By Nobantu Shabangu
Equality in both private and public areas of life is my ideal dream and that of many feminists. What that means is that since we ask for equality in the boardroom we also ask for equality in our homes. The notion that women must bear fifty percent labour at their jobs but more than seventy percent in the homes is absurd. It is not to say that women can’t handle this amount of work; they can and they have for many years.
Typically the working heterosexual woman works twice as hard to get noticed in the workforce, she then gets home and often has to cook, help the children with their homework, and tend to her husband or boyfriend. Men get to work and their opinion and influence in the workplace is rarely questioned. In many homes men do not take on any additional housework.
I am not blind to modernisation. I know that modern couples outsource their work to alleviate their labour: women get domestic workers and tutors, men get gardeners and mechanics. But there are still men who believe that women need to be more active in their homes. A powerful successful woman in the office who does not cook or clean or iron when she gets home is considered a failure of woman to some men.
What pricked my attention to this issue is the trend of men on social networks who constantly state that they need a cultured woman, cultured in their context did not mean having a heritage or tradition; it referred to the traditional role of women. That is, women cooking, cleaning, ironing and basically being homemakers. Most of these men have demanding jobs; one of them was a popular DJ. The message this sends is that women have to be CEOs, mothers and wives but men can be CEOs, part-time fathers and part-time husbands. It is unfair.
If men want cultured women then they themselves need to be cultured. Men must not forget that modernisation happened to them only, it happened to women too. My dream as a little girl was to have a husband who would build our house from the bottom up. He would have to plan it, finance it and physically build it, lay the foundations and lay bricks one on top of the other. My dreams quickly diminished when I realised that gender roles can change. We could both plan it, we could both finance it, and since we would both be busy making money we would find somebody else to build it for us. Why is it that men can’t amend their dream of the ultimate women to suit modern times?
Women aren’t ox built only to pull the weight men delegate to them. Women are beings with aspirations and dreams: being a mother and wife should not be a stumbling block to those dreams. A wife and children to men aren’t stumbling blocks to their dreams and success and it should be the same for women.
It is men who make being a mother and wife a stumbling block; it is the heavy unforgiving expectations that make us reconsider being either. It is society built on patriarchal foundations that forces women to continually bear the brunt of an unequal share of labour.
I am not asking for a switch of gender roles. I’m asking for a non-gender based filling of those roles.