Monday, April 27, 2009

Whose Work Is It Anyway?

Recently, I was talking about some friends of ours, and how I was surprised that the men did not take up more responsibilities. Vicky smirked (yes he did) and said I should realise that not all men are like him. But I don’t think now – and I never have before either – that Vicky does anything that is so very remarkable.

I used to be hot-headed about this until a year or so ago, rushing in and ticking husbands off when I thought my friends (the wives) were getting a raw deal. I’d have done the same if it were the other way round, of course, but in most marriages I see around me, the women seem to do more housework and baby-rearing even if the imbalance is only in a 60:40 female:male ratio. I learnt to keep quiet when I finally figured out that I was interfering in their private arrangements which were, of course, not my business. But I still watch and I still wonder, how it is that these men think it’s a choice?

At some level it is a question of manners to me. When you’re too tired to do as you should, oughtn’t your upbringing make sure that you do it anyway? Dropping people home late at night, helping bring in the groceries when your very bones ache, getting out of bed to take out the garbage early in the morning. I can understand how these things may seem above and beyond the call of duty. But haven’t others gone the extra mile for you? I know lots of people have for me. How can I sit back and keep taking?

Surely we no longer live in a world where men can expect to work only during office hours and perhaps put in a few hours over the weekend on a few chores and consider that the full sum of all that is necessary? No doubt do-it-ourselvers like Vicky and I are extremes and it’s not in the slightest bit necessary to do every little thing oneself. But if you have a maid to help you with the child(ren) and maids to attend to the household, can you not help your wife out by waking up a little earlier in the morning and giving her a much-needed lift?

When both partners work, it’s impractical to expect the wife to get up early every morning and fix breakfast. I mean, if both of you work the same hours, surely it’s more sensible taking turns with fixing meals or whatever?

People get impressed sometimes when I sit back and Vicky serves guests. But you know, it’s Vicky’s home too and his guests. How about thinking of it a little differently – instead of thinking of it as ‘work’ that he’s doing or ‘help’ that he’s ‘giving’ me, how about thinking of it as Vicky assuming equal householder status in his own home? No, I’m not trying to find a fancy justification for making him do ‘my’ work. When I shared the parenting with him right down the middle without separating things into mother’s role and father’s role, I thought (and still think) that he was lucky to be getting a taste of something very beautiful that most Indian men never get to know. Not the poopy diapers but yes, getting the first word while bathing his son. Likewise, apart from the backbreaking exhaustion of it, there is also a certain beauty in helping to run your own household, in knowing where the best cutlery is, and how to put a well set table together. And when a man does it, he also gets a great deal of praise, so what stops them?

I can’t think of any male friend offhand who mocks a man who helps out in the house. More and more, I see men offering to help at get-togethers. Why don’t these men chip in in their own homes? Not ‘help out’ now and then, but actually assert their right to help create the life they live? It makes so much sense to me to expect Vicky to build his career, do chores, do the stuff expected by the extended family and bring up the Bhabbles in full-on parenting mode because I do my bit in all of these things too, and I like knowing he’s at my side through it all. That, to me, is a marriage. Maybe to you it isn’t. But I’m thinking, by the time our children grow up, the men will assert their right to ‘feminine’ work like the women have to ‘male’ work. I sincerely believe that we’ll benefit from this change in outlook.


Beq said...

I sweep my own house (and wipe it too). Then I get antsy if somebody drops crumb. HELP!
By the way, this French thing is very cute and disconcerting

awingandaprayer said...

Hey Sue! Delurking finally to tell you I really enjoyed this piece. Like your writing - period:-) You're candid and you don't take it all too seriously.

Wrote something in a similiar vein a while ago based on an annoying forward. Feel free to it check out:-)

Beq said...

AND I think women give their partners/husbands to easy a time. I disagree with you about how times are changed. Most relationships- especially marital ones- are woefully unequal.
No matter how progressive the relationship purports to be, traditional prejudices creep in in the most insidious ways. Methinks, you should declaim more roundly...

