Thanks to Mr. Arun (Father of Maya, Serenity) for sharing his thoughts on gender equality in parenting!
I spent the first 17 years of my life in a conservative household where my mom would wake up every day at the crack of dawn, clean the house, cook breakfast and prepare lunch, before anyone else in the household even woke up. She would then help me and my brother get ready for school and ensure my dad’s lunch was packed before leaving for office. She would spend the next 10 hours in commute and office work. On the way back from the office, she would buy groceries and vegetables for the rest of the week. Then, she’d get down to preparing dinner for the family and feeding three men (who took all of this for granted for years).
In India, amongst the elite class, much is spoken about gender equality, or lack thereof. I have indulged in this display of moral superiority myself. Most men I have come across consider this to be
1. A problem of the past – It used to happen in the earlier generation
2. A problem of class – It happens in low-income groups
Is this really true? Is this a solved issue?
Let me answer that by describing a typical day in our lives before the lockdown. We had help to clean the house. We had a cook who prepared meals for us. If the cook didn’t turn up, we’d order in. Our grocery shopping was online and it took my wife all of 15 minutes every week. I took care of the errands, paying bills etc. My wife was the primary caregiver to our daughter. She’d get our daughter ready and take her to school where she worked as a teacher. Whenever I could come home early, I’d play with our daughter for an hour or two. Gender equality = Solved problem in the Rao household. This is what I truly believed.
However, the Covid-19 induced lockdown caused me to re-examine these beliefs. I’ve come to realise that gender inequality is a problem of default expectations. It needs to be examined from the lens of what we expect the default to be when the trappings of economic prosperity are stripped away.
– Who cooks when the cook doesn’t turn up?
– Who cleans when the maid doesn’t come?
– Who does the grocery shopping when the supplies are running low?
– Who is expected to spend time educating the child when schools are under lockdown?
I have a really demanding job as an entrepreneur. Somewhere deep down, I’d always believed that Akshaya was the primary caregiver and I was the primary breadwinner. I believed that the daily pushes and pulls of running a company gave me the right to take it easy on the other aspects of running a household. I believed that it was my right to be insulated from the mundane.
A few days into lockdown, I was in for a rude shock. My wife put in as much hard work, preparation, patience and time as I did into her work. While managing a demanding job, she was also the one cleaning up, planning the meals, telling me what to buy and keeping our daughter engaged while we both worked. In short, the comfortable had masked the ugly truth – We were not equal. We never were!
In all my meetings with male colleagues, I see them joining conference calls from a study table in a closed room. The female colleagues, on the other hand, join meetings while sitting on the bed with kids often interrupting them. I have not known men to relinquish their laptops because of their child’s online classes. It is the lady of the family who needs to work around her kid’s schedule. This “default” thinking permeates even the smallest of actions in our daily life.
Have my actions changed much? Unfortunately, not as much as I’d like. However, there is a higher awareness of my privilege as a male. Also, a deeper sense of what equality means and a bigger desire to set a better example for my daughter. I DO NOT want her growing up in a world where the default expectations on her are higher than those on her partner. I want a new normal for her, and it surely isn’t the one I grew up with, or the one she’s seen for the first five years of her life.
I promise to do better. Will you?
As we navigate long-distance learning, we invite parents to email us articles/thoughts/any fun ideas that your children have responded well to. We will regularly feature these in our newsletters and blog, as we believe the entire Anthea community benefits from our collective experiences.