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.