Bee of jugalbandi.info has written an excellent piece titled ‘Cooking and Chromosomes’। I wrote this piece as a comment to her post, but it turned out to be too long। So, decided to park it here…
My husband gets a lots of comments like “You are lucky to have a wife who is career-oriented”. These are, as you might guess, from guys who are the sole financial providers for their home. No, I am not saying this is the gender stereotyping of the opposite kind. Not at all. Quite simply, these guys just do not get the jumping through the hoops, the juggling of duties and the whole phletora of syncing we do to carry it off. Through their limited sense of proportion,they envision all things remaining the same, just the wife getting in a salary and doubling the family income. We, and anyone, who is or has been in our place, know the adjustments, the lifestyle changes and the sacrifices that we and the kids have had to make. However, these are things they will learn and come to terms with, once their spouses start their professional lives. For me, a comment like that opens a whole new can of worms. Are you not belittling everything that your wife is doing now, when you utter words like that? What does that speak about your relationship?
I am left with the same set of questions when I hear comments like the one’s Bee is talking about. How much are you belittling your husband when you tell your friend that she is lucky to have a husband who shares the household duties? Sit back and think about it and observe for a couple of days, what your partner is doing around the house? Maybe, you will realise you are lucky,too (and maybe, you will stop eyeing my husband so much 😀 )
Here is the other end of the spectrum. How many times have you waited at the office water cooler, for your male colleague to show up, so that he can replace the now emptied water bucket? How many times have you walked to that same cooler with your male colleague, and calmly waited till he replaced the bucket? That is gender stereotyping.
Here is what I think, is not gender-stereotyping. Making puran-polis with your MIL. My points above may seem like women-bashing, but they are not. They are just commonsense, as far as I concerned. No, I am definitely not the kind of woman who feels satisfied just by feeding and taking care of her family. No one can accuse me of being a consummate homemaker. Yes, I have had my share of bump-rides with my MIL. Through the ride, I have learned a few things. My two cents. It is never easy to get along with someone who is twice your age and not your parent, and suddenly thrust into that role. Any other person from that age-group, you would probably pay your respectful greetings and move on. There is no moving away from your in-laws, is there? By the same token, it is also not easy to get along with someone who is half your age and not your child, and suddenly thrust into that role. Yes, I have had a lot of teach-alongs with my MIL. Some I have enjoyed, some not-so-much. Some, I never saw the point of. Over the years, I have realised that just like I felt the age/experience/generation-gap, she must have, too. Yet, we had to find a common path. For her, these teach-alongs were that path. It was her way of saying “you are a part of the family”. Much as I admire Jyothsna, for standing up to that idiot with the empty coffee pot and her not-so-kosher-reply, I think by refusing to go to that puran poli teach-along, she let go of an excellent oppurtunity to find common ground with her MIL. All my instincts and my experience with relationships so far, tell me, she is going to regret that one day.
Examples of personal relationship aside, I completely see Bee’s point and it hits a really raw nerve in both me and my husband. We pride ourselves on raising our kids (a son and a daughter) to be themselves and not what someone else percieves they should be. Some things though still prick me. I never gave a second thought to the fact that my son helps me unload the dishwasher and arrange folded laundry while my daughter shows no interest in them until a visiting aunt pointed it out to me. To be fair, she was totally amused and more than a little proud of Anoushka. I still don’t see any big deal with this. I don’t see this as a plus for Anoushka niether do I see this as a minus for Aayush. The comment,though, had me thinking of other stuff. How on a recent toy buying spree, the proud daddy bought Aayush a racing car and a very cute doll for Anoushka. How I love to dress up Anoushka in a girly-girly way while with Aayush I just make sure he looks neat.How I do her hair with matching ribbons and all? Are we, subconciously, enforcing them into a sterotype when we do that? If we are, what should we be doing different?
There are two options I see. I should stop fussing with Anoushka, get her a crew cut like her brother, and stop buying dresses for her and start buying cars for her. The other option is start fussing with Aayush, let him grow his hair and start buying dresses and dolls for him . Both have their own set of problems, the main being it does not get us away from molding them into a stereotype. The former option has her fit neatly into the ‘tomboy’ mold and the second has him in the ‘sissy’ mold. They are still gender related stereotypes, aren’t they? So, how does one go about raising their kids to be ‘not gender-specific’? Even if I find a way to do that, how beneficial would it be? Yes, my son probably wouldn’t expect the female colleague to make coffee for him, but most probably, he won’t hold the door open for her, too. My daughter won’t be expected to refill the coffee pot but she,probably, would have to refill the water cooler herself. What happens when puberty hits and it becomes obvious they really aren’t that similar either?
If, by some miracle, despite all that, I end up successfully raising them gender-impartial, wouldn’t I, as a parent, still have made the greatest disservice of all to them, by not letting them be who they really are? Him, a boy and her, a girl.