Mama - Mia said...

ah well! i get the "you are so lucky" line so often!

and yes, i give credit to M for being an equal partner and sometimes doing more! just the way i think i should get appreciated for doing my bit of work! there is no harm in that!

but if its thrown at my face all the time saying "i do this and i do that" as if its a godamn favour I have serious problem with that!

and to your alst line, amen! :)



ps: whats with the french connection anyway?!

starry-eyed said...

J'aime ta set-up Francaise, Sue!! Or, whatever remains of my school French:(

J'ai aime ta post aussi! Hubby and I have come a long way over eleven years towards an almost equal sharing...I think as I started expecting him to shape up, he just did! Didn't have to throw more than about 25 tantrums to set right his under-functioning!

His fathering is actually 60:40 to my impatient mothering. And he's benefitting alright from bedtime story cuddles, to bum washes to the splasheries while bathing, not to forget being soccer dad, sorry Kathak dad!

I chafe like you when I see my friends take it for granted that their men need not pitch in. In fact not too far back, I used to call my hubby taking care of kids 'baby-sitting'..until a frien pointed out that I should call it 'parenting and doing his share'!

And yes my guests' eyes pop out when he serves them and I'm sitting aaram se!

But the getting up early for wife and fixing breakast is something that's on my wish list and needs to happen every weekend by the time we reach 15 years...thanks for giving me the push!!

Unmana said...

I have got surprised stares - and worse, rude comments - when I mentioned that the Guy cooked my lunch for me.

In fact, he has consistently cooked more often than me in the last few months, and he participates in other household chores equally. While I love him for it, I agree with you - marriages like ours should be the norm, not the exception.

I agree with Beq above: most marriages I see are still woefully unequal.

dipali said...

I hope that my sons are partners in their future relationships in the true sense of the word.

Casuarina said...

I so empathise with Unmana above. The same sort of thing has happened to me quite often.Although people usually refrain from voicing their thoughts, their expressions often give them away.

While K helps me with household chores voluntarily and doesn't take it to be something very-out-of-the-way, the contrast between his attitude and that of our own fathers baffles me.They seem to think of marriage as some sort of power game where the women should be thankful for being financially secure and pay for their permanent food and lodging by backbreaking work, however ill or tired they may often be.

Fortunately,95% of K's friends have pleasantly surprised me by the way they do know their way around their own houses and stay awake into the dead of night to quiet their bawling infants,and then trudging into office weary-eyed the next day to do more work. They don't think they're martyrs in any way. Unfortunately though, parents who see their precious sons in such roles seldom show any appreciation. They immediately indulge themselves by heaping garlands of sarcasm and cutting contempt regarding the laziness of the female partner.

Miles to go, it seems, still.

Btw, three cheers for Beq !

GettingThereNow said...

Nice post Sue! I think I am living in a nice bubble because I don't get stares from friends when I ask J to get up and make tea for everyone. I do see unequal marriages all around me but, like you, I figured out they had their own equation going on and didn't need me to fix the balance in their marriages. I'd say my marriage isn't balanced right either. Lately, J has been carrying 60% of the burden.

J used to do that in the beginning - refuse to do something if he didn't feel like doing it. And I couldn't understand HOW someone can refuse to carry out a responsibility. We had many a fights over it. Finally he understood when I gave him an example of me cooking and taking care of a baby even when I don't "want" to.

Beq said...

Unmana, Casurina- Thank you darlings. At the end of the day, its just about respect, isn't it? The sad thing is, men do have to struggle quite a bit against their own upbringing to try and be really free. Most men are brought up- to a large degree by the mothers- to believe that
a. he is the best thing that could have happened to the world
b. he is entitled to everything he can get
c. the grey area from which all his creature comforts come from is the realm of women
d. babies? He did his bit nine months before the kid was born didn't he?

Teach your children well...

Lazybirdie said...

Nice post!
Beq's last comment sums it up most appropiately. All around me I see men spoiled and coddled by their moms the brunt of which their poor wives have to bear. Faulty parenting, nothing else.

Lazybirdie said...

& oh! Beq's gonna make a very cute husband someday ;D

Beq said...

Heh, Lazybirdie, danke. Let's get back to the matter at hand...
All of us are programmed to keep repeating our mistakes ad infinitum. At least if we realise what the mistakes are, that's a start.

chandni said...

Its a lovely post Sue.. I had something similar in mind and will actively write now!

