By Bandana Upadhya
Two months after being married to the man I loved, I painfully watched him re– wash some of the dishes I had washed, while also listening to him telling me that I should not have put raw meat on THAT shelf of the fridge. Suddenly and surprisingly, I was overwhelmed with feelings of having failed as a woman. It was as simple as that. I began to feel tearful and immediately removed myself to a private corner of the house. Whilst I was secretly and shamefully welling up, I began to feel confused about my reaction.
I could not make sense of why it was that although I theoretically wanted my husband to do the housework alongside me, or perhaps at times even instead of me, I was so disappointed to see him do it. I could not comprehend why it bothered me so much that he might have greater knowledge of domestic issues than I did. After all, I had always focused on developing my career over doing housework. And yet, there I was, struggling to let go of societal norms that mapped out my role and tasks as a woman. I am the type of person (at least to my understanding) who takes on every opportunity to scream and shout about