“Why should the kitchen be only a woman’s job?"
The gender dynamics of the kitchen in a South Asian family, especially in relation to Desi men, is a taboo topic in Desi society.
Concerning the specific gender roles of the male breadwinner and the female homemaker, the division of labour in the kitchen is a controversial topic among modern young couples.
But, is it fair for women to continue to be constrained in the kitchen in light of the changing world?
DESIblitz explores whether Desi men should be taking more responsibility in the kitchen and how gender norms affect our expectations of partners.
Gender Roles in Desi Culture
The idea of a ‘sexual division of labour’ states that Desi men have an “instrumental role” as the family’s breadwinner, which is a difficult and stressful job.
This is accommodated by the women’s “expressive” role, which is to take this weight off the men’s shoulders by ensuring food is made for the household, and showing love and understanding.
In contemporary countries that favoured male labor, the idea that women should dominate domestic work was seen as the optimal system.
By arguing that the idea of “femininity” causes women to lose their individuality, second-wave feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer attacked this value system.
In Desi culture, there is a persistent and instilled misconception that the kitchen is a woman’s domain.
Even in houses where both spouses have an income, the woman is often expected to prepare the daily meals.
External forces like family and the media, in addition to history, are what perpetuate gender role concepts in Desi culture.
When a woman wishes to get married or cohabit with her partner, her family frequently expects her to learn how to cook or to already be a competent chef.
Families would similarly anticipate a good cook and homemaker as a daughter-in-law for their sons.
Among the diaspora of Desi men today, this assumption still exists.
One Indian maths teacher from Walsall, aged 51, spoke of his initial expectations of desirable characteristics in a wife. He shared:
“Back in those days, marriage was usually an affair agreed upon by family elders, even though I decided who I wanted to marry, she had to get my mother’s seal of approval.
“The first thing mum wanted to know was whether she was family oriented and if she could cook.”
His mother’s expectations of a daughter-in-law who could cook transferred into his preferences too. He stated:
“Being able to cook was a quality I admired about my wife when we met, it made things easier because my family immediately took a liking to her.”
However, the teacher noted that women shouldn’t be defined by their ability to cook, expressing:
“Don’t get me wrong, women do not need to cook at all. In today’s world, it’s very fickle to think that women should solely be judged on their cooking skills.”
When questioned whether Desi men should take more responsibility in the kitchen, he responded that it shouldn’t even be a question:
“When you marry someone, or couple up and live together, it should be a mutual agreement that all household chores, including cooking, should be shared.
“Men usually use not knowing how to cook as an excuse to never cook at all.”
He laughingly remarked:
“Watch a damn YouTube recipe video and you’ll learn within ten minutes!”
With acknowledging that Desi women are somewhat expected to be culinary experts – does this expectation bode true for Desi men?
In the media, Desi TV series and adverts often portray Desi women taking control of their kitchens and serving food to men.
This idea encapsulates the wider expectations for Desi women as something which shouldn’t be questioned.
Why do media portrayals in Desi countries show women primarily in home kitchens and taking care of the household, while men are depicted as Michelin-star chefs on popular shows like MasterChef India?
The #RasodeMeinMardHai social movement was started by BL Agro, an FMCG firm that also owns the brand’s Bail Kolhu and Nourish.
The movement was a first-of-its-kind idea that sought to fundamentally alter this ingrained mindset.
The movement is anticipated to work towards males sharing the work in the kitchen, from the stove to the sink, in a more gender-equal society.
Visual cues are frequently used in adverts to depict individuals, and traditionally, these cues have suggested that a woman belongs in the kitchen.
When women are cast in such stereotypical positions, it spreads the message that limits their independence and creates unreasonable expectations of them.
The idea of #RasodeMeinMardHai challenges the pervasive notion that women should shoulder the majority of the obligations in the kitchen.
It normalises the fact that there is no gender difference in the jobs related to cooking, including planning, buying, preparing, serving, washing dishes, and cleaning up.
Everybody should be able to cook, as the workload is shared equally and it is a communal activity.
At a ceremony on March 11, 2022, the social effort was presented with a TVC. Bollywood actress Pankaj Tripathi was in attendance and shared her views:
“Functional beliefs about the basic social category of genders, like men are the breadwinners and women are the caretakers, are threaded into our daily fabric.
“These topics are nuanced and complex, but they need an immediate mindset change, a sustained and systemic one.
“And that’s what the #RasodeMeinMardHai social initiative pushes.
“It weaves a different story and promotes a sense of responsibility in men toward the kitchen.”
“Lending my voice to the initiative to shape a new narrative and smash the preconceived notion that women must shoulder all kitchen duties.”
Ghanshyam Khandelwal, Chairman of BL Agro was also at the ceremony and remarked:
“Why should the kitchen be only a woman’s job?
“That’s the thought we want to provoke with #RasodeMeinMardHai. We want to challenge conventions for the better.
“The concept is not just to liberate women from the confines of the stove and the sink. It’s also about accepting that cooking should be a collectively held duty.
“It’s our subtle attempt to flip the gender stereotype on its head and advocate for a more progressive and inclusive culture.
“We hope to open the doors to a time when children grow up with the idea that both parents can cook and be masters of the kitchen.”
Whilst the gender roles in South Asian communities are striving for change, it seems there is still a lot of work to be done.
How are Things Changing?
Over the past 100 years, the place of women in human society has drastically changed, mostly because of the advances in technology that have occurred during this time.
Male dominance has been abolished in some job sectors by industrialisation, mechanisation, and computerisation.
It doesn’t matter what gender one identifies with, modern occupations require knowledge, experience, and training.
Several countries have rapidly adapted to this trend and have placed women right next to their male counterparts.
In addition to successfully increasing their staff, this adjustment also markedly enhanced productivity.
However, some countries are still behind in their determination to fully utilise this valuable human resource of both genders at work.
A major portion of their female population still encounters significant barriers to success in the workplace as a result of long-standing customs, beliefs, and taboos.
To achieve lasting success, one must contend with fierce competition, long hours, and hazardous investments in today’s competitive professional environment.
We all know that the majority of women who enter the workforce encounter more obstacles than their male colleagues.
Adding cultural limitations of Desi culture on top of everything else drastically reduces a woman’s chances of success.
Due to this unjust struggle, many women in constrictive settings find comfort in the confines of their traditional household responsibilities, spending countless hours with their kitchenware rather than entering the workforce.
It’s a huge waste of ability.
A solution to this problem is simple for couples who live together or are married.
The harder it is for women to thrive in the outside world, and therefore men must support them at home – a large chunk of this is contributed to increased responsibility in the kitchen.
The rate of change in the globe is astounding and only growing.
While Desi people enjoy their traditions and culture, everything that makes it harder for us to adjust to the contemporary world should be challenged.
Desi women are continually marginalised in families, communities, and countries that forbid them from realising their full potential.
Though we can now see it coming and feel its effects, the speed at which it is happening will be disastrous in the future.
So if it means that men pick up the slack and willingly contribute to the home such as taking on kitchen duties, this should not be an issue to undertake.