I honestly believe its a process, where two people take time to decide on what's comfortable for's so easy to fall in the conditioned trap and feelm"guilty" for involving men in the housework or something...but in must learn to deal with it and have it as the norm.

I mostly feel like the odd one out because the Boy does so much in the house and I have no crib stroies to report when women talk!

D said...

And the most amusing bit is that these men who want to have no share in the housework are the first to lay stake to the achievements of their children and blame their wives for any failings.

sscribbles said...

Sue, a lovely post. It seemed like my thoughts were penned by you. This is exactly what I keep telling my mom or MIL who keep saying how my husband is 'helpful'. Guys, give me a break. My arguement is, If i am not given any concession at workplace for being a woman, why the hell does anyone expect that a guy should get away with household chores. If I work equally hard at my workplace, I expect my better half to be better and not bitter in sharing work at home.
BTW, I still haven't been able to convince my mom or anyone from that generation. My mom scolds me if I ask my husb to do some chores. And my mom is a working woman who unfortunately hasn't got over her prejudices.

IBH said...

for a working couple, i just thought it was a norm for both to equally contribute...

and thankfully the Mr and I have always shared our chores...even in case of Kaju even at the dissaproving act by my ILs....they still think that Mr shouldnt be giving bath to a girl child! though she is his own! utter rubbish i say!

Sue said...

Beq -- Dude. I'm speechless.

Wing -- Thank you. Will check out your post.

Beq -- I'm still speechless.

Abha -- No French connection, just something that cropped up while I was messing with the settings and that I liked and kept.

Starry-eyed -- Merci, ma cher, je l'aime aussi! The breakfast thing was just an example. It kills me to serve food but I can cook it. Now, given that I cook once every few days and he serves every meal, it might sound like he works more but time-wise it probably is equal. More to the point, this is our balance. I'm sure you guys have yours.

Unmana -- Marriages like ours are on their way to becoming the norm, I'm sure.

Dipali -- I think they will try to be. After all, they have seen their sisters' marriages in action, right, so they do have some idea of what a woman would need in terms of support.

Casuarina -- Well, parents will be parents. And I wouldn't care to change my views merely to accomodate my son, so I'll have to give my folks the same leeway. Likewise, in their time they did it their way, so in my time, Vicky and I do it our way.

Cee Kay -- These mens... all brought up to think responsibilities are optional. I do hope we can change that outlook in our kids at least.

Beq -- Your mother also brought you up to think for yourself so give her that credit!

Lazy Birdie -- Oh wives have a big role to play too. Half the men I thought of while writing this post would be very different people indeed if their wives insisted on them getting their acts together.

Beq -- Well, we've made the start, now on to the next item in the list, to wit, the girl! Go on, move that lazy butt.

Chandni -- That makes sense to me. I'm the impatient kind, expecting things to be sorted out from day 1, you know? But yes, it does take an awful lot of time.

D -- LOL, yeah, that too!

SScribbles -- My elders occasionally get uncomfortable with my 'demands' on V, but they have come to terms with the knowledge that I will not change. Give it time.

GG said...

Hi Sue,
Here in the US, it's almost a way of life, helping one another with the chores. My mother was visiting us and she normally is all praise about R, he's so helpful, he does so much etc. Sometimes it irritates me and I'll retort with a "I work as much as him, why is there no praise for me?"
And then of course the mater comes back with, when you're a young couple, both the husband and wife have to work hard to accomplish on the work and home fronts. Many men don't do their part, R does, so I praise him"...

I agree with her...she went through a "young couple, working hard, living nuclear" phase of life and my father to this date helps. Whether its grocery shopping or bathing the girls, he did it all! Let V know he's not the only one...he's one of the few good men though, that's for sure :)
And also tell him, that if it were not for your demands (ahem!) he wouldn't be on the receiving end of so many compliments from strangers on the other side of the globe either ;-)

GettingThereNow said...

I did better than that Sue! I changed that outlook in J!! :D

sumana001 said...

I hope the last lines of your post have prophetic value!

Thinking Cramps said...

