“Ing-jee-nial!” she would say when someone asked her what she wanted to become as a grown-up. Of course, she didn’t know what an engineer did. She was barely four. I am yet to figure out where she heard theword first but I have to admit that I loved this question for the soft trill that followed and more importantly, the area of work she had apparently chosen for herself.
It was around the time she cut her fifth cake when we had this conversation:
Me: How is it going, young engineer?
Her: No. I want to become a homemaker
Me: Uh… Why?
Her (with a sad, and an almost tired face): If I become an engineer, I would have to work both at the hospital (her mom works at a hospital and she naturally assumes that every workplace is called ‘hospital’) and in the kitchen.
Now, I would not waste time on how I responded, though I would love to know how you would have handled the situation.
The point is if the daughter of a pharmacist and a former economics professor, who sees her father buy groceries, iron her school uniform, drop her to school every day is harboring such thoughts, how immune do you think your children are? You may work 13 hours a day like your husband, may have denied his surname, may boast of the thin onion rings he is capable of making, may have a Facebook timeline flooded with posts celebrating women empowerment but hey, are you sure you are dividing your domestic responsibilities equally?
Who is the first one to run to the kitchen in the morning or when you two get back from work in the evening? How often do your kids see you doing laundry while their dad plays Nintendo with them? Who is the one to decide the menu and coordinate with the domestic help (if you have one)?
Your kids see it all. She sees it and internalizes that she will have to do it for someone someday. He sees it and assumes that someone will do it for him someday. On a side note, when your car needs servicing and your living room needs a clean-up, your kids, no matter how young, know who will take on the car and who will head for the living room.
When Simone de Beauvoir started writing, Europe had a considerable strength of educated women, thanks to the generation of Mary Wollstonecraft. The World War II-hit continent also saw a large number of women join the workforce and take up challenging roles in the industry, thanks to the generation of Virginia Woolf. “We are no longer like our partisan elders; by and large, we have won the game,” Beauvoir wrote. But what troubled this French woman and British feminists was the nature of double shifts women were working in — paid employment outside the home and unpaid employment within the home. Working outside had only added to the workload of women, they noted. It would be actually interesting to chalk out our trajectory since then. How far have we traveled?
As for the 5-year-olds at your home, yes, cook a wonderful meal for them. They deserve it. But let your husband do it tomorrow.
(The article first appeared on HuffPost.)