Faryal Makhdoom was onto something when she said women are the CEOs of the house and do too much invisible labour.
Faryal Makhdoom was onto something when she said women are the CEOs of the house and do too much invisible labour.

"Where did you leave the kids? In a daycare?"

So many such DMs popped in on my Instagram while I was on a short trip from Rotterdam (where I currently live) to Switzerland (where I used to live) to visit my friends. Isn't it odd that when the husband travels, for work or leisure, no one asks him the same because it is automatically assumed he's left the kids with the wife, the mother of his children.

But when it's the other way around, no such assumptions are made. Misogynistic much? My husband, Faizaan and I don't run our house based on any predefined sexist roles. I contribute a lot more to home chores because I am physically present at home, hence, able to do more. But when he is home, he does anything and everything that's needed. I'm tired of the old-fashioned notion that mothers are always the primary caregivers.

Back when we were based in Karachi, where I achieved more financially, my income was also a part of our joint finances. I never said 'my money isn't meant for household expenses'. But although my husband has never operated within the patriarchal mental framework, I confess that at various points previously, I myself have.

How? By feeling guilty that I didn't warm up the food for him, that I asked him to watch the kids, that I asked him to pack our toddler’s bag, that he cleaned the kitchen today. If we try to conform to our gender's prescribed role, it's impossible not to feel guilty because there are so many things we have to be that we just can't.

I am conditioning myself to not feel bad when he contributes at home. The fact is that patriarchy and misogyny are as ingrained in the DNA of desi women as is in their male counterparts; we internalise it because it forms the very foundations of our social structure.

We need to stop asking each other 'who will take care of the kids if you travel, or work, or socialise?' because it needs to be automatically understood that when we are absent, the father will be present.

And although our parents may have raised us as independent, strong women, giving us education and freedom to make choices, patriarchy is something we soak in with every breath we breathe, with every sight we see, so much that as women, we feed it, ourselves, without even realising.

Passively, we feel there are some things that only we should be doing. In order to fight the system which basically allows men a free ticket to escape responsibilities of the house that he, too, shares, we need to not just start from home, we need to start with ourselves. We need to believe in our equality before we demand it from our partners or the society at large.

A housewife may not earn for what she does, but she puts in labour hours over and above what the office hours of her husband encompass: she puts in 24 hours.

Also read: Faryal Makhdoom thinks stay-at-home moms should be paid wages more than surgeons

We need to stop asking each other 'who will take care of the kids if you travel, or work, or socialise?' because it needs to be automatically understood that when we are absent, the father will be present. Establishing that our meeting is as important as his, that our being is as important as his, that we are partners that work together to raise a family.

For men, pleasure need not only be associated with procreation, pleasure needs to be associated with raising kids too. Being with your children and participating in their upbringing is a pleasurable thing; I guess this has to be spelt out. We as women also need to encourage that when our husbands are involved as fathers, they are not doing us a favour, they are doing what they should be doing.

Fathers 'doing the kids' duties' should be reframed as 'spending time with the kids'. We need to understand that when the father is with his kids, he’s not being burdened or experiencing something 'unfair'. By encouraging this, we allow him to establish an emotional connect with his children, we allow his own emotional fulfilment and gratification, which as human beings, men also require.

In fact, they are getting the opportunity to enjoy their kids. Children are not the mortgage for a house, for whom, a monthly cash payment suffices. Children need both their parents, so when we say 'he will earn, I will raise the kids', we do a disservice to the fathers, by accepting their emotional and physical detachment from the upbringing of his own children.

Fathers sometimes get undue praise for parenting their children; it's not babysitting when they're your own kids.
Fathers sometimes get undue praise for parenting their children; it's not babysitting when they're your own kids.

Fathers 'doing the kids' duties' should be reframed as 'spending time with the kids'. We need to understand that when the father is with his kids, he’s not being burdened or experiencing something 'unfair'. By encouraging this, we allow him to establish an emotional connect with his children, we allow his own emotional fulfilment and gratification, which as human beings, men also require.

We need to quit thanking our partners for babysitting his own kids. We in fact need to simply replace the word 'babysitting' with 'parenting' and stop displaying shock over something as standard as a father feeding or cleaning up his kids.

I believe that we, as women, must be the catalysts of change. What the society looks like in the future depends on how we shape it. It depends on how we raise not just our daughters, but also our sons. We need to stop giving men who help out at home Tamgha-i-Jurats in order to normalise this normal behaviour. The bar is set too low; we need to replace our ‘WHAT?!’ with a simple ‘of course….’ and we need to start with this yesterday.

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