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Vani's fingers moved vigorously on the keyboard as she hit the keys to send her final email of the day. She glanced towards the clock at her work station. It was 7.55 pm. It had been a frantic and hectic day at work. Due to a major technical issue caused inadvertently by a junior team member, the client was furious and had escalated the issue to the senior management. Being the team lead, Vani, along with another senior team member, Lisa, had been entrusted with the responsibility to fix the issue by end of the day. She leaned back on her chair and shut her weary eyes. At last, she could breathe a sigh of relief! While she was thinking about the dinner menu in her head, Lisa's voice brought her out of her contemplation.
"Where are you lost Vani? Coffee?", asked Lisa gesturing with a coffee mug.
"No babe. Not lost anywhere. Just that am exhausted and want to crash on my bed right now. I will make a move. I have to go home and prepare dinner. It will be too late if I have coffee now", replied Vani while simultaneously clearing up her desk and getting ready to leave.
"Oh! I understand. Does your husband help you at home with the chores?".
"Yes, of course he does, if he is free and at home. We share the load depending on the tasks at hand."
"Wow you lucky girl. Amar is so lazy and so messy that I dread involving him in any household chores. I feel it's easier to do them myself instead of reminding him a zillion times. It's great that Siddhanth helps you so much. You should worship his photo along with the Gods!", saying this Lisa burst out laughing at her own joke.
Vani gave an awkward smile. She waved good-bye and scurried out of the office premises. On her way back home, she was engulfed in a web of thoughts. She felt unsettled. The question "Does your husband help at home?" was stuck in her head. But, this was not the first instance. It had been around a year since her marriage and she was subjected to such questions by multiple people time and again. But this time it pinched her. She wondered if it was the lame joke that peeved her.
Siddhanth and Vani knew each other since 5 years. They were MBA batch mates and best friends, and had taken their relationship a step ahead a couple of years back. Siddhanth was a sensitive and level-headed man who never imposed any kind of restriction on Vani. He respected her space as an individual and was of the opinion that freedom of choice was her right. It irked him when people lauded him for "allowing" her to live her life the way she wanted to. He had erratic working hours but whenever he could, he involved himself in domestic work.
Vani reached home and found Siddhanth in the kitchen. He had sent her a text message few minutes ago informing that he was home early. His conference call which was scheduled in the evening with the onsite team had got cancelled. He was chopping cauliflower florets to cook the vegetable for dinner. She hugged him from behind and offered to take over. But, on his insistence, she made way to the bedroom to relax and freshen up. Later, as they both sat down to have dinner, they discussed the happenings of the day. All of a sudden, Vani posed a query for Siddhanth.
"Sid, did you cook dinner today to help me?".
Siddhanth was confused and noticing his puzzled face, Vani went on to explain herself.
"You know people keep asking me if you help me with household work. And when they learn about all that you do, the congratulatory reactions make me reflect on whether I should give you "Husband of the year" award. Does anyone ever ask you if I help you with finances by going to work? "
Siddhanth was giggling now and before he could ask any further, Vani continued.
"When the man of the house does any work at home, why is it supposed to be for helping the woman? Doesn't this imply that the primary responsibility of looking after a home is of the woman? By using the word "help", aren't we further perpetuating gender stereotypes that reek of sexism? We are a family unit working together towards our common goals and we divide responsibility as is suitable for both of us. No one is helping each other or doing a favor to the other."
"You have a point there, Vani. But, most of the people don't realize this. This question is, in most cases, just a harmless curiosity to know whether the husband contributes towards the household work. The use of the word "help" stems from the traditionally defined gender roles and deep rooted patriarchal culture. We ourselves are guilty of this. You remember the other day we were asking your school friend whether her husband helps with the kids? Now that you mention this, I realize that was such an inappropriate question. They are his kids too, so why on earth would he "help" with them! They are his responsibility as much as your friend's."
That night, Vani retired to bed thinking about her conversation with Lisa and then with Siddhanth. It hit her hard how even today, a lot of folks in our generation tend to outline gender duties as per age old practices. She acknowledged the fact that not many husbands are like Siddhanth which is not a promising state of affairs. She opened her Facebook account and posted a note.
"We cannot deny the bitter truth that though our society has progressed in many ways, the belief that looking after the home and kids is a woman's job is still quite rampant. Even if some of us condemn this idea and do not want to promote it, our ingrained mindset makes us do it subconsciously at times. Though things are slowly changing for the better, we still have a long way to go because such reforms cannot happen overnight. But, we can certainly keep evolving to transform the culture for the future generations. Ours is the "transition" generation and it's on us to bring up our children in a gender neutral environment devoid of biases, cliches and labels. Whatever we say or the way we think will be imbibed by them, so it is crucial that we set the right examples and choose our words carefully. It doesn't matter whether both spouses are getting in the moolah or only one of them is; the moment we say husbands help with domestic jobs, we are subtly driving home a notion which is sexist and cementing our misogynistic culture. It is good for both genders if we get rid of these stereotypes as then neither feels burdened to do something just for the sake of fitting into a conventional image. I see many well intentioned posts/comments on social media from parents of boys stating that they would teach their sons to help their partners around at home. Please do not teach your sons this; not everything having good intentions is always right. Let's stop asking women whether their husbands help at home and let us appreciate, normalize and encourage the involvement of both without any glorification. Let the couple decide for themselves how they want to run their home without the influence of societal pressures to do it in a certain way. This may seem like a small issue to some people on the face of it but if you dig deeper, you will realize the impact of it on our fight for equality. After all, a revolution can only happen as a result of a sum total of large and small changes."
The next morning, there were some notifications on Vani's phone when she woke up. She checked Facebook. 123 likes and 20 comments! She smiled. She was happy that she triggered a significant discussion. As she scrolled down the comments, there was one from Lisa.
"An eye-opening post. Thank you for this :)"