CHENNAI: The Guardian newspaper has a regular feature called ‘The letter you always wanted to write’. Readers can send in a letter anonymously to the paper for publishing, expressing something they have always wanted to say to someone, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to.
This week’s letter caught my attention. ‘To my wife, who won’t get a job while I work myself to death’. In a nutshell, a man has written to his wife asking her why she won’t get a job and contribute in even a small way to paying for their middle class lifestyle. Though she is well qualified, bright and the children are in full time school and on their way to college his wife continues to ‘do volunteer work, pursue hobbies and exercise’. He, on the other hand has climbed the ladder of success at great cost to his personal health and happiness.
Of course, we’re never going to know the wife’s side of the story so I’ve been debating both sides of the argument in my head (and with my husband). The writer makes an interesting point when he says “Many of my free hours are spent helping with the house and the kids, and I recognise that traditional gender roles are often oppressive, but that cuts both ways.”
Equal parenting, equal marriages… can you have such a thing when one person earns all the money working outside the home and the other works at home doing work that doesn’t come with a payslip?
To help use my column word count wisely, lets call them OTH (Outside The Home) and ITH (In The Home). If the ITH feels that OTH should come home from work and then help with laundry and putting the kids to bed, is the OTH justified in feeling that ITH should at some point contribute financially? Is it unfair that the burden of financially raising a family should fall on one person, just as it’s unfair that the burden of physically raising a family should fall on another? Raising children is an extremely important job, but once the little people are no longer so little and are at school for the majority of the day should the ITH find paid work and contribute?
The thing I wonder about the most is… at the end of the day, does it all boil down to the money? Can their be equality in a relationship when the fiscal responsibilities and power rests solely with one person?
These are questions to ask each other before marriage and that both men and women must both answer. Will you want to always work? What kind of a lifestyle do we want? Can we afford that lifestyle? (and a lifestyle includes how many kids you will have) Who will earn the money? Who will look after the children? How? The questions need to be revisited and the answers re-examined at different points in the life of a relationship.
Perhaps the point raised by the gentleman that I agree with the most is that traditional gender stereotyping hurts both sexes. Men and women both lose out when they automatically accept the gendered responsibilities society places at their door. Perhaps the answers we seek lie here, and we won’t find them till we address these issues first.
(The writer’s parenting philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me)