Let me begin by sharing a chapter of my childhood from when I got head lice. I was six at the time and around three months into my mamma’s new job. The new job that my mamma got was a bit more paying, and considering our mortgage it was a godsend gift. But there was a catch: she had to work for an ungodly amount of time: full time six days a week from eight in the morning to seven at night, plus an extra half-day. So naturally, me being a long-haired six years old with very little knowledge of hygiene became a bit unkept: in all honesty by a bit, I mean to the extent that my school sent a notice pointing out my hygiene issue. Someone had to de-lice me, so my dad on a fine Saturday took on my “mamma’s responsibility”. He even taught me that once my mamma gets back from the office I have to thank her. Well, not for the extra Saturday, she worked for us though, no. I had to thank her for giving me the head lice. Two major things happened that day when she came back: My mamma got guilted into the tag of a “bad mother” for working overtime for our family, and I learned that the reason why my friends stopped talking to me was my mamma. In retrospect, what I actually learned that day was childcare is solely a ‘woman’s work’, Cetris Paribus.
As women have infiltrated the workplace to forge careers, the gender gap in the workplace has been narrowing, and so has the pay gap. Yet the housework gap remains static. This means that women are contributing more or less equal time and effort in professional life as men while concurrently contributing far more time and effort to their domestic affairs than their male counterparts. And this is normal. But let us be reasonable here, the additional role as the primary housekeeper is a lot for a woman to carry.
Unfortunately, this emerging “gender-blind” economy is still hugely limited to the workspace as it is evident that the responsibility of looking after the family, housework, and raising children still remains hugely as “women’s work” in the private sphere. Yet as equipped with superpowers, women are expected to impeccably balance and live both “gender blind” professional and evidently gendered private life at the same time and space. Yes, working fathers nowadays have reportedly spent a lot more time with their children than their fathers had spent with them but that is where their domestic contribution more or less ends. While most mothers with similar jobs and work-stress get back from their nine-to-five paid biz to another full-time unpaid hustle. A study on ‘Valuation of Women’s Unpaid Work in Kathmandu, provided by Tribhuvan University, illustrates that in addition to their paid employment women in the rural region spend an extra thirteen hours and women in the urban region spend an extra ten hours a day in unpaid care work. This unequal distribution of unpaid work is what brings a triple shift burden in a woman’s life: the burden of the “reproductive” (i.e. domestic) plus the “productive” (i.e. paid employment) plus the “community” (i.e. emotion) work. I grew up watching this burden smother my mamma every day as she came back from her work just to immediately start cooking dinner without even taking off her backpack, while my dad enjoyed his leisure.
The struggle that women face to balance their responsibility at home and work is almost ubiquitous in every level of society. Preaching feminism only as a political ideology has served to be a failed strategy as it is only increasing the burden of inequality within a family. As a matter of fact, until feminism is brought into the homes “genderblind” labor market can take us only so close to egalitarianism. The responsibility of being the primary housemaker weights extremely heavy on the women’s shoulder because groceries have to be bought, food has to be cooked, floors have to be mopped, clothes have to be washed, children must be love, and things have to be done. This is why more than often women have to choose between the demands of their personal and professional lives. I personally know many many bright women give up their professional lives to care for their children, to bring peace in their marriage, and sadly this is true for many many women all over the world. This is why inequality in domestic work segregation, inequality in the family perpetuates inequality at work because in the end paid and unpaid work resides in the same space. Personal is always political, and here we can see it quite literally.
Within a family, gender isn’t an easy conversation to have, neither for men nor for women. Many have so adamantly internalized this norm that they cannot see anything beyond it and if questioned feel personally attacked. But this is no reason to leave everything and resort back to the cereal packet image of the family. Talking about household responsibility is very important, especially between partners. Because what matters more is our attitude and our belief of what we value in gender. How truer would we be as individuals without this pressure of gendered obligations? Yes, biologically men and women are undeniably different but it is the socialization that stresses these differences so much that it becomes a self-fulfilling process. This self-fulfilling process of socialization is visible in society today as we can evidently see that, in general, women are more likely to do the housework even though women aren’t born with any ‘cooking’ or ‘cleaning’ gene. There is nothing biological that links women to any kind of disposition towards mopping the floor or cooking three meals a day, yet women are conditioned to take on those roles as inherent responsibilities and by this rule expected to scale back their careers and their dreams just to keep the bellies full and floors clean. For most women, it really is “not the glass ceiling, but the sticky floor” that is a barrier for career advancement, and ultimately egalitarianism.
The division of labor in unpaid care work must be revised to actually allow a genderblind economy where women can participate fully in the market without having to compromise either their career or their family. The societal expectation that women must able to take care of households and children while still competing in a cutthroat labor market should be reevaluated. Women should be able to be unapologetic to get help, not just in childcare but any domestic chores that are traditionally marked as “women’s work”. So it is high time that we unlearn many of the gender norms that were internalized when we were growing up; it is high time that not only women but men start to actively think about gender or notice gender. Let us all begin to reconstruct these ascribed gender roles from our homes, and reflect this attitude everywhere.
I began by viewing that it was perfectly natural that my dad, as much as my mamma, was in fact responsible for me that day. And by that rule, I will continue to view that men, much like women, should care for his family and share the housework.
Link of The Study on Valuation of Women’s Unpaid Work in Kathmandu valley: https://healthbridge.ca/images/uploads/library/Nepal_summary_report_fina...