It’s 2021, So Why Are Politicians Still Making Comments about Women Belonging in the Kitchen?

Gender

It’s 2021, So Why Are Politicians Still Making Comments about Women Belonging in the Kitchen?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Spend enough time on the internet as a woman and you’re bound to come across a tired old joke. The setup and context might vary greatly, but the punchline always stays the same: Women belong in the kitchen, ha ha ha. It’s never funny, especially when the men cracking those jokes are usually the type who would starve within a week if they didn’t have someone cooking for them, but like ads on YouTube videos, they’re an unavoidable annoyance that’s part of being online. And every woman is fair game for this attempt at taking potshots, no matter their station. Even the chief minister of a state is not excluded from this broad, crude stereotype, as a Twitter jibe on Mamata Banerjee proved.

Banerjee is currently preparing for her state’s assembly elections coming up this year, where her Trinamool Congress will go against the BJP. The campaign trail has seen many barbs exchanged, but BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya added misogyny to the mix when he trained his social media sights on Banerjee on New Year’s Eve. Sharing a photo of Banerjee’s visit to a tribal village where she was cooking, Vijayvargiya said (in Hindi), “Didi has already started doing the work she will have to do after five months.”

As far as jibes go, the “women in the kitchen” stereotype is the lowest hanging fruit. It’s been repeated by so many unfunny comedians that it’s lost even its novelty value. Vijayvargiya dusting off the old clanker to go after a rival proves that our politicians should not attempt alternate careers as stand-up comics – especially when they’re so proficient at outraging over the real comedians’ material. But while an offensive joke by a stand-up comic is usually met with a bunch of angry men storming their shows and hauling them to the police station, the same offence by a politician is shrugged off without any real examination.

As far as jibes go, the “women in the kitchen” stereotype is the lowest hanging fruit.

Against the backdrop of all the serious crimes against women committed in the country, a distasteful comment on Twitter might seem trivial. And while it’s true that Vijayvargiya’s tweet was inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, it does serve as an indicator of how women are perceived in Indian society. If a woman like Mamata Banerjee, who has proven her prowess in a male-dominated field like politics, is also subjected to silly comments about staying in the kitchen, how many others are relegated to the background without even a chance to first prove themselves?

Members of Banerjee’s party, TMC, including parliamentarians Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Nusrat Jahan, have denounced Vijayvargiya’s tweet as misogynistic. However, it appears the BJP is closing ranks around its offender, as the party’s Mahila Morcha state president, Agnimitra Paul, denied that the comment was misogynistic in nature. “Cooking cannot be a demeaning job. Our mothers and grandmothers cooked for days to sustain the family. Millions of women – working or housewives – cook with passion for their near ones every day. There are thousands of male chefs who are proud of their work. How can the tweet be demeaning or misogynistic?” she said.

Paul might want Indian women to give Vijayvargiya the benefit of doubt, but given the track record that Indian politicians have of making misogynistic remarks, no one would blame them for being sceptical.

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