The Same Mistake

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Source: YouTube

A few days back I watched the Ariel advert that showed a mother-in-law taking pride that her daughter-in-law was earning more than her son, something unimaginable during her time, and then showed that useless son questioning his wife that why his green shirt wasn’t washed – followed by a line “is laundry only a women’s job?”.  In a Nielsen survey, supported by Ariel, across 5 major Indian cities, it was revealed that 76% men still think laundry is women’s job. Not a surprise. You don’t actually need a survey to anticipate that. What is difficult to understand is that the advert is a result of the survey or the other way round.

The survey, conveniently, points out the symptom and ignores the diagnosis. I don’t blame the survey because that’s what Ariel might have paid Nielsen for since that’s as much they need to create that 30 second advert. Idiots are the ones who jump on to conclusions without understanding why those 76% think what they think. And more importantly, how are they different from the rest 24% who do not share the same view.

Neha Dhupia, one of the brand ambassadors, said “76% of Indian men believe, laundry is a woman’s job. As a woman, I’m glad to be here today to draw light to the clear inequality that exists in Indian households. This is a question that needs to be asked and I encourage women across the country to join this debate.” It would actually lead to some conclusive result if men are also invited to join this debate.

Anybody, who has the slightest idea on the kind of social transformation United States went through in 50s and 60s, would realize that we are making the same mistake that the US made at that time. We have the history of not learning from our history. It would be too much to expect to learn from USA’s history. The actual fight on women’s liberation is related to providing them equal rights in education and employment. Unfortunately, what United States missed is giving due importance to the household work as well. The sole parameter of women’s progress was the $ printed on her paycheck at the end of every month. It became the identity of every woman. The growing definition of modern outlook became whether the family allowed the girl to get complete education as well as to work after the education or not. Then came the time when working couples became a norm. The greatest invention of 20th century, arguably, the birth control pill and spike in abortions during the movement that enabled women to focus on their professional careers instead of getting tied down by motherhood responsibilities, brought significant changes in the US social structure. The changes came at varied times and gravity depending upon the financial strength (rich, poor, middle class), belief system and geography you talk about. Unfortunately, what also happened is that household chores took back seat and office work took priority as the balance shifted towards the latter. While the parents taught daughters to go out and work, they did not teach sons to be in and help in household chores. To add to that, household chores became a symbol of backwardness. Eventually, who does the household chores became the dinner table conversation because that was something nobody wanted to do. While it became one of the bones of contention for many divorces, it also gave opportunity for companies to come up with products that made the life more sedentary. However, the large part of health crisis, US faces today, is a result of the trends that developed after that.

Doesn’t this sound like what has happened in India in last 20 years? Tragically, there is no way to stop this as well now because there are far more people who want to get high TRPs and publicity than the ones who want to actually make the world around a better place. Talking about women liberation is sexy. Bashing men is sexier. But very few people have the inclination to go to the root of the issue and understand why men think what they think.

Just go around for another survey of parents and ask how many of them allow or make their sons do household chores, besides cooking (since it has been glamorized, thanks to Sanjeev Kapoor and Master Chef)? Children learn what they see their parents do. It is in parents and teachers’, who nurture the future of the country, hand to teach their students (both, girls and boys) that washing clothes and cleaning utensils is not a “Mangubai” job – definitely not, if you are doing it in your own house.

Society that takes pride on women, who go out and work, should also be proud of women who stays back at home and manages it. There are thousands of women in India who are working today, but there are millions who are housewives and contribute significantly in terms of goods and services. Unfortunately, the irony is that managing children, preparing three course meal three times a day, serving the elderly, washing clothes, ensuring clean house etc. doesn’t count into GDP unless they are done by domestic help. Even when the fact is that in developed countries as well, in spite of availability of all machines, easy transport, responsive public services and e-commerce, these activities take up more than 70% of the time. Unless these activities form a part of contribution to the nation, nobody will be willing to do it. That is the reason why housewives in India, and probably world over, aspire for some respect not just from men, but also women who have got the opportunity to build a corporate career. However, it just remains a wishful thinking.

At a larger level, our education and values fail to teach kids that no work is demeaning. Indians, generally don’t respect people who are doing work which they perceive as lower in social status. Greatest examples are the community helpers – garbage cleaners, domestic servants, municipality workers, newspaper vendors, milkman, and postman and so on. We have never been thankful to the people who make our lives easy. The people who make our surroundings clean are, sometimes, the most detested ones.

A sustainable result to ensure our social structure doesn’t break down would be to ensure that our boys and girls understand the importance of household chores as well besides just becoming an engineer or doctor. And in order to do that, recognizing the effort spent in household work as a contribution to nation building (GDP) is very critical. However, that is just a part of the entire solution. A larger and more effective solution will be that people start recognizing the importance of someone staying home and taking care of it.

Sources: Wikipedia, RewardMe, Sify, Bloomberg, New Indian Express, WSJ and my dear friends Arion Crow and Lonna Bree Berry Crow for confirming my knowledge on American history and adding their valuable inputs.

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