DR. AJAY RISAL
As in any other psychiatric interview, whenever I ask married female patients about their occupation, most of them reply, “I do nothing”, “Just stay at home” etc… Getting these sorts of reply, I usually re-question them, “Don’t you do cooking, child care, cleaning….these sorts of tiring and laborious work at home? ...Such questions make them silent, some of them even become tearful. Isn’t it an ironical situation? Such huge manpower and productive work hours in every household remain unrecognized and disrespected, not only by the consumer party, but also by the workers themselves. Such is the situation of every mother and wife at our home who routinely and robotically cook for us, wash our clothes, care for us and our children, day-in and day-out, morning to night, waking up before all of us, eating and going to bed only when we are satisfied and content... providing selfless love and getting nothing in return. We rarely think about it, as if these are all their unwritten duty and responsibility of being a mother or a wife. We just regard them as a “housewife” (as if they are married to the house) and want them to be bounded by four walls of the house, not more than that. WHO is very much right in declaring that the most important but unpaid, rather highly stigmatized and demoralized occupation is that of a housewife. Whenever I come across the above-mentioned situation, I try to make those females aware of the importance of their most challenging job and replace the term “housewife” with that of a “homemaker”, which I copied from my respected Professor during my residency.
Some often tend to blame Hindu culture and Eastern Philosophy for such a plight of housewives in our society. I think they are blind-footed and ignorantly (?) making such accusations. I want to make them aware that, when the so-called modern and democratic western world was derogatively terming these women as “housewife”, our Eastern society regarded them as “Griha-Laxmi” and “Griha-Swamini”, meaning Goddess of Home (not house). Our scriptures have proudly announced, “Yatra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devata”, meaning “Wherever the women are worshipped, gods dwell merrily in that place”. So, though the patriarchal brought-up might have eroded our real philosophy, we are not the ones for stigmatizing our mothers and wives as “housewife”, hence we need to change this derogatory term.
Housewife is a term used to describe a married woman whose main occupation is running or operating the family’s home and who does not generally maintain employment outside the home. It is a gender-specific term and in rural population, even the women doing the majority of the chores within a farm’s compound are regarded as housewives. Homemaker is actually a gender-neutral term for a housewife or also a stay-at-home dad. Homemaking is an American term for the management of a home, otherwise known as housework, housekeeping, or household management; it is the act of overseeing the organizational, financial, day-to-day operations of a house or estate, and managing other domestic concerns.Literally speaking, there is not much difference between these two terms. I personally disliked the term “housewife” when I found that it has also been used since the 18th century to refer to a small sewing kit, and is still used to describe a personal sewing kit used by soldiers and others, usually written and pronounced "hussif" in Britain.
In our modern era too, by the 19th century (1800s), more and more women began to stop being homemakers and began to do jobs that men usually did. Florence Nightingale stopped being a housewife and did dangerous jobs. A famous surgeon called James Barry is believed to have been a woman in disguise. Still, most women were often very proud to be a good homemaker and have their house and children taken care of and tasty meals prepared for their husband and family every night.
In the late 20th century, it became harder and harder for a family to live on the wage of a man who has just an ordinary job. Many women who were mothers could not stay at home and make homemaking their first job. Nowadays, in many families where both the husband and wife do paid work, both partners share in the "housework" and caring for the children.
According to some psychologists, it is linguistics which has brought upon such situations. A person who is a housewife is considered ‘just’ that - a housewife, the meaning often attributed to that term is a person who doesn’t do much (a negative connotation). But a home-maker, on the other hand, is looked upon as person, who makes, creates, tends to, look after - the attribution to that term is one where the word is seen as more meaningful and more contributing (a positive value). Working female feel that homemaker is a sophisticated word, and does imply that wives are not just sitting doing nothing but are fulfilling many domestic responsibilities.
In the end, let us read this quote I found in a website, “Call her a homemaker, a working parent or even a yummy mummy- just don’t insult a woman by referring to her as a ‘housewife’.” What do you say?
Dr. Risal is a Psychiatrist at Dhulikhel Hospital