EARNING DOUGH WILL REQUIRE KNEADING IT!
I’m not even sure if it will be salary or wages. So, I am not even sure if it will be considered blue-collar or white-collar, daily, weekly or monthly. Something I had skimmed through about payment for housework to housewives hopped to the forefront of my mind as I carefully replaced the vase after swiping the dust from below it.
The opinion of educated contemporaries running homes in cities, some also ‘working’, others at-home housewives, albeit restricted to a section of society, throws up complexity – even ambivalence. After placing wives, mothers on pedestals, monetising their feminine nurturing may seem crass.
The contrary view is that this very idealisation has harmed by venerating what is eventually exploitation, and in no way does it lead to respect otherwise.
After overcoming sentiment, we move to the actual quantification. Will we consider time, effort, qualification?
Will there be performance appraisal and bonuses?
Will the reimbursement preclude or include medical insurance, perhaps even emergency fund? Will there be a ranking of higher to lower paid jobs, job profiles, voluntary retirement and termination? Who will do the paying and in what proportion if the family is a multiple income family or a single individual unit? Principally, feels Deepika, a Gurgaon housewife, it is similar to a woman’s helping out in a home business though in business capital infusion may decide: here, monetary infusion, qualification, experience, time, effort will carry weight.
Assuming a figure is arrived at, what are the anticipated consequences? If a family has to apply thought and reimbursement, there will be some acknowledgement of what is frequently a thankless task. It will also put some money in the hands of those who may otherwise be at the mercy of others. Financial independence is truly a route to empowerment, which Deepika firmly believes, observing that an empowered woman “would be able to say that something is out of her ‘scope’ of work” though Deepa Bhargava, a Gurgaon-based architect, disagrees Indian women will ever mouth this.
Does financial independence make her a decision maker?
While Deepika feels a salary will make a woman more vocal, according to Dr Sonia Bhalla, Consultant Eye Specialist in Gurgaon, “This might demean further: ‘I am paying you, so why is your performance not up to the mark?’” Finance in the hands of women does make them a part of the home decision-making, yet there are chances of family unrest because now status quo can be questioned. However, empowerment is debatable. Sonia corroborates that many women who contribute to family income across social strata are still abused in families, but Deepika feels not all men are abusive bullies, and there will be those who amend their expectations.
Who wears pants at the house?
Once a woman becomes an ‘earning’ member of the family by this route, will she have to share the expenses of the house, as often women working outside the home do? The maths of the household kitty will be interesting! Deepika’s observation: “Whoever hands the money of the house is the boss. Period. Then, the bifurcation happens – household expenses, electricity, insurance, petrol, other salaries.” A moot point is if the household earnings go towards paying the woman of the house a salary, will the woman of the house then have to take on more work because domestic help is beyond the household budget? Will another woman lose livelihood in empowering one woman?
Mumbai-based Falguni Oza believes the size of the income will decide if the salary can be easily paid. While low-income households will not be able to justify such a salary, the more affluent homes anyway keep help and the lady of the house will then be entitled to a supervisory position.
If household chores are paid for, traditionally since it is the women who are wholly or largely responsible in most homes for these, the system may deeper ingrain gender roles. In fact, it might even make the expectations harder because now there will be monetary accountability.
Neeti Bhatnagar, home chef of My Secret Flavourz fame, raises a point: “The thing is who is the boss here. Define salary for household expenses and salary for self.” Deepa comments, “The one who pays the salary is your boss. And that means in households where women are expected to wholeheartedly be housekeepers, they will be subjugated before more expectations as now they are being compensated, however much or little it may be.”
The point of agreement seems to be the attitude, and here education and the support of a woman’s parental family are essential. Deepa believes without a change in attitude, it might be better to retain “the dignity of selfless efforts.” Even while attitudes are still in transition, dignity is important. Alpna Varma, educator at a premier Gurgaon school, rejects taking a ‘pay’ because “I am not your subordinate to be paid.”
Sharing is caring! Really?
Households should be run on shared responsibility and mutual respect for individual strengths and limitations. Temperamentally, I may be more suited to keeping the kitchen tidy than keeping a car in running condition. Temperament and aptitude have nothing to do with gender, and ideally there should be no superior or inferior work – only meaningful work without which life would become difficult, if not impossible. Sonia avers, “In my opinion, work should be shared rather than made one-sided, paid for, and then have demand and abuse on the pretext of having paid.” A significant way of achieving this balance, agree all those spoken to, is transparency in finances between couples even if they maintain individual accounts, which in itself is a loaded expectation.
Gender roles and stereotypes is slippery business. These days, when even the word ‘housewife’ is giving way to ‘home-maker’, we have to consider the possibility of the ‘house husband’, no longer a taboo. This angle was provided by my 26-year-old son, brought up on a diet of equally shared household chores, who dons the two hats of working professional and housekeeper of his bachelor set-up: “Who will pay me? I should get paid then too for the housework I do.”
We are looking at this picture from the standpoint of women being the potential recipients of any such salary or wages. The same questions apply if the woman draws professional income that runs the house or it is a single man unit. So, for now, I am back to pottering about the house trying to wrap my head around a very tricky set of questions.
About the author: The writer loves to be known as a parent – a parent of two energetic spaniels who run their own blog at https://poochpickles.blog/ and of their elder human siblings who run their own lives.