Social Conditioning??

Yesterday was a really hard day for me at work. I was tired, and in a foul mood, and I had a little thing called grocery shopping to finish in the evening. I missed my usual bus home in the evening, the next bus was impossibly crowded, and I ended up standing all the way home. And by the time I had gotten off the bus, I was ready to take offence at anything the world said or did. TS was on his way home and these days, due to a new train line opening, he gets home faster than me. And although I had asked him to carry on home, he chose to wait for me at the supermarket. Now, when I’m truly angry and depressed, I choose not to talk about anything. So me and TS finished our grocery shopping in pretty much complete silence and headed home. TS said nothing. I was not in the mood to cook but, if I didn’t there would be nothing for dinner or for the next day’s lunch and as I started to step into the kitchen, TS came up and said he would do the cooking. And he did. He made me an evening snack, cooked dinner and lunch, served dinner, washed the dishes and managed to chase away my foul mood in the middle of all this.

The one thing that I noticed was, all the time that TS spent in the kitchen, I had this tiny feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. I kept on thinking, I should be doing it. I should be the one cooking, not him. He’s had a hard day at work. I shouldn’t make him cook too. And then as soon as I started to think, I squashed the thought. I’d had a hard day too. Possibly one of the worst days at work I have ever faced. And I should not be feeling guilty about making TS cook for just a day. Usually, I manage the evening meal at home and TS is in charge of breakfast. But it is not the end of world if he does the dinner also one day. What bothered me the most was, in spite of being extremely vocal about women’s issues and gender equality and all, I was still feeling guilty about something like this. And I blame it all on social conditioning.

From the time we girls are old enough to understand, we are taught that we need to know how to cook. It is an essential skill that we need to be well versed in, in order to survive in this big bad world. We are taught that in future, the responsibility of an entire household will rest on our fragile shoulders and we will have to do everything from cooking and cleaning and washing and what not. And also manage a career if we insisted on it. This was something that I heard quite a lot and, thankfully, it came from everyone else other than my parents. My parents were considered not so lucky by many people we knew ‘cos they had the misfortune of having two kids- both girls. Oh! think of the sacrifices thee parents would have to make, think of the amount of dowry they would have to accumulate, the amount of money they would have to save for our weddings, the headaches that were sure to come during our adolescence. The list of issues would go on and on. But thank God for forward thinking parents, who bought me and my sister up to be independent, strong individuals who didn’t think their role was limited to the kitchen or that they were in any way inferior to the son(s) my parents could have had.

In spite of this, there were always eyebrows raised when Mom or Dad said that I didn’t know how to cook. I was doing my degree then and except for the tea, coffee and rice and some simple curry, I was clueless about anything else. I had people say to my Mom she was making a huge mistake by not training me in all these “womanly” stuff. They said I would become lazy and spoilt and that my sister would also learn from me. They said I would not make a “good wife” or daughter-in-law. They said, me and my sister should be taught everything from ironing to washing to cooking to cleaning to the art of identifying the freshest of veggies. There were even people who told my parents not to educate us too much, as our future husbands or in-laws might not appreciate us being very smart. Mom and Dad never forced us to do any of this. We learnt when we felt we wanted to. There was no pressure. I learnt to grocery shop when I realized how difficult it was for my Mom to go shopping on her own, when it was just a few items, and I could easily get it for her on my way back from college. I learnt to iron when Mom was not around or when she was too busy to do it for me. I learnt to cook when my Mom was busy taking care of my sister who was extremely sick, and both of my grandmothers who were recovering from different surgeries.

Once I started doing stuff on my own, Mom or Dad would correct us if we were doing something wrong. I have seen my Dad ironing his own clothes, polishing his own shoes, cleaning and dusting, washing the car, gardening and in dire straits even cooking his own food. He chooses not to cook ‘cos Mom’s cooking is way better than his. But there was never a sense of something being thrust on my Mom or on us. And so, I grew up thinking and believing there was nothing wrong with a man cooking or cleaning although society always told me otherwise. Sometimes those voices would dominate my head and make me wonder, but, I would always think of what my parents had taught me and shown me and feel better. So me and my sister grew up doing the things we wanted to do and in the process ended up learning how to do pretty much everything. We both can do everything that society deems is a woman’s forte and more. Although my sister hates cooking and I cannot sew a button to save my life, we have both done good. I have a few “cousin brothers” (as we Mallus say) in our family who have been so pampered by their families that they don’t wash their own plates or even know where their own clothes are. And they are teenagers. While me and my sister could be living by ourselves and we would manage just fine.

I say stop this conditioning of women. This is an age when women can more than compete with men in any forte you can think of. When we can go out and work 12- 14 hour days and run a household, men can also come back from work and not vegetate in front of the television. If women can do well academically and professionally and be a good homemaker, then men can learn how to do these household chores too. After all, if it’s all about gender equality, men wouldn’t want to feel unequal or worse still inferior to women, would they?

So now, when the TS cooks or cleans of washes clothes, I don’t think of it as an event of international importance or of myself as a very lucky wife. It is just a division of labour. We both do everything depending on what we feel like doing. If I don’t want to cook one day, TS does it. If he’s lazy about ironing, I do it, and so on. I don’t believe I am a bad wife for not wanting to do something that has traditionally been considered a woman’s job and I don’t think TS should feel belittled if he is in the kitchen cooking. Thank God for his wonderful mother who taught that women are not slaves and men slave drivers. And here’s to more men like him and more mothers like his. 🙂

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