Women, Don’t Keep Calm: Pass the Baton/Belan
While Coronavirus continues to claim lives, another silent pandemic is raging across the world in our kitchens, backyards, drawing rooms and bathrooms: the pandemic of household chores that has resurrected the battle between the sexes.
As the wall between the home and the world crumbles and the home becomes our world, these redefined boundaries present an opportunity to address the long-standing question of “whose responsibility is household work and how should it be divided?”
With the lockdown in place, and the buffer of the domestic help gone, middle class couples are finding themselves cooped up indoors, compelled to confront the drudging reality of cleaning, cooking and washing - everyday tasks that have been conveniently relegated to women for decades.
Most of us are familiar with the daily morning scenes of our dads sprawled across the sofa, reading the newspaper (that has unfortunately been replaced by WhatsApp forwards today) while our moms are busy in the kitchen making tea or instructing the maid on what to cook for the day.
Men get to wake up and greet the world at their doorsteps while women have to preside over the matters of the household and cater to the needs of men around them. Are intellectual pursuits for men alone? While women have stepped out into the workforce, why haven’t men stepped into the household with equal comfort?
It is not just about being in-charge of daily meals or doing the dishes. Women have been unfairly shouldering the burden of caregiving activities and emotional labour too: from raising children to taking care of the elderly, looking after the pets, decorating the house, ordering groceries, and the list goes on.
Men have lived ensconced lives, feeding on the unpaid labour of women and being oblivious to the efforts that go into the managing of a household. Their shirts have been ironed for them, their suitcases handed out to them while they march into the outside world to make a buck, their pies set on the table for them to be simply devoured after work, their beds neatly made for them to crawl into and fall asleep in. It is women who are answerable for their missing ties and socks, their invisible car keys and their regular intake of medicines.
This is precisely what feminist scholars call the “mental load” - the pressure to always remember things and organise and manage things at both home and work. Women, even if they are gainfully employed are the ones held responsible for the upkeep and running of the house.
The double burden of labour ensures women are left with less time for paid employment and even lesser time for themselves. If you think about it, leisure and self-care are a man’s preserve; women procreate and men recreate.
Once all of this is over, what will a post-COVID world look like for both men and women? Will it be any different than what it already was? Will men gleefully go back to their jobs, thriving on patriarchal gender roles and the generosity and love of women? Who will water the plants, feed the pets, make the beds, scrape the dishes, take care of the kids, buy the groceries once the lockdown is over?
These are all important questions that the nation wants to know! As feminists, we have an unprecedented historic moment: to ask men to meet us halfway or perish. We must not squander this moment and let men get away with it. We must corner and confront them to take responsibility for equally sharing household chores.
They should not be praised, celebrated or validated for doing so. They are not doing us a favour; they’re merely contributing their due share. The lockdown is the best bet we have to undo the lockdown on gender roles. In a world, that’s obsessed with building walls, let’s build bridges for a more equal and better tomorrow.
Those dishes won’t clean themselves
Those floors won’t get mopped magically
Those soiled covers won’t change on their own
Those stack of clothes won’t disappear into the cupboard
Until my darling, you meet me halfway
So I’ll be in the next room finishing my novel
Facetiming my college friends
Dealing a pack of cards on house party
Putting on my face pack, ordering a pizza
Enjoying my drink
Binging on the latest Netflix series
Till you learn to sew those buttons back on your shirt
Till you know where to order groceries from
Till you take the trash out for the day
Till you learn to meet me halfway darling
Oh won’t you meet me halfway darling?
(By Pooja Bhatia)