The division of labour has always the centrepiece of argument – with regard to how patriarchal institutions function. As societies, across the world, progressed from agricultural and hunting-gathering tribes, capitalist institutions were born. Since then, patriarchy, along with the gendered division of labour, was deemed as the perfect way to make larger society function. This division of labour essentially laid down different labouring rules for men and women. Men were expected to leave the domestic sphere, and accumulate wealth for their families, whereas women were expected to cater to the domestic requirements and provide their families with male children, who could represent the patriarchal lineage.
However, over the centuries, women have protested against this gendered division of labour, demanding their right to engage in paid work. Although the overall, larger scenario has not changed much – nowadays, in many urban, middle-class, heterosexual families, it is seen that both partners engage in paid work, in order to earn their own bread. However, as much as many may argue that this is a sign of progress, the gendered and sexual division of labour has remained quite the same as before.
Most men claim to ‘help’ their partners in housework, thereby stealing away the limelight by making themselves look like messiahs.
‘Working women’* essentially spend their days performing double-shifts. In many families, even though women are leaving the domestic sphere and engaging in paid labour – unpaid, household chores are expected to be undertaken by them alone. Most ‘working women’ bear the double burden of work, as opposed to working men. Moreover, it is very common to come across millennial couples in the urban spaces, claiming to be open-minded in terms of accepting the changing domestic scenario, but, not portraying the same through their actions. Among the urban ‘working’ couples, it is the women who engage in almost all the domestic work.
According to a researcher at Oxfam India, India is not investing much in social care and is conveniently depending on the female population to carry out domestic tasks. This comes as a result of unequal social status and gendered norms. Currently, Indian women spend an average of 352 minutes per day on domestic work. This is almost 577% more than the time men spend on domestic work, which is 52 minutes. As compared to the data available on the domestic work done by women in the two other countries within the BRIC group (China and South Africa) Indian women do 40% more. Clearly, among the developing nations, India is lagging behind most others, when it comes to recognising domestic work as equally shared labour and not specifically designed for women.
To add further pain to the invisible wound caused by the unpaid labour of women, most men claim to ‘help’ their partners in housework, thereby stealing away the limelight by making themselves look like messiahs. There are many instances in which men seem to conveniently stay away from housework, citing their hectic work schedules, lack of expertise in housework and casual laziness during weekends. On the contrary, women are never given the opportunity to cite similar reasons, in order to relax and rejuvenate themselves.
Such instances can be studied to arrive at two major points of discussion. First, domestic work is not meant to be performed solely by women. Second, no matter how much one claims to be open-minded, it is only one’s actions that determine the authenticity of their theoretical citations. Casually refraining from performing domestic chores further intensifies the notion of inherent dependency on women for these kinds of tasks. Hence, such practices only show hollow words and largely unaltered dispositions.
Another area in which women are thought of as the sole performers is the task of child-rearing. While biologically, women are the ones that carry the foetus, give birth and breastfeed, social duties as parents must not solely revolve around them. Children’s upbringing is a parental duty that must involve both parents’ equal contributions. Yet, in Indian society, it is seen that most women are bound to leave their jobs after childbirth, due to familial duties, which men are not considered to be a part of.
This gendered division of labour is internalised to such an extent that many women voluntarily take up the full-time duty of being mothers, citing that it is the best thing for them to do. Although we might deduce this decision as a part of their own choices, we must keep in mind the distinction between choices that are results of internalised patriarchy and choices that are genuinely personal, independent of all social pressures.
The capitalist institutions also play a major role in driving this pattern of thinking. Advertisements for household products and baby products portray women, whereas advertisements for corporate products involve men. The household labour that women are obliged to perform, in alignment with the patriarchal rule, is not only unpaid but also largely invisible.
We must keep in mind the distinction between choices that are results of internalised patriarchy and choices that are genuinely personal.
Along with the constant mechanical work, there is emotional labour that is attached. This emotional labour comes in the form of caring to such an extent that the wellbeing of the woman becomes a secondary factor. Patriarchy teaches women to care for their husbands, children, and in-laws first, and then focus on their own interests or identities. This emotional, unpaid labour is taken for granted and remains invisible due to our lack of awareness of the quintessential, gendered division of labour.
Even today, no matter how much millennial couples talk about gender equality, there are innumerable instances of asymmetrical contributions towards household tasks. Even among single people, the need to hire domestic help, to buy ready-to-cook meals, to hire cooks and to return home with the expectation that their mothers will provide them with the ultimate comfort, are some of the most concrete signifiers of the blatant dependence on women, with regard to domestic chores.
This gendered practice within the household can only be changed through a revolutionised method of primary socialisation. The upbringing of children must be free from gendered practices and expectations. Both men and women must be taught that domestic work is meant for every person that enjoys the comfort of these personalised spaces. Also, even if there is a consensual division of labour between the members of a family, it must never entail unacknowledged and invisible labour.
Words of equality and consolation mean nothing if they are not reciprocated through sincere actions. Hence, it is high time that we stop running away from our domestic duties, and rather, learn to manage our indoor tasks with as much expertise as we portray in our respective workplaces.
*’Working women’ has been mentioned in quotes, because domestic work that women perform also comprises work that is unpaid and not recognised. Hence, women have always been engaged in work, but this was never/is still not recognised as labour, by most people, across societies.