Yesterday I finally watched Ki and Ka, a refreshingly different Bollywood movie throwing a new light on the roles of men and women in a relationship. (Spoiler Alert!) Basically, Kabir (the guy) does not want to hear about the corporate rat race and dreams of becoming a house husband. He comes to a deal for a different kind of marriage with Kia (the girl), an ambitious workaholic, who would be responsible for providing for the financial needs of the family. It got me thinking of the different roles society and ages of civilization impose on men and women and how ready we all are to accept that things have changed… for BOTH men and women.
Family is the basis of the the social fabric. In my opinion, monogamy was favoured over any other forms of union because it was more easily controllable by the rulers, and it somehow prevented the spread of sexually transmittable diseases. Anyway, in the traditional family model, the man was the breadwinner and the woman was the childrearer. That made sense, because masculinity is associated to physical strength and most manual jobs required that very quality. Feminity on the other hand, equally important, was associated with the passing on of values. However, post industrial revolution, most manual jobs became redundant and now in 2016, even if the fight for gender equality is still real, it can easily be concluded that most jobs can be handled by both men and women. I’m all for virility, but the range of uses for man’s physical strength has become more and more limited, especially in the jobs market. We are living in an era where the gap between the earnings of men and women is becoming narrower and narrower.
So what of the couple of 2016 then? A deeply confused generation trying to make sense of the meaning of “family” from what they feel, from the reality of things, from the role models set by their parents. In Mauritius, in the previous generation, it seems that the gender roles were much more well defined than it is in the current generation. Mothers, even working ones, were primarily responsible for the home, and men were responsible for the finances. With divorce rates skyrocketing in Mauritius, I think the evolving roles of men and women in a relationship warrant some more analysis.
The Progressive Fam
I will talk about Fam (“Woman” in Mauritian creole) first obviously because I am a Fam. We have been raised by a generation of hard working parents who put a lot of emphasis on education. After academic education came professional education, and once you start earning, it is hard to imagine life without the comfort of a paycheck at the end of the month. I once met an ex colleague who, when I asked her about work, nonchalantly told me that she got married to a businessman and does not need to work anymore. My first reaction (which I did not voice out, of course) was: Lazy bitch! Relying on the generosity of your husband to get that new shiny pair of heels just does not seem right. Or doesn’t it? Maybe “Lucky bitch” would be more appropriate… Anyway, in my opinion, most women would rather work and feel better being financially independent. However, many would not mind quitting their highly stressful jobs for one with better hours, albeit less pay, to spend more time with their families.
I don’t know if it’s the media, the sound of biological clocks ticking, or pressure from the family, but the priority of most women seems to be “settling down”. Fall in love, get married, have kids, establish their very own social cell. Which they feel they are somewhat well equipped into doing, what with all the education, financial independence and all the self-help advice from the internet… WRONG! You can never be really prepared for the chaos of married life – juggling with work, managing a household, bonding with two sets of families, handling pressure for making babies, keeping fit, making sure there is a healthy yet tasty dinner on the table every night! Wow! Our mothers made it all seem so effortless…
What if the Progressive Fam needs a little help from her husband? The illusory 50/50 relationship – is that a myth? If you contribute 50% financially in a household, can you expect that the other partner contribute 50% in household work?
Now, if the woman is really progressive, it is only fair to say that she cannot put extreme expectations on the guy. Traditional education and net-worth xrays before choosing the right partner – are these things really indicative of whether a couple will last or not? I don’t think so. If you are choosing a partner earning much more than you do, then can you expect him to contribute 50% in household work?
You cannot have it all in a relationship. Most women really have to choose between prioritizing their family lives over their careers. It’s a choice, and often a difficult one. And most of the time, this choice has to be made by women, and not by men…
The Progressive Zom
Now for the Progressive Zom (“Man” in Mauritian Creole). Apologies, for I might be biased on this. I will try to be as objective as possible. Mauritian men have been raised by mothers who have treated them like little princes. Their priority was to love and provide for their sons – that often involved cooking, laundry, cleaning and everything else to make their children’s lives comfortable. They watched their mothers do this, while their dads supported the family financially, and came back home tired, rightfully demanding a hot home-made meal.
The Progressive Zom is now married to his girlfriend of a couple of years. They met at work, sparks flew, they dated, shared dreams and aspirations, all the boxes were ticked, and they got married. They moved into a brand new place which they lovingly decorated together. A few months passed. He realised that the house was never as clean as his mom’s house. The meals cooked were not as varied or tasty. His wife often came home late too tired to cook. He was also tired, and he had no idea how to cook. Now the macho man would never accept this. He would expect the impossible from his wife. And that would be the start of the end of it.
The Progressive Zom would however react differently. He would come to the conclusion that his preconceived notions of how married life should be, or what his wife is supposed to do were perhaps outdated. Because he is progressive, he will try to understand and help as much as possible. There is nothing emasculating in contributing to household work.
The Progressive Couple
All in all, both men and women have to be progressive, reject traditional notions and embrace the new, modern couple. Even if a 50/50 relationship, though desirable, is perhaps not very realistic, love, understanding, and compassion is essential to make the modern family life work. I don’t believe in defined roles for each one, like in Ki and Ka. Even if the movie makes the idea of a house husband seem extremely appealing. But I do believe that we have to acknowledge changing roles in the couple and accept that moving towards equal financial contribution in a household comes at a price. And it need not be at the detriment of poor housekeeping and neglected kids if both partners agree to share responsibilities…