Sharanya Misra

A restaurant in Varanasi is called “Wife on Leave”. And if the name isn’t bad enough, its website elaborates “Man Leads, Woman Follows; to the Wife On Leave Restaurant for a romantic dinner date”. I can’t stop the cringe, no matter how many times I’ve read it.

Kitchens have, for centuries, been considered a woman’s domain. Not professional kitchens, mind you. Men have always been chefs at restaurants and hotels. But talk of the kitchen at home and it is unconsciously assumed to be a woman’s ‘area’. So much so that when the wife cannot cook, apparently the husband must go out to dinner, or so the restaurant in Varanasi thinks, because the husband cooking instead is a completely crazy idea. Sarcasm intended.

Think back to all the childhood stories of eating aam papad and achaar at our Dadi’s or Nani’s, Why not the Dadas and Nanas? Or think of all the functions or get-togethers when relatives and friends would meet up – all the women huddled in the kitchen chatting and cooking, ensuring a steady supply of food for the men who talked ‘serious’ stuff in their corners. In fact, it’s always maa ke hath ka khana that’s most missed. Never papa ke hath ka. If you haven’t watched Shefali Shah’s short movie Juice yet, you must. Women slogging day and night in the kitchen is a reality that we cannot deny.

But why? One may argue that women are simply better at it. Or that they have an instinctive liking for it. Or even that in the past since most men went to work and women stayed at home, it was a natural selection of tasks per gender. No, No and No. Women who are home makers work as hard as or even more than any office goer, entitling them to the same amount of rest in the evenings or holidays that an office going male demands. In fact, even women who do go to work end up cooking when they get back home or on holidays. The reason women seem to be better in the kitchen is simply because of their experience! Lots of well-known chefs in the world are men, proving that the magic isn’t just in the fingers of women. Practice makes perfect, be it either gender. And for the uninitiated, many women either loathe cooking or love cooking sporadically but aren’t up to doing it 3 times a day every single day (like me). They do however end up doing it to meet the demands of the family. So, let’s establish once and for all that handling the kitchen is as much a woman’s area of expertise, as it is a man’s.

The very lucid reason therefore is the patriarchal mindset our society carries. An aunty we once paid a visit to, asked her son to bring out the tray of tea for my family. While I secretly rejoiced at the wonderful example this boy and his mother were setting, the aunty proudly said, “He is like the daughter I always wanted”. Men, as per our society, do not belong in the kitchen. Even today if a man helps his wife in the kitchen, she is termed ‘lucky’, the man on the other hand either inspires awe or sniggers. The thought of a man cooking at home is somehow still not a widely accepted normality. And sadly, it’s often the women around us who remind us of it.

Vashist Sondhi featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra

Even today, mothers ask their daughters to help with the chores, not their sons. Little girls are coached to cook well for their future husbands. Little boys grow up never watching their fathers cook, carrying this mentality ahead into their own married life. If a son has bad eating habits, his parents tease him, ‘Jab Bahu ayegi tab dekhna, jo banayegi sab khana padega’ (Let’s see what you do when your wife arrives, you will have to eat everything she makes). I fail to understand the thought behind this behaviour, though. Cooking is a life skill. Something that every person should know. And if we are training our boys from childhood to depend on the women in their lives for something as basic as feeding themselves, we are definitely not doing things right!! Not only are we missing out on imparting them with this competence, we are also making a very incorrect impression on them that cooking is a woman’s job.

Farida Rasiwalla featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra

An unfortunate mistake that women also tend to make is barricading the men from entering the kitchen. Reasons? They make a mess. They just can’t do it right. They are slow. I have seen women overworking themselves, struggling with their schedules and letting go of their ‘me-time’ in the process, but refusing to take their husband’s help for fear of having do tidy up behind them. There is an innate lack of faith that men could have capabilities deemed ‘suitable for women’ by society. What needs to be understood is that men would make mistakes, but given time, would also learn from them and improve, contributing significantly to household chores as both partners should. Instead, what they are asked for, is ‘help’. This pattern of working makes women the primary workers, over stresses them, increases dependency on them and makes the men play only a supporting role, which may not be a great idea as we discuss below.

Soundarya Ramarajan featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra

French Comic artist Emma illustrates a concept called Mental Load Here.  Women, as proven by science, tend to be more anxious than men. There is a constant list of tasks running through their minds, getting longer and longer, adding to this mental load. So, while women prepare to cook, they are probably checking off a list with points such as What to cook today, Are the ingredients available, Is the vessel clean, Are the veggies cut etc. Hence, what women don’t realise is that when they ask their partners to simply “help”, they are not really taking an item off their mental loads. Instead, they are simply outsourcing its execution. Completely offloading a task onto partners can relieve women of the burden on their minds and free them up for other interests they may nurture. This can only happen if men embrace the idea of ownership in the kitchen.

Shilpa Thakre Ray featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra

Lots of men today love to cook. As they get increasingly sensitised to women’s needs and concerns, there has been a huge shift in our generation with men willingly stepping into the kitchens at home and owning the space as their own. Many couples in fact share that working together in the kitchen is a great way for them to bond and make time for each other.

Kainaz Nunes featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra
Pranesh Joshi featured in ‘Will the Kitchen Ever be an Equal Space?’ by Sharanya Misra

Yet, there is so much more to achieve. What an irony that even Beti Bachao campaigns in India, in this day and age, are so steeped in regressive patriarchy, that they advocate saving girls so they can cook for you! We still have a long way to go, to rid our kitchens of age old thoughts and change mindsets. There’s a need for society as a whole to accept that cooking and other household chores are agender activities, that everyone needs to be capable of doing. There’s a need for men to understand that women are not responsible for the meals in the house and that they need to contribute. There’s a need for women to stop proving that they are superhumans, step back when needed and share chores with the men. And finally, there’s a need for us all to set better examples for the next generation. The stories shared here are indeed a ray of hope, that we are on the right track, and lay examples that we may all follow. So, let’s go throw those windows in our kitchens wide open. May the winds of change sweep in!

/*A wonderful article on gender sensitization by Kalpana Manivannan can be found @ https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/random-thoughts/article/gender-sensitization-begins-at-home. Do read for some great insights on this topic.*/

0 Responses

  1. When I read the title, I didn’t even want to bother…. good I did bother 😊 well written piece!

  2. When I read the title, I didn’t even want to bother…. good I did bother 😊 well written piece!

  3. “Cooking Mera Shauk hai, Meri jarurat nahi.” Jab Tak hum laundey aesa sochte rahenge kuch nai badalne wala, even I am one of those guys, however bachpann ki kuch yadon mein I distinctly remember when Papa ji khana banate the, it was an event, par Mummy ka to ye BAU tha. Credit should be given where it’s due, having said that cooking is not a gender thing, “it’s an Ard”.

  4. “Cooking Mera Shauk hai, Meri jarurat nahi.” Jab Tak hum laundey aesa sochte rahenge kuch nai badalne wala, even I am one of those guys, however bachpann ki kuch yadon mein I distinctly remember when Papa ji khana banate the, it was an event, par Mummy ka to ye BAU tha. Credit should be given where it’s due, having said that cooking is not a gender thing, “it’s an Ard”.

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