In the past few centuries, the argument around ‘housework’ and on whom the onus for the same lies have continuously evolved. This evolution has also been paralleled with the evolution of housework itself.
Women from preceding generations and many in the current generation have always been subjected to the expectation of being adept at housework. Across Indian culture, the saying that women are equivalent to the goddess Lakshmi often draws from the saying: “cleanliness is next to godliness”. Though this saying originates from moral cleanliness, the current connotations of the same have begun to imply cleanliness in ones’ surroundings.
Ahlander and Bahr write, “Cleaning became a moral duty, and it was not uncommon to judge a woman’s moral state by the orderliness of her house” (Bahr, n.d.).
This comparison between housework and moral obligations that seem to empower women tends to have the opposite effect in the long run. The idea glorifies women and holds them on a pedestal, further caging their options instead of freeing them.
Being a part of a double income family in the present day is more a necessity as compared to a choice stemming from empowerment. This combined with the low value (both economically and socially) of manual labour results in the woman of the house, in most economic sections of society, being required to often undertake household chores alongside rearing children and maintaining a fulltime job.
In some families, men have begun to divide the work. However, the majority of cases still abide by the idea of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ household chores. As mentioned in The American Sociological Review’s Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage by Sabino Kornrich et al., the more ‘masculine’ chores like taking out the trash as compared to the more ‘feminine’ chores like ironing – the more considerable burden still falls on the woman in the household (Kornrich, n.d.).
Housework has always been invisible as a form of employment.
Across history, men have been remembered in higher frequency as succeeding in most fields. The third wave of feminism often points out how the 24-hour span provided to everyone was used by these celebrities as they had the privilege of having help (mostly female) around the house. This privilege was further punctuated by the class and economic strata that enhanced this luxury.
Housework has always been invisible as a form of employment. When undertaken by children, in some cases, it is rewarded by allowances or stipends, but when conducted by the adult woman – is an expectation.
In February 2014, psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb attempted to explore the effect of heterosexual couples’ division of housework and sex (Gottlieb, 2014). The article hypothesized that the more equal marriages (in terms of division of household labour) correlate with less sex. In the study based on anecdotes and academic qualitative research, the result was ‘Yes.’ However, the conclusion of this research also stated that these families also feel happier in their marriages as compared to unequal marriages.
The current economy in India, affected by overpopulation and gendered biases across the cultural impact, has led women across time to be trapped in a cookie cutter mold of the ‘perfect’ multi-tasking multi-capable women. Older generations have been deprived of the agency to stand up against this injustice.
Advertisements for household products are targeted towards women for ease of usage as compared to the idea of being targeted towards decreasing responsibility and time dedication.
Household work is not merely an obligation of the women in the space, but a responsibility to be undertaken by all residents, a task that requires time and effort and should thus be appreciated. The impact of equal division of labour in ones’ own home can help families and societies stuck under normative masculinity, empower the men in the house with independence and empower the women of the house with both time and independence – resulting in greater opportunities.
References: (n.d.). Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/finding-the-value-of-housework/ (n.d.). Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/housework-gender-roles-sex/ (n.d.). Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/women-at-work/ Bahr, A. a. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/finding-the-value-of-housework/ Gottlieb, L. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/magazine/does-a-more-equal-marriage-mean-less-sex.html Kornrich, S. (n.d.). Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23469207
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Action Aid