No! This is not a male-bashing article. We all have men in our lives- father, brother, husband, son, boyfriend and we love them. Sometimes we love them a little too much.
Yes, so much so that we don’t let them touch any housework. We Indian women have been conditioned to think that ‘housework’ is a female activity. Chopping vegetables, cooking, clearing up the dining table, cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the house- it’s traditionally a woman’s duty. So, whether we are working professionals or stay at home wives, we take it upon ourselves to manage the house. But at the same time, we women also do what men used to traditionally do- we go out and earn money, we make an effort to learn what men usually do. Okay, we may not all be able to fix a broken fuse or change the tyre of a car, but most of us are not averse to learning it, if someone taught us how to do it. So then why is it that we keep our men away from life skills that they should know? Why do we not allow them to learn things that could make our lives simpler? Why are we not giving them the confidence to enter the kitchen and acquire abilities that will help them in their own lives? Why do we deprive them of this learning?
I write this with the nicest possible intentions.
In my own life, I have been fortunate to have male members in the family, right from my grandfather, father, uncles and cousin brother who have always prided themselves on cooking up some fabulous signature dishes. I have to admit that some of them made a huge mess afterwards in the kitchen- oil stains, turmeric spills and so on. But at the end of it all, I can still remember how much we relished those dishes and how proud we were of their skills.
Not just cooking, these men have no qualms about cleaning the house and looking after the kids.
With this kind of background, it was a shock to me when in later years, especially after getting married, I observed that not all men engage in housework. In fact, in this day and age, plenty of Indian men do not even fetch a glass of water from the kitchen on their own! Sometimes I wonder how these men will cope in the absence of the women in their lives. So much dependence on the female species for the most basic things in life cannot be good for them.
Yes, in case you wonder, I have trained my husband to cook, clean the house and become self-reliant. He in return has taught me skills that are traditionally ‘male’. So, without playing damsel in distress, I can fill air in car tyres, pride myself on assembling furniture at home, using screwdrivers, nuts and bolts, I wash the car, fill petrol with my own hands and continue to learn so I am self-reliant too.
I cannot say how proud I am when he can rustle up the thinnest, laciest dosas which he once served my mother-in-law, suitably impressing her!
By the way, it’s just my observation that some of us women are actually hesitant to allow men folk to do housework. For various reasons, we think it’s best if we just persevere and let the men be men- put their feet up, while we slave away all our lives. Before you dismiss all this as the ranting of yet another feminist, take a few minutes to convince yourself why you need to allow your men to learn housework- because often we women are the ones who need to be convinced first, before we convince them:
YOU MAY DIE BEFORE HIM: What if you die before the man in your life? Just think of the possibility. Do you want him to depend on yet another female for something as basic as feeding himself? Yes, there are restaurants, maids, tiffin services, ready processed meals. But, what about simple things like making a cup of tea in the morning? Surely he cannot depend on others for this. Not everyone is going to lovingly, non-grudgingly make him a cup of tea or coffee, like you do. So why not teach him the basics? Right from how to open the bag of milk, how to warm it up and then prepare the actual tea- he needs to be taught step by step. With patience and understanding, especially if he has never done it before.
YOU MAY FALL TERRIBLY ILL: Again, not just so he can serve you and for your own selfish motives, think of what happens when you fall ill. What if you are in hospital? Who is to feed the children? Isn’t it a lot nicer if your husband or son can cook and look after the house? Outside food can be oily, spicy and expensive. So why not teach your men the basics of cooking. Maybe simple rice, daal, dosa using ready-mix batters, boiled eggs, omlettes, even noodles[ yes, even that needs teaching; don’t forget to teach them how to turn the gas on and off safely]You will be giving them a skill for life and they will be grateful and proud of it.
ONE DAY HE WILL RETIRE, BUT WILL YOU? You may retire from your job, but as a woman do you ever retire from the housework? Never. Till the day you die, there is no relief from housework for most of us women. What about the men? Past retirement, they pick up hobbies and relax. Well, it’s never too late to learn a new hobby. This is the time to teach them to chop, peel, prepare vegetables, clean, sift the rice or ‘daals’ and so on.
