The Nagging Wife. Or, of Emotional Labour

Hindu thought emphasises that nature has two fundamental forces, not one. These forces of Shiva and Shakti, must always be in balance. Shiva is death, Shakti is life. Shiva destroys, Shakti creates. Shiva is timeless, Shakti is change. Every person irrespective of biological sex has both the masculine and feminine in them. Nowhere is this more evident that in our myths. For example, Vishnu assumes the feminine form of Mohini to protect the world from Bhasmasura. Durga might have a female body but she contains the energies of the male trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara. Mahishasura, as represented by the buffalo, was too dim-witted to see beyond the literal. He could not understand that a female body could channel the power of destruction and therefore assumed that no one could kill him.

We have largely forgotten this quest for balance and replaced it with duality. Exactly when this happened in our history is not clear but the evidence partially points towards colonisation. During our colonial rule womens breasts were covered up, homosexuality (well illustrated in Khajurao sculptures) was deemed criminal and a complex belief system was reduced to a collection of myths. As our colonial hangover continues we now believe in the dichotomy of right and wrong, good and evil, conqueror and conquered. Two forces cannot be equal in our new world. The masculine being more tangible has won. Since masculinity is associated with power, all people – men and women – have to channel the same energy in order to be successful.

The workplace is still largely a masculine space. There is not much room for sensitivity, subtlety, creativity, or even cooperation in most workplaces. We raise our sons to succeed in this space. They are given no option but to succeed. Women are married (off) to men who were trained to succeed at work. Women who have decided to pursue a career and have been successful at it have had to be “one of the boys”. Thanks to these efforts women are finally starting to gain financial autonomy, political power, and an identity of our own. All good things. Having succeeded at work, we are raising our daughters to do so as well because we want the same independence for them.

Home is a place for all things feminine. The work is constant, changing and largely emotional and invisible. You cannot quantify the value of a well-run home. A home needs a different kind of energy to recharge its inhabitants. This job largely falls to women who are deemed “natural” at it. Already exhausted from a career, we have no energy to bring to the home as well. World over women sense that the demands placed on us are not realistic. Hence articles like this one go viral. We read them, intuitively understand, and pass them on to our husbands who also immediately understand and start taking a more active role in running the home. Ha Ha, just kidding. Men are angry when they read articles like that one.

Why are they angry? Is it because our husbands detest us and want us to quit our jobs and stay home to serve their every need? I don’t think so. I think it’s because splitting the physical load is fair tangible while the overhead of managing a home is emotional, and therefore intangible. A society of Mahishasuras that we are, we consider invisible and intangible to mean imaginary and non-existent. You can’t view the inner world of emotions emotions through the world through a lens focused on the outside world. We need to switch lenses every once in a while. Society would have us believe men are not in possession of such a lens. It unleashes all sorts of tactics to keep women “in their place”.

Here’s a video of Sadhguru subtly mansplaining why homemaking is important. He places his mother on a pedestal and speaks of her with (a tenderness in his voice he never had when he shamed people for causing depression to themselves, may I add?). He speaks of a career as an economic necessity, not an intellectual fulfilment as it is for many of us. Everyone loves this video. It’s sanskaari and lovely for traditionalists and women finally get the validation we’re looking for. Don’t fall for it.

While the world is real, money is real. Political power is real. Intellectual fulfilment is real. The need for a safety net is real. The need to have a voice is real. The need to prepare for the worst is real. Sorry Sadhguru, we don’t need society to value a woman’s contribution to running a home. We need men to value their ability to nurture and care. We need men who can embrace sensitivity. We need more men to feel comfortable thinking about what would make a house a home. Men who can intuitively turn on some music or buy some flowers and light some incense. We need men to not only understand that it’s important to have a welcoming home but to make it happen. The emotional labour it takes to run a home, you see, is not about making lists and running errands. It’s about sitting down and thinking about the needs of someone other than yourself. Since when was it bad to be a little less self-centred?

As my marriage nears the ten year mark, it suddenly appears to me that I’m surrounded by people getting divorced. A friend calls it “that time of life”. Some of the divorces are legal. Many are emotional. I know of several women who have given up on finding any sort of emotional fulfilment from their marriages. What’s worse, we as a society drive anyone (male or female) in an emotionally unsatisfactory partnership towards depression and then shame them for it because, hey, emotional needs are not real.

My most cherished moment with The Hero? A day after I landed in the US I fell sick with a high fever. He made hot rasam and potato fry for me, literally spoon-fed me dinner and tucked me into our grad student airbed. My father is pretty useless in the kitchen but no one can keep a house tidier than he can. A friend makes art, origami, dances tango and grows plants. A cousin took time off to raise his baby and misses changing diapers. So don’t tell me it’s not manly to do such things or that men are biologically unsuited for them.

Anyone who thinks men are incapable of nurturing needs to open their mind beyond the binaries of chromosomal sex. Let little boys tag along in the kitchen. Let them paint butterflies and grow flowers. Let them learn the joy of empathy and don’t shame their tears. Maybe more sensitive men won’t subject us to the “men request, women nag” bullshit. For now, here’s a meme.

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