The Great Indian Housewife

Perhaps one of the most powerful groups in the world’s largest democracy with the most misinformation.

I have been reading about how India is a collectivist society like most other Asian countries, a culture in which the good and needs of a community take preference over that of an individual. I was exposed to the nomenclature via the Art of Choice by Sheila Iyengar. The more you think about it the truer it seems. Perhaps one of the most quotable of examples of said mode of existence forms the topics of today’s post. How a huge chunk of one half of India’s population serves certain roles so that the other may serve theirs.

The mother, the wife, the female of any species on the planet (except hermaphrodites, asexual beings and single celled organisms) has had to bear a certain burden due to the biological gift or curse of being able to usher in new life. Mammalian life has increased that expectation from the female by physical association of the offspring from conception to birth. We however as humans have come a long way from that, the 9 months gestation still ensues but after that given a certain time to the young one to mature, the female can progress soon enough with her life. Yet, still in this nation of mine there is a magnificently great number of female folk how live at home and attend to daily duties, baking rather than acquiring the proverbial bread. The luxury of high paying jobs of their spouses allows for such an existence but is it a good one?

The Problem

Socio-Economic 

That should be Akshat Rathi, can't be bothered to change the image which took so much time to create
That should be Akshat Rathi, can’t be bothered to change the image which took so much time to create

There were about 220.389 million married couples in India as per the 2011 census, that makes for the population 1.5 times that of the entire United States, not taking the ability of these couples to reproduce. It is clear to see that the number of women who are married is a considerable one. We had a female population of 586 million in 2011 so nearly 40-50 % is married. There are approximately 112 million women workers in the nation ( worker here mean anyone with employment greater than 30 out of 365 days ). The Indian women who have high school education and are of a working age comprises only 6.5% of the 586 million. As those of you to whom this arithmetic seems puzzling, think of it like this, one fourth of our women have jobs, in China that percentage is 4 times. We not only do worst among the BRIC nations, we fare only a little above the likes of Pakistan, Iran and Saudi which all have such glorious records of the wonderful treatment of women.  Imagine the amount of untapped potential this nation has which is being squandered due to a lack of education, ignorance and a patriarchal system that women endorse with equal vehemence as the men in it.

You might say that we are making progress, every girl or woman I know is at least a graduate. She is bright, dynamic and gives every man a run for his money. That is where I shall direct you to the 2nd part of the ‘problem’.

Social

Ours is a system of balance, in which the man earns, brings home money, which the wife manages for household expenses. She cooks, cleans and takes care of the children. Seems fine doesn’t it? Roles in life assigned by whether you sit or stand to pee. This system has endorsed the concept of the housewife. While the Western line of thought may have rechristened the role as “Homemaker” ,the duties remain consistent. In India I see a few problems stemming from this large chunk of our society:

  1. A Lack of Occupation : A woman’s job is never done, that is true till an extent. In this day and age however when children grow up to a certain age where they can use Facebook and husbands grow up and learn to procure everything on the grocery list(in one visit) there is time to relax. Loads of it you see, there are millions of women everyday at home who find themselves out of things to do beyond household chores. There is no need for professional improvement for there is no profession. The lust for knowledge has often passed away years ago while changing diapers. It is then that these women with some time on their hands turn to the idiot box. My views on the Indian Tv scenario have been voiced before. The utter drivel peddled is consumed primarily by these housewives and seconded only by pensioners. Shopping trips are made with husbands and outings only with families. Internet presence remains an alien concept(8% of Indian Women are online) so the only exposure to the ‘outside’ world is through intellect damaging TV soaps which orbit around hyperbolic family dramas. The result being a permanent metamorphosis in the behavior of these spectators towards their own surroundings.

