A Re-Examination of Feminism at the Household level
NEW DELHI: At closer examination, one ignores the household, which can be seen as a basic economic unit that is capable of influencing the economy. However, most importantly, the household is capable of representing one form of social reproduction of which one example is gender relations. Underlying the portrayal of gender relations as conveyed by the average household in India – it becomes apparent that even if women don’t work, their decision-making abilities are most prominently observed in the household. For example, in a household, it is usually women who make the decisions with regards to how the household should be run.
Furthermore, the female members of the household also have a control over sexuality. In fact, literature states that “the strictest guardians of the sexuality of young women are older women, mothers and mothers-in-law, whose own relative positioning within the hierarchy is based on their ability to recruit and channel the labour and sexuality of younger women so as to reproduce patriarchal domination” (Sen, 2006: 144).
It is also worth noting how gender relations as conveyed by women carrying out traditional household-oriented tasks is a form of basic resistance to taking part in the formal workforce and contributing officially to the economy. In a time, when people are commenting on the volatility of the economy and commenting on the nature of institutional arrangements that surround them, it is worth pondering over whether women are formulating a new form of empowerment. In other words, by actively focusing on tasks and duties that emphasize feminine roles such as managing a household and looking after children, women may be contributing to a movement that moves towards embracing the feminine by embracing the traditional meaning of the feminine roles associated with women. In fact, some of the roles that are most usually associated with women such as washing and cleaning are also those that respect the environment-society nexus, for example in washing, the role of the elements such as the sun and wind are taken into account.
Most importantly, by carrying out gender specific roles, many may think it is the complete opposite of what feminism entails. However, if feminism includes ensuring a better world, then carrying out gender specific roles serves a purpose, which is to transcend the limitations associated with being a woman. Acceptance of and surrender to the traditional role that a woman is expected to uphold ensures that more important than following a gender-specific role is to be the best human being one can be and that ”the fact of being a human being is infinitely more important than all the singularities that distinguish human beings” (de Beauvoir, 2011: 779).
By continuously injecting the feminine side in day-to-day living, women are able to link the past with the present and hence balance the changing expectations of what it is to be a woman. Doing so is most important for women who identify themselves as being working professionals – it is they who need to find the balance in terms of how womanhood may be expressed as well as be able to contribute to the continuously changing face of feminism today.
Sen, G. 2006. Subordination and Sexual Control: A Comparative View of the Control of Women, in The Women, Gender and Development Reader, Eds. Nalini Visvanathan, Lynn Duggan, Laurie Nisonoff and Nan Wiegersma.
De Beauvoir, S. 2011. The Second Sex: A New Translation NY Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier. Vintage Books: London.