The External Affairs Minister believes that it's necessary for men to learn kitchen skills to ease the burden on women.

Men should learn home science women martial arts Is Yogi listening to Sushma SwarajTwitter
Voices Women Friday, April 28, 2017 - 17:51

Perhaps taking a leaf from Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, has called for men to learn home science and improve their kitchen skills so as to ease the burden on women.

Observing that while men and women worked, it was the women who continued to do the majority of the housework, Sushma opined that men learning culinary skills would break the traditional mindset about gender roles.

Sushma was speaking at the Group of Ministers meeting which took place on Thursday to review the National Policy for Women.

The Minister added that women should be motivated to take up physical education, especially martial arts, if they were to break the gender bias.

Taken at face value, the statement seems naive. After all, it wasn't by learning martial arts that Sushma rose in a male dominated career like politics. And it wasn't because she didn't know martial arts that she couldn't become Prime Minister, although she's eminently qualified.

Also, while most women do housework, most men do not know martial arts - so this isn't exactly a role reversal in that sense.

However, what the Minister probably meant was that we should begin to question gender stereotypes, starting with the gendered division of labour at home.

Given that Sushma is a BJP leader, a party that recently appointed Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister for the country's most populous state, her point of view is refreshing. The less said about Adityanath's views on women, the better - actually, the less said about Adityanath's views on most things, the better, so let's move on.

Politicians (and this goes for most across party lines) have usually stuck to a conservative approach when it comes to the functioning of the family. Anything that challenges the gender binary is therefore treated as a threat to an institution that most hold as sacred.

Sushma's call for more men to take up housework (whether or not that changes anything on ground) therefore, is a departure from the usual paeans about the glory of the multitasking Indian woman.

According to this 2014 study based on the 1990s, Indian men spend a mere 19 minutes a day on housework, while women spend 298 minutes on the same. A more updated study quoted in the same report says that only 16% of men claimed to play an equal or greater role in doing housework.

While the figures for employed women have been going up, the increase in men contributing to housework continues to remain abysmally low. And what's worse, we actually celebrate this, by casting women in the mould of a many handed goddess who can “do it all."

Considering women have only two hands, however, it's not surprising that many of them remain in low paying jobs with lesser decision making powers, or drop off the workforce entirely once they get married and/or have a child.

Whether women taking up martial arts will create gender parity or not is up for debate. But men doing more housework is certainly welcome. Not as a favour to women, but because they live in the house, too, and need to contribute for its upkeep.

Are the men listening to Sushma? One hopes at least the ones in her party are.

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.