Here’s how you can maintain equality in your relationship
We might be setting new standards for equality at the workplace, but at home, we routinely find ourselves playing the role of ‘the weaker sex’. Isn’t it time we got the power balance right?
In a relationship shared by two people, power isn’t always split down the middle. While women are campaigning for change at work, we’re somehow more accepting of conventional power structures at home. We’re convinced that household chores naturally fall to us, and even if we don’t, we have a hard time getting our partners to do their fair share. We let men take the lead in decision-making, especially when it involves a heavy financial investment like buying a car or house.
In her essay ‘Mom: The Designated Worrier’, author Judith Shulevitz points out that the 50-50 split of parenting responsibilities is utopian; studies find that it’s mothers who make a list of chores and fathers pick what they’d like to do. Everything that’s omitted is scooped up by moms, while dads are hailed for ‘helping out’. As Monika Halan points outs, helping-out isn’t a substitute for sharing.
Unequal power and responsibilities can have long-term effects on how much a woman earns and invests, her self-esteem, as well as physical and mental health. Studies show that employers tend to pay women with kids up to 4% less because they believe that women are more committed to their families, not careers. It’s worse in India – women who are overburdened by household duties seem to be dropping out of the workforce. The National Sample Survey showed that in 2011, the number of women in the workforce had fallen by 10% over 20 years. Most of these women are married, spawning the idea that they’re paying the ‘marriage penalty’.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of imbalance, and since it’s unlikely that society and industry will lead the change, that task falls to us. Here’s how we can make a start.
Often, women themselves (from older generations in particular) reinforce patriarchal standards, because that’s the system that they define themselves by. While it’s not always as dramatic as what’s depicted in saas-bahu serials, it exists in more subtle but far-reaching ways, as this video shows.
Gender roles are so ingrained in our consciousness and traditions that women naturally bear more responsibilities, while men enjoy a greater share of power. So, the next time we draw up a to-do list for the household, perhaps we should assess our own internalised stereotypes before assigning chores.
Be financially independent
Women who contribute to the family income have a greater say in decision-making. Most gender roles are shaped by the assumption that the man’s the breadwinner of the family; since that’s changed, the power equation will too. At Basis, we advocate that mutual expenses be paid out of a couple’s joint account, and are always in favour of women having their own savings accounts, investments, and emergency funds as well. When we women feel like we’re not dependent on anyone financially, we tend to be more vocal in relationships and quicker to stake our claim.
Put it down in writing
While the idea of a ‘relationship contract’ might make you roll your eyes, there is some logic behind a couple writing down what they expect from each other. Firstly, it makes both partners have an honest discussion about finances, housework, childcare and caring for ageing parents. Then, it can help the partners arrive at terms that suit both of them. Writing this list makes both partners more cognizant of each other’s needs and expectations, and minimises resentment in the future.
As your relationship begins to get serious, jot down expectations and responsibilities.
We’re happy to let things slide if it helps the relationship function smoothly. However, keeping one’s opinion to oneself is often misinterpreted as not having an opinion at all. Worse, it can be mistaken for consent. If an imbalance has been eating away at you, figure out the root cause and address it. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an all-out confrontation. An easy conversation’s a good way to start.
Ask, don’t multi-task
Remember that saying ‘Done is better than perfect’? We’re reluctant to ask our partners to help with something because we’re worried that it won’t be done the right way (AKA our way). So, we do it ourselves, and soon enough, the task becomes something that’s exclusive to us. Let’s give micromanaging a break and let our partners make breakfast for the kids, separate the whites in the laundry basket, and buy the groceries for next week. Who knows, we might even learn a few things.
We often forget gender roles aren’t biologically pre-programmed but learnt over time. In that case, can’t equality be too?