I was interested in the topic, ‘cos I am very touchy about the extended topic ‘household chores’ which has ‘laundry’ at its foremost.
In the times before the washing machine and water pipeline at homes, it was customary for the women to go to a water source (a river, a well or a spring) and wash all the laundry. They used to make it a socialization point. This was probably because women were the only people free (as the men folk would be out for work) and capable of carrying out the daunting task (children could not lift the weight nor could they be trusted to be safe near the water) of carrying the wet clothes back and forth over such a distance. The richer few had wells (or tubewells) in the compound.
So when they went to wash their clothes at the common water source, it probably gave rise to the phrase “washing one’s dirty linen in public.”
As times changed, houses got water connections and better means to wash clothes. But women still were the primary people to handle the laundry, as the men would be out for work.
Effective detergents and agents – Ariel being the pioneer amongst them – made women’s lives a little easier when coupled with a washing machine or even without it.
Then came the feminist movement and women stepped out as bread earners too.
But did this change the list of their chores at home? Niet.
(Till this date)85% of working Indian women feel they have two jobs, one at work and another at home. This feeling is termed as ‘the second-shift syndrome’ which means women have to work one more shift after their tiring day at office in order to maintain an orderly home and a fresh stain free pile of clothes for the family.
In the vastly diverse type of population that India has, 76 % of the Indian men feel that laundry is a woman’s job. Women themselves don’t help either. Quite a lot of them giggle at husbands trying to help their wives.
The need is to change the perspective of our families that running a house is not only a woman’s responsibility. The financial and menial responsibilities ought to be shared by each and every able member of the family – even the teenager who goes to college!
Dialogues like “when will you learn to do laundry? It’ll be difficult for you to cope up once you are married” said to a girl should be replaced by “Beta, try and wash clothes by yourself. It will help you learn to live independently.” And this should be the message to the son as well; ‘cos they will grow up to have families with these values. Otherwise, they will end up as a part of 77% of the Indian men who depend on women for doing the laundry. My brother, for instance, heads straight to the washing machine and loads his cricket uniform for a wash however late he comes home from the match.
Gandhiji, in his quest to be self-reliant, washed his shirt and coat. Due to inexperience, the collar turned out all stiff. When he appeared in the South African court wearing the attire, he was a subject of mockery. But he stood with a proud face and told the onlookers that he was happy he did the laundry himself. This not only set a precedent for pre-independent era, but also for us. He freed Kastur Baa from household chores whenever possible, and encouraged her to take part in greater causes. Should not we follow the example set by the Father of our Nation?
If this is implemented, by at least taking turns to do the laundry or to divide the task into putting the clothes in the machine, hanging them out to dry and ironing; the perception of the 2/3rds of Indian women who feel that there exists an inequality at home, between men and women – will start changing for better. Because there are men and children alike who do help their wives and moms respectively. Let us not discourage them by assuming that the situation is as dark as Batman’s Gotham.
Incentivizing the activity or making it a fun chore can also go a great deal to motivate the 2/3rds of Indian men who are couch surfers and prefer watching TV than to do the laundry. Why, if the task is done in collaboration; the 73% of the married Indian women who feel, a man prioritizes relaxing over helping with household chores – can relax like their husbands!
Think about it, laundry is not ‘not’ a woman’s job. It is not ‘only’ a woman’s job. It is everyone’s job in the family.
Start with throwing your socks, clothes in the laundry basket. Graduate to helping loading the machine. Take turns to do the supporting works. You’ll find it helps you cool out the office/school/college stress too 🙂