaid caregiving services for household numbers, in the same age group, the figures were 32.8 per cent for women and 16.2 per cent for men.

Overall, women spent 7.21 hours a day in unpaid domestic service and caregiving roles while men spent 2.8 hours on these activities. Not surprisingly, only 19.2 rural women and 16.7 urban women participated in employment and related activities.

This disparity impacts women in two ways. They are not compensated monetarily for the work they put in while cooking, cleaning, shopping, managing the home in other ways, and taking care of children and elders. Two, women who work outside the home are not spared domestic chores which is often a stressful burden compromising their mental and physical health.

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Whiff of change

Remember the iconic Nirma washing powder advertisement where the virtues of the product are extolled by Hema, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma? Conveying the blatant message that it’s a woman’s role to do the laundry in a household.

There are many similar advertisements which are subtly sexist even today. That’s why it came as a welcome change in perceptions when a commercial created a ruckus in the popular 2023 film ‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’. The commercial which showed only women making laddus triggered a boycott of the product. It took Rani’s suggestion that men be shown fashioning the laddus with their hands, and looking proud about it, to win back customers.

Poetic injustice

American writer and advocate for social reform, who lived in the 19th Century, Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman, has spoken of the drudgery of being a housewife in her poem titled ‘The Housewife’.

“Food and the serving of food — that is my daylong care;

What and when we shall eat, what and how we shall wear;

Soiling and cleaning of things — that is my task in the main —

Soil them and clean them and soil them — soil them and clean them again.”

Whether a woman is a housewife or homemaker, she is doing unpaid, sometimes stressful work that should be shared with her partner in a just and fair society.

Ending on a somewhat humorous note, American lawyer and social activist Bella Abzug said: “I prefer the word ‘homemaker’ because ‘housewife’ always implies that there may be a wife someplace else.” Tongue in cheek, indeed!

Image Source: A still from The Great Indian Kitchen

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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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