    Intellectual simulation guaranteed
    Intellectual simulation guaranteed
  2. Getting Together : When you see advertisements of morally questionable actresses dressed up as homemakers selling washing powder you ponder on their effectiveness. But these caricature like representations of the average wife are so apt that they do strike a chord with their demographic. Women relate to each other as men often don’t. Where we run out of topics of discussion, here the potential divorce of a neighbor, the flower plucking octogenarian morning walker, the house maid who is having an affair or the loud bachelor next door who is to be mutually loathed; there is no end to the stream of information that can be churned into gossip. I am not finding an inherent fault, I think its a symptom of a lot of people collectively having lots of time and little actual information to discuss. Where this is dangerous is, it drives the opinion of the much feared and powerful ‘community’. I read a meme somewhere that ‘ Log Kya Kahenge’  (What will people say?) and ‘Sharmaji ke bete ko dekho!’ (Look at Sharmaji’s son) are two statements which have killed more dreams than anything else. This desire of compliance to societal norms is natural in both genders irrespective of the employment status. But familial expectations somehow are set by our battalions of housewives.rajasthani-theme-kitty-party-620x330
  3. Its about Control : While wife beating and patriarchal domination is not uncommon in our society, the ever TH27_THERN_SPACE_848107egrowing middle class has more equal status of both genders at least in the family. There is tipping in this equality even with domains being divided. The house is the mother’s and everything outside the man’s. The house of course includes its members and what they do. Fathers have been known to express their will strongly in marriages, education and other life changing turns of their child. But mothers I feel have the deciding vote in a majority of homes. These are generally unaware people whose sole motivation towards any decision is generally what they think is good. Now the problem here is of course ( I can feel all parents wincing here) that many a times these mothers are not adequately equipped to make these decisions. Meaning no offence but how many female bearers of the good family name you know who are aware properly of the internet, the pros and cons of perusing a higher education degree. Most of the decisions which they make for their children are based on observations made on the children of others. You can see how cyclic this can get. Why do you think so many kids are herded towards IITs, IIMs and then uninspired marriage proposals? Fathers have been infamous in putting their feet down against inter caste marriages but if its about getting a bahu (Daughter in law) home its the mother that needs to be convinced. After all not everyone can be handed over the family gold.
  4. Housewife ke Side effects  : Well one very obvious one is that people around her get lazy. When the answer to the question : What do you do ? becomes : “I am a house wife” it is what you do and are are expected to, day in day out. Shared burdens in the household go away, come tea and hot meals as the family pours in. There is always something good cooking and brewing in the kitchen. Clothes get picked up off the floor, tables get cleaned and dishes are picked, washed and dried. Look at your grandparents, you’d find your grandmum waiting hand on foot on your grand dad. While the women folk don’t mind all of this it renders most people around her pretty helpless in her absence. In a hostel it becomes to easy to determine who is the son of a working mum and who ain’t cause one can do most chores and the other has usually had fairly little experience. There are the kids of disciplinarian mothers who shall disagree but they form not a huge percentage.
    The other thing is that husbands with high power jobs and intellects to see them through often find themselves battling with irrationality and ignorance at home. While a girl and boy start out equally at the onset of a marriage, the lack of visits and interactions with people from different walks of life can have long ranging effects. The couple has now little to discuss,  a lack of common ground. The gap between the genders deepens.
Probably not very accurate, but as per infanticide, slavery, sex trade and child marriage. This is our ranking. A few more women with the ability to support themselves and be independent might not be a bad idea.
Probably not very accurate, but as per infanticide, slavery, sex trade and child marriage. This is our ranking. A few more women with the ability to support themselves and be independent might not be a bad idea.

While you might think that in this day and age where most women folk are embracing work with gusto and making wondrous careers for themselves all this will wash away, you might be a mistaken. It is true that the status of education is improving and more and more parents are striving to get their daughters good degrees, how many of these are being used? I know a decent number from the fairer sex who have received the same formal education as yours truly and choose to hitch up with mates higher up in the food chain. 25 year olds who are happy to be homemakers and would later in life turn to something like fashion boutiques and bakeries operated out of their houses. While the running of a house is definitely work, those who balance both are certainly to be appreciated over those who manage only one of these domains. While some of this might be attributed to the infamous mismatch of qualification and interest, perhaps this shift in roles comes from a natural societal acceptance of the woman’s role?

References


  1. India has the lowest workforce participation rate of women among the BRICS -Akshat Rathi
  2. Women in the Labour Force in India
  3. By the Numbers: Where Indian Women Work – WSJ
  4. The Worst & best countries for Women in the G20

 

 

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