Dispelling the Myth of the Housewife Who “Sits at Home and Does Nothing”

Gender

Dispelling the Myth of the Housewife Who “Sits at Home and Does Nothing”

Illustration: Arati Gujar

My mother is an urban woman who had an English-medium education. She has Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Arts, and is a voracious reader. She’s never shied away from speaking her mind and has almost never been politically correct. The word “diplomatic” doesn’t exist in my mother’s dictionary. She wears whatever she likes whenever she likes, others’ opinions be damned. She stands her own ground in arguments no matter who’s at the other end, seldom puts up with people’s nonsense (she gives it back in equal measure), and has always been a self-assured woman. She’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever known, forever comfortable in her 61-year-old skin.

My mother is also a housewife by choice, and has been one since the day she got married.

Surprised? More often than not, we think of the housewives around us – whether mothers, grandmothers, aunts or neighbours – as though cut from the same domesticated cloth. Many from the millennial generation think that all they do is cater to their husbands, houses, and kids, and otherwise just “do nothing at all”.  Even the movies we grew up on show homemakers as in-law-worshipping, always submissive to their husbands and families, weak, and rarely opinionated or having strong personalities, or any personality at all. Thanks, Bollywood. But why can’t we showcase, or be okay with, badass women choosing to be housewives?

I’ve asked my mom on many occasions, like we tend to question most homemakers, whether she’s ever dreamt of pursuing a career or having an income. “Do you think you were brought up just on money? I provided everything else,” comes the proud response. My mother was perfectly happy being the provider of everything apart for the salary – her ambition was to be a mother, at any and every time her kids needed her. She did work before she got married, first teaching at a kindergarten and then at a desk job for a while, but never developed a liking for the work life. She’s never regretted her choice, or let anyone make her feel ashamed or guilty for it. And we shouldn’t either.

What’s it that they do at home? Till my brother and I were almost adults, we didn’t have a driver, a cook, or full-time domestic help. It was my mom – like countless other homemakers – who travelled by BEST buses to drop and fetch us from birthday parties and swimming classes, walked to bazaars to stock up the kitchen and cook our meals, helped with our homework whenever needed, attended all PTA meetings, accompanied us to the doctor, and cared for us when we were sick. And she still made time for herself – to read, do her beloved newspaper crosswords and sudokus, meet friends, shop, write her daily diary, or do whatever else she wanted.

If women who choose to be housewives are truly owning it, who are we to look down at them?

From a young age, my brother and I were taught to be independent and self-reliant, my mom forcing me to travel alone by bus by the age of 10 so that I didn’t need her to fetch me from friends’ houses. She stayed out of our sibling fights “because you need to learn to deal with problems yourself”, and made both my brother and me do several household chores (PSA: kids are “free house help” for middle-class families). She taught me to fill pass books and do the rounds of banks for financial work in the pre-netbanking era. I could go to her for any questions I had about boys, periods, sex, and everything else under the sun, even if they got a little weird. And no matter how many times I asked if she’d ever had great ambitions outside the four walls of our home, she had only one answer: that she was happiest being a homemaker, and had no qualms wearing that badge with pride.

If women who choose to be housewives are truly owning it, who are we to look down at them? We shame our kind for choosing to “sit at home and do nothing” (have you ever seen a housewife’s schedule?), or assume that she’s confined to the home life because of outside factors – not having qualifications or finding a job, family objections or because she’s unambitious. Why can’t we treat the homemakers around us with the same respect that we give that CEO who’s killing it in the boardroom or the lawyer who spends hours poring over her case files?

There are those though, who say that being a housewife is the most thankless unpaid job, and that once in a while we should express our gratitude to the ladies who spend all their days at home, for everything they do for us. But all they need is the same respect one gives a career-woman for the choices she makes – for isn’t that what feminism is all about? Let’s be proud of the women making their life decisions of their free will, whether they choose to fly a plane 30,000 feet above sea level or to run a home the way they wish. They never needed your permission anyway. At least my mom doesn’t.

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