The first time I saw #sharetheload advertisement at PVR Cinemas in Juhu, Mumbai, the message “Is laundry only a woman’s job?” struck a chord with me. I felt, ‘Wow! I’m so glad someone is actually saying it aloud.” I looked at my husband, Shantanu Raj, sitting next to me. With a friendly smile playing on his face, he said, “Very thoughtful.”
However, my excitement was short lived. Just as the closing shot read #sharetheload, I heard a man behind me, smirk, “Wonderful! This was all left to be seen!” I turned back and saw his wife letting out a nervous, forced laugh. She agreed to the message of the advertisement, but didn’t have the courage to disagree with her husband’s sarcasm. It was obvious he didn’t share the load and she lived under the burden of patriarchy.
The stark contrast between the responses of the two men, both living in India’s most cosmopolitan metro city, educated and financially healthy, got me thinking. I realized that until that moment, it hadn’t even struck me that my husband and I had been sharing the load since we got married.
We have never perceived domestic chores as a ‘load.’ Instead, we believe that home is the fulcrum of our lives, a space where we enjoy peace and weave dreams. Hence we willingly perform our domestic responsibilities purely based on gender-agnostic strengths and skills, just how roles are defined at a workplace.
For example, my husband is a bigger stickler for orderliness than I am, so the department of domestic helps falls in his basket. He hires them, monitors their daily work including ensuring that an obscure corner of the store room is spotless. When I lose my cool at a poorly wiped desk, he has an objective conversation with the help, striking the right chord. On the other hand, I am good at picking up the right quantity and quality of groceries, stocking an apt mix of grains, vegetables and fruits that make for a wholesome diet.
I bake on occasions such as Valentine’s Day or birthdays, and prepare food when our cook is absent. I don’t cook every day because I don’t enjoy cooking as much. My husband too does not enjoy cooking. So he employs cooks, manages their timing and leaves, and gives feedback on taste stemming from his experience in the foods industry.
I draw out lists of dishes that the cook can prepare, and ensure variety cum special weekend menus. Even if I enjoyed cooking and prepared a meal every day, or if we didn’t have the means to hire a cook, we would’ve consciously found a way to share different kinds of work in the kitchen too.
We set up our own cupboards, organize footwear, arrange cosmetics and toiletries, and independently replenish them. While we offer style and color suggestions, we don’t baby sit each other. When my husband travels for work, he packs his own bags, and leaves without disturbing me at odd hours for small chores.
The result of such partnership has been productive completion of domestic tasks, a good night’s sleep, and a career, because we know that when we come home, we have each-others’ equal support on domestic functioning. Whether we work as employees reporting to an office, or work from home, domestic responsibilities continue just the same.
If I returned from work to a house that I had to singlehandedly tidy up every evening, or cook the dinner and lay out the cutlery, or clean up the house after a party, with/without domestic help, I’d find it difficult to manage the next day at work with the same energy and efficiency. I’d also struggle to take out time for myself, minimum of which is my hobbies and exercise.
So what makes us share the load? We’re not a special couple. My husband is not an exception. I am not a grand spouse. It’s not because of love. We’re not rebels, or modern and cool. It’s not because we’re privileged. Even if we lived in a small town, earned lower incomes, were non-affluent with no domestic help and cooks, our attitude towards household chores would remain unchanged.
The reason is we respect individuality, gender free. We’ve both grown up in families where our parents taught us to take pride in domestic work and not treat it like a burden. We were groomed to become good human beings, and not good boys or good girls. Hence, we’ve never seen each other as a man and a woman, a male and a female, a husband and wife.
The popular adage, “Behind every successful man is a woman” has always made me uncomfortable. The real adage should be, “Behind every successful home is a man and a woman.” Automatically then, “Behind every professionally successful man is the man himself,” and “Behind every professionally successful woman is the woman herself.”
This column was published at Thrive Global India.