Disclaimer: For long I have wanted to write on this, but I have put off writing it, because it meant exposing a bit of anger and pent-up irritation. It also meant hearing people remark in an offhand manner, “Oh no! You are not one of those feminist types, are you!” If feminists are a ‘type’, then I am glad to be one. Of course, I am fully aware of the privileges I have as I type this piece in the air-conditioned confines of my home. That is why I question myself several times before I pen any piece on what I deem sexist or regressive. The idea of writing this personal piece was not to hurt anyone, but to simply say we can all talk and do better. Now before the disclaimer turns into an apologetic defence, let me fire away.
Every time International Women’s Day is around the corner, marketers try to outdo themselves, as they woo the woman into thinking she deserves nothing but the best, and convince the man that he ought to do more for his devoted wife. But it hit a new low this year with a local home décor company urging the man to gift his wife what she deserves the most for being the ‘allrounder’ in the house—a trendy modular kitchen, probably to dish out yummy parathas with ease. The company even thought it was ushering in a ‘change’ this Women’s Day. I won’t blame the copywriters of the ad alone. And I am not going to assume that a chauvinistic man wrote the copy.
We hear such statements all the time and many a times from women themselves, who have been conditioned to act and think in a particular way. Once an elderly woman, who was displeased with the milk boilers available in the market, complained, “Manufacturers should ask the women what they want before making these products.” She was trying to make the point that ‘users know best’ but it didn’t resound well with me.
At the risk of ruffling a few feathers here, I have to confess that I would get hopping mad when people around me exclaimed every time my husband cleaned our baby’s poop or rocked him to sleep. Every time I heard someone say “oh so cute”, or “you can have a thousand kids with such a reliable husband”, I would want to yell, “He is the father of the baby, can’t you see that?” or “Since when did parenting become a mother’s job?” or “How about complimenting me for keeping the nappy in place?”
Of course, the most-often used remark was this: “You have trained your husband well!” It is not that I lacked a sense of humour, but I simply couldn’t get myself to laugh at this. When well-meaning friends or relatives innocuously say I am ‘lucky’ to have a husband who ‘helps’ with the chores, I can only pity them for their naive assumption that those are ‘my’ chores alone. I don’t consider myself ‘lucky’; I am just glad I have an equal marriage where the husband ‘does’ some of the chores and not ‘helps’.
I have come a long way from those intolerant days when such statements really riled me, as I realised that most of the times people perhaps don’t even realise they are making sexist statements. But this is no excuse to continue mouthing them. If we want a society with zero gender divides and stereotypes, a society in which a man in an apron is a natural act that doesn’t warrant a special mention or compliment, we need to start watching what we speak, do and assume.
About the Author
Swetha Kannan is a freelance writer and editor based in Chennai. She was formerly a journalist with BusinessLine for over 9 years.
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