One of the major reasons why I am slightly averse towards getting married is because of our weird household.
My mom is the youngest daughter and hence was mostly banished from the kitchen during her growing years. She spent her childhood playing with her brothers and being a shepherdess. In fact, thanks to her elder sister, my mother did not even have to do any of the feminine works, apart from sweeping. Rather, she performed the masculine roles of shepherding, being her dad’s assistant- he was an ayurvedic doctor, accompanying her mother on her trips to the market, etc. As she joined a nursing school right after her schooling, she spent the next four years in a hostel, which stretched to 8 years once she got a job. So, when at the age of 25, my mom married dad, the only household works that mom could confidently do was making a cup of tea and boiling eggs. Moreover, being miles away in Delhi, from her family and native land Kerala, she really did not have anyone to help her make a smooth transition from spinsterhood to married life. My dad, on the other hand, was the eldest of 6 siblings. He knew his way around the kitchen and his hands were pretty deft at sewing. It won’t be wrong to say that my dad was my mom’s first teacher in the household arts. Of course, he was more of a guest lecturer. My mom learnt the rest from her friends and neighbors.
My growing up years are a montage of seeing dad in the kitchen cooking for us. It’s not that mom was a bad cook. Actually she is a stellar cook. But the thing was, she had shift duties. So it wasn’t necessary that we would get to eat breakfast or dinner with her everyday. When she had a duty, dad would man the kitchen, pack our lunches, help us get ready, and see us off to school and work. He would be the one running the washing machine on the weekends, and darning and mending our torn clothes. Obviously mom did all of these and more, but what is important is that dad did all of this too.
Some days he would let her sleep in and do the morning chores. Some nights he would let her retire and would clean up the kitchen all by himself. I am not saying that ours was a feminist household. No, far from it. All the major decisions were still being made by dad, rather than it being a joint effort. Money matters were solely handled by dad. Everything we bought had to be first cleared by dad, and we had to account for every penny we spent. Like all men, he too had his quirks but mom went along with him comfortably, despite periodic friction.
What has this done to make me averse to marriage? Well the answer is simple- when I think of a kitchen, I think of it with a man in there. It’s always just a man, or a man and woman together. Washing, cleaning, cooking, sewing- the typical feminine works are all tinged with my dad’s presence in my head. And so, what I look for in a man are obviously these kinds of qualities- someone who does not need me for anything other than being his lover/friend/partner. Someone who is independent. Someone who is not in the market for a maid, a sitter, and a fixed deposit.
Now this is troublesome. Imagine me asking a guy about how often he cooks for the family. I mean, “do you cook?” would obviously get me a yes, because even making maggi can come under the broad umbrella term of “cooking”. But asking someone how often he cooks for the family, or how often does he help with the dishes, helps clean the house, washes his own clothes, sweeps and dusts his own room- would actually help us get a more clear picture of the kind of person we are meeting.
My friend complains about how her husband is an excellent cook despite which he never steps into the kitchen except perhaps thrice a year. I believe the first step towards heralding true feminism is making our children adept at housework irrespective of their gender. They should learn how to cook along with learning to eat. We as parents and teachers and adults should do our best to take away gender from the work we all do in our daily lives, works that are essential for living a healthy civilised life. Maybe then I could ask a guy without any trepidation, “When was the last time you fixed your family a breakfast?” and actually get a positive response instead of being shushed or turned into stone by a basilisk stare.