It’s time men had a March 8 for themselves

Window Seat | It’s time men had a March 8 for themselves

Virat Kohli dad of today may take paternity leave with pride, but would society let him take career break if he wanted to be house-husband & enjoy fatherhood full-time?

Vasanthi Hariprakash, Radio anchor and former TV journalist, the founder of Pickle Jar, a media company that tells stories of a changing India, Can chat with a stone and get a story out of it. @vasanthi.hariprakash

Oh god, it is that time of the year when we, the women, will be sought after, invited, our very existence celebrated, our virtues extolled! Words like ‘empowerment’ will creep out of the woodwork again into office functions; HR departments will scramble to put together programmes that pamper women employees, shower them with gift coupons and lunches (replaced by couriered cakes in a pandemic year?). The colour pink will take over. Feel the March 8 blues?

Those who think this date is the annual bonus time for the chocolates and flowers industry cannot be entirely faulted. But if you care for history, the marking of March 8 started a century back; amongst the many events when women began to raise a voice for equality in pay, opportunities and suffrage (the legal right to vote in elections that was denied in many countries until then). The uprising by Russian women stands out. In 1917 that day, women in St. Petersburg went on strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ – demanding an end to World War I, an end to food shortage and, some say, signalled the start of the Russian revolution.

But all that fight for rights has not exactly created an Indian social revolution, has it? It is like there is a parallel universe – a woman leader who comes home with the bouquet the office gave after her stellar speech on breaking the glass ceiling, will likely get started on the cooking-cleaning right away, set the washing machine, call out to the kids to show her what homework the teacher has given, while she sips coffee she made for herself and her partner who, too, came home after a long day at office, but now has to relax.

A washing machine company ran an ad campaign some time back gently coaxing men to “share the load”, but reality is loaded. A pre-lockdown survey by the National Sample Survey Office in 2019 said only 26% of Indian men do any kind of housework. In Haryana, men reported 15 minutes a day against women’s 269 minutes each day of unpaid housework (men in Nagaland and Goa reported way better, but still less than 47 minutes each day).

Yet, the men aren’t always to be blamed. Three years ago, I was invited by a renowned IT major in Bengaluru to give a March 8 talk at their campus. “Our women employees will love to hear you,” the HR head said, to which I asked, why only women have to hear a woman on women’s day? I then told him what I would speak on: The need for men’s liberation. Sure enough, I saw men, including some in the top leadership, in the audience and I shared with them insights, and incidents. Like the time when I was in a central school in Uttar Pradesh, the choice for electives was a no-choice: Boys had to take ‘electrical gadgets’, and women ‘tailoring’, also called SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work). I couldn’t sew a button to save my life, just as Gaurav the hulk hated having to change the bulb. Society (and NCERT) had cast us in gender moulds we could not escape. I have male friends and uncles who have shown great flair at drawing rangoli, cleaning babies, plaiting their daughter’s hair or, like my husband, who can wash clothes better than I. But making such ‘talents’ public may draw a mock at their masculinity. Hollywood actor Johnny Depp once said he loves doing embroidery while waiting at the sets. Which Indian celeb would dare own up to a similar side of his?

Back at the IT campus, after my talk, a few women and men came up to share their stories. “My husband helps me a lot...when my mother-in-law is not around.” “My man is a different animal when his parents are at home.” A senior techie said, “I actually love cooking, but my wife will raise hell if I enter her zone.”

There was a time when it made sense for our fathers to stick to earning money while our mothers cooked and raised kids. But in this age, we need to raise our sons to “share the load”. During the lockdown, with domestic helps gone, many men actually loved doing just that. The Virat Kohli dad of today may take paternity leave with pride, but would society let him take a career break if he wanted to be a house-husband and enjoy fatherhood full-time?

This Women’s Day, let’s try a change in mindset. Then we, too, can change the bulb.

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