Despite strides made in empowering women, we still do most of the heavy lifting in household work
All women are expected to take responsibility for home and hearth, irrespective of whether they have a job or not.
There are many tedious, irritating, mind-numbing jobs in the world but housework has earned its place somewhere at the very top of the list. The reasons are painfully obvious. Nobody likes to scrub the toilet or pick out little pieces of food from the sink, sweep and swab the floors till they shine, do battle with the indefatigable dust demons, cook umpteen meals for the family, clean the stove, make sure the clothes are laundered, neatly ironed and folded, shop for groceries, clean the fridge, get rid of stinky garbage in an environment-friendly manner... The list is endless.
Worst, of all household work is drudgery at its most unforgiving. It is a thankless job that offers little by way of satisfaction or compensation. No matter, how hard you work to stay on top of domestic chores, there is no respite, since you have to do it all over again, mostly on the very next day because those tiresome tasks are not going anywhere. And of course, it is unpaid labour, which is far from glamourous and does not earn one respect or appreciation.
In India, the smart choice is to dump this tortuous job on maids who are usually paid a pittance and fobbed off with remnants of discarded meals, sweets that could prove ruinous to diets or damaged articles of clothing in lieu of adequate remuneration. Heaven help those who can’t afford maids! Let us talk about the division of labour here. Despite the strides made to empower and liberate women, when it comes to household work, we still do most of the heavy lifting.
Of course, men who pitch in every once in a while by half-heartedly vacuuming, doing the dishes, or running the washer/dryer are covered in praise for their minimal efforts. Whereas all women are expected to take responsibility for home and hearth, irrespective of whether they have a job or not. Because a woman’s worth is still measured by her homemaking skills.
Kamal Haasan’s promise to provide salaries for housewives as part of his electoral campaign and Shashi Tharoor’s endorsement of the same is not going to cut it, simply because the onus of housework will remain with women. Of course, the value of unpaid domestic labour needs to be recognised but it is not merely a question of payment. Equal load-sharing among all members of the household is more important.
Or we could simply stop caring and decide that messy houses with a far-from-spotless tub or an overflowing sink does not necessarily carry the mark of the slovenly but is an indicator of a home full of busy people who have better, more rewarding things to do with their time. This indifference may hold the key to happier households!
Author and new age classicist