This could be a wonderful time for the two of you to bond and have intimate conversations whilst sharing the burden of housework. Besides, your husband cannot complain of getting bored. Plenty of retired gentlemen do it, nowadays. But why wait for retirement when you can start the training NOW?
ONE DAY HE WILL LEAVE THE NEST AND FLY AWAY: This applies to your son. One day, like your daughter he too will leave the nest- away from the loving care you bestow on him. Who will feed him in the hostel or when he is abroad? Why not teach him how to make something simple like ‘khichadi’ that he can make for himself and his friends. Teach him how a pressure cooker works- not just the physics of it because he is a budding engineer, but so that he can use it practically, for himself. Besides, you will have a very thankful daughter-in-law, one day. Also who knows, he may just be a Master Chef in the making; you could give him wings…
SOME OF THE MOST HIGH PROFILE CHEFS IN THE WORLD ARE MEN: Cooking doesn’t have to be boring or a female preserve. Just look at all the male chefs on television and you have role models to point to. Jamie Oliver, besides our very own Sanjeev Kapoor, Vicki goes Veg, the gentleman from Punjabi Tadka are fabulous examples of men doing a great job, raking in the money and might I add, are rather dishy themselves! Besides, my observation is that men do things a bit differently in the kitchen. The same recipe for, say, ’ Tadka daal’ just looks smells and tastes different when made by your man. Maybe earmark a day of the week when he can go experiment in the kitchen; give him his space and let him wield the spoons and ladles, have fun. Yes, just a little note : ask him to tone down the spice and oil level, as men do go a bit overboard in their enthusiasm.
BUST THE MYTH THAT HOUSEWORK MAKES A MAN LESS MACHO: Before you feel guilty for making your man do housework and think that it will make make him less masculine, think again. Men in the west do the housework without qualms. In fact having lived in the west I’ve seen Indian men effortlessly take on housework without problems. Allow me to share a story here: We once had a male family friend, a very successful doctor, over as a guest and after dinner he offered to do the washing up of the dishes, despite my protests. But this gentleman not only washed a sinkful of plates but also scrubbed my pressure cooker and offered advice about which scrubber works best for stubborn stains. To date, I worship him! So, yes, in the west, because domestic help is expensive, everyone, men, women, children all chip in with the housework. If you go to anyone’s house for dinner, the men[ even our Indian men] will help with clearing the dining table, wiping it , loading the dishwasher….all over friendly banter and conversation, unabashedly and uninhibitedly.
BE PREPARED FOR DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND LOADS OF PATIENCE:
Remember when your father or husband tried to teach you how to drive or do something on the computer and shouted at you? Remember how you felt annoyed, angry and nearly gave up?
So it is with housework. Whether its cooking or dusting the shelves, not everyone can be as perfect as you. So have patience, be prepared for a few kitchen disasters and ignore the layer of dust in the corner. Be ready to mop up the spills and scrub away the burnt pans. Let him make mistakes and learn from them. If you shout and get impatient, your student will give up. So in the beginning learn to put up with the mess, but slowly teach him to clear up afterwards. At first, he may scream for everything from the kitchen. “where is the asafoetida?” or “ how do you know if its coriander powder or cumin powder?”. Your patience will go a long way in teaching him how to figure out things and eventually fend for himself.
SOME TYPES OF WORK WILL ALWAYS BE TRICKY: Not all housework is exciting like cooking. When the domestic help does not turn up, there will the sweeping, mopping, dusting and other such uninspiring work. Alas, I do not have the answer to how to get your man to help you and I suppose it depends on individual circumstances. But surely you can train your son at an early age[ as you do your daughter] to learn how to do these chores. Maybe have a little incentive as a reward. What would make the husband do this, I do not know- apart from cajoling, begging and hopefully not nagging. But if you can do it, so can they. After all, it’s their home too, and you can make it run smoothly together.
So go on ladies, give it a go. It’s not as hard as you think.
Remember the saying “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”
First published in WOMEN’S WEB under 8 Fabulous Reasons To Get (And Let) Men Do More Housework