Hey Sue, I am so glad you wrote this. It really gets to me. Back in Bombay we had house help, so when we came here I asked Anando to pitch in, note, I had to ask...though there are things he takes on on his own. But we religiously, methodically, systematically take turns on the dishwashing. Something I really appreciate. But I told some Indian colleagues one day and now all of them have taken it up as a complete joke, feeling sorry for Anando because he does the dishes. Hello...he can eat off them, so why not wash them!!!

I get so mad when women doing the household work are 'just doing their own work' while men are 'helping out'! That concept itself needs changing!

Subhashree said...

Great post Sue. A very relevant post for these times in India at least. No matter how 'progressed' the society gets, the society still holds men in high pedestal and sniggers at those who help around the house. It takes some level of maturity and self-confidence to take up that kind of responsibility for the menfolk. We can't blame them too, they've been like this for centuries together. But it is a good thing that things are changing slowly albeit.

But I'd say some of us have chosen well ;)

Munchkin said...

I know what you mean...when I married my husband he was pretty much a typical Indian boy, not used to doing any household stuff...but because we kept similar hours when I used to work he had to begin helping out so although he messed up a lot in the beginning we did get after moving here he had no choice but to help out even more...only glitch, man can't cook to save his life..good thing is I like cooking- so he does the dishes later :)

I think the last two lines were very well said.

Sue said...

GG -- Oh Vicky knows he's not the only one! I think he was taking advantage of the fact that this friend we were talking about does so little. I'll tell him to be grateful for the compliments, yeah. ;)

Cee Kay -- Yes, you do know you give me hope, right?

Sumana -- LOL, me too!

Ana -- Damn, what's with these men? It's the one thing I do appreciate about the menfolk in our circles: many of them don't pitch in but they know better than to mock the men who do!

Subha -- Yes, LOL, some of us have chosen fairly well.

Avanti -- Come to think of it, when we were maidless for all those months, Vicky did do the dishes after a while. I appreciated it very much.

Monika,Ansh said...

Very well written post Sue. Things are surely changing but we have a very long way to go.

Poppins said...

Hmm. Nice post and certainly true. But everything doesnt have to be 50:50 you know. Sometimes it's 60:40 in the house sometimes not. But as long as it all balances out in the end it hardly matters.

The hubby is keeping long hours now due to terrible commute, so he's escaped a lot of chores, but then he makes up for it by doing all the outside work so we're happy.

What matters is that we're ok with the balance no? But serving when guests come, that's like totally his job. I've no intention of stepping into the kitchen after I've finished cooking up a storm !

Jassie said...

Hi Sue,

So, partly you're seeing the result of cultural traditions, and even religious traditions, a tough combination. Generally, I see an increase in education, and a (large) decrease in religion is needed to move cultures beyond the old fundamentalist notions. What you describe continues because
it works to the advantage of men, and, not to put too fine a point on it, of women. Men acquire the power (by inheritance and genes) so they aren't likely to want to change. (Some) women like the current system because they
enjoy a certain power over the household, and, of course, of the servants who go with that household. So, often, they don't want to change either.
I see little chance that by saying what you do you will change that system, as deeply entrenched as it is.When you observe others
praising Vicky, smile :-)

Sue said...

Monika -- Yes, but it'll need to be WE who change it. To the extent WE want.

Poppins -- Poppy, the 60:40 division was in terms of total work done. So long as your ration works for you, I don't have a problem with it. And I've seen him serve guests, so I know why you say it's his job -- he does it so well!

Jassie -- Oh sure, I smile. Most people are comfortable with the system as it is but many would like a little more consideration from their men. Many women I know don't have a problem doing all household-related work but yes, they would appreciate a backrub before bed or a lift to a shop once in a while. So yes, there's much room for improvement and yes, I believe it'll happen.

eve's lungs said...

Men , my dear have to be taught and trained on incremental as well as on sustenance basis .

Sue said...

Evie -- You must teach me how you do it. :(

ckpadma said...

Like the movie with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan, I want "you to want to do the dishes". It is not about being 50:50 in doing chores that I consider important, it is wanting to be a part of all parts of my life that I consider important. Doing dishes is as important as deciding whose money goes where. Sharing is not 50:50, but when it is you do yours and I do mine, it is not sharing, and it is not a marriage, for me that is.