By Maya Palit
Why should you as a husband claim 50 percent parentage rights over your children when all that you contributed was one tiny wriggly sperm and that too by a mere reflex action after passing your time most pleasurably while your wife bore the full brunt of a nine-month pregnancy culminating in excruciating labour pains and also nursed your children during the most difficult weeks after delivery?”
This piece of rhetoric appeared on Quora and its author wondered whether he would be “downvoted and collapsed”. It was the opposite — at the time of writing this, Gopalkrishna Vishwanath’s (he describes himself as ‘never dated anyone but happily married’) post has 94,000 views and 10,471 upvotes.
But Vishwanath’s post is just one of the recent barrage of replies to a question that set Quora — a desi go-to for life, the universe and everything — on fire.
The original question was posted anonymously by a man who wondered whether there was anything wrong with him telling his future wife that he has no intention of contributing to household duties because he earns five times as much as her (20 lakhs as opposed to a measly 4).
“Why should a husband share household chores if his wife doesn’t earn even half of his salary and is working just to pass the time?” he asked.
The discussion has gone viral with almost 1 lakh views and over 100 answers, all of which take on the idea of labour in the house, why it always falls to women, and how the irrelevant caveat about his wife going to work because she would find staying at home tedious, has little to the fact that housework should be shared.
Unusually, much of the flak being directed at the user who posted the question is coming from Indian men. Some, like Vishwanath, are jocular, saying that the man should have been flat-out rejected, that he is too naïve to know the difference between real life and a balance sheet, or, that he is clearly more wrapped up with getting domestic work done than seeking a relationship with a partner.
Others have fearlessly plunged into psychoanalysis and sociological musings, such as “this question is a result of extreme naivety coupled with the modern (mis)conceptions of equality” and “I sometimes keep pondering on why do people get married anyways?”
Some people suggest the man felt threatened because he had assumed he would be the ‘dominant’ partner because he earns enough to be able to offer the woman the option of not working. (In a similar thread on Reddit however, lots of men say that if the man bought the house then the woman shouldn’t complain about doing basic housework). And a few have talked about having learnt from observing their patriarchal fathers bullying their mothers into doing the housework, and explain that they’ve learnt a little about contributing to household duties.
‘Share the load’, incidentally, was the tagline of a viral Ariel ad last year, which showed an old man feeling pangs of remorse watching his daughter juggle all the household chores while on a work call, and deciding to chip in as well.
The hassle with the ‘do your bit’ logic is that it still relegates the task of planning and running of the household entirely to the woman. And things tend to snowball out of control much quicker when there are children involved.
A recent comic by a French artist, who goes by the moniker Emma, about household labour being done by women provoked discussions about the subject too. It spells out how “you should have asked! I would have helped” is a favourite male retort to the accusation that they’re not doing enough to help with the kids. This logic doesn’t really hold up at all because the assumption is that the woman has to play the household manager, a project leader of sorts who looks over the execution of tasks, when in reality, as a new parent, she is equally clueless and fumbling.
Overseeing everything translates into a whole extra amount of work, but otherwise, it wouldn’t get done. Emma jokes that girls aren’t predisposed to loving vacuum cleaners, but locates much of this attitude in the way children are brought up, where girls are socialised into doing certain household chores. (In resettlement colonies in Delhi for instance, as this article in The Wire revealed, one of the reasons girls are still expected to drop out of schools is to share the domestic duties with the parents.)
Every so often there’s a study about how women do x number more hours of household chores than men, and how that imbalance can be the catalyst for a miserable marriage. (A New York Times piece during the Women’s March in January riled up scores of parents when it read like Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women with its exaggerated take on how some posh men struggled to handle their kids while women participated in the march). And earlier this year, The Conversation published a study about how men are much more involved in parenting today but women are increasing parenting time too, and women still do far more of the ‘worry work’, including managing and organising tasks.
Of course, things are different in India, where plenty of the manual labour in the middle/upper-middle class families is shunted onto domestic workers. Even so, data from the National Sample Survey Office suggested that over 60 percent of adult women in the country are engaged in unpaid household labour and a majority of these women said it was because no other member of the family helped with the chores. The data on how much time Indian men spend on domestic chores is sparse, but this OECD survey from three years ago suggested that the average was only 19 minutes a day while women spent up to 298 minutes. (A McKinsey study from last year said the ratio was closer to 53:249.)
Things might be changing, and I’m not referring here to the posters that surfaced for A Gentleman earlier this month, which had Siddharth Malhotra holding a utensil in one hand and a gun in the other. (“Pressure cooker se leke bandook” — he can use both, went the congratulatory tweet accompanying the poster).
It’s because, if this Quora discussion is anything to go by, people are being vocal about the skewed participation of men and women in household chores. The sweeping studies insisting that if Indian men helped out more in the house it could add 16 percent to the country’s GDP might be too panoramic to cut it — it’s unlikely that thinking about the country’s economic advancement will remind you to take out the garbage. But men in online discussions are seriously challenging other men’s assumptions that a woman doesn’t have the right to say her domain isn’t in the kitchen if she earns peanuts by comparison. Now, it’s about time the discussion shifted to addressing whether we can let women off the hook as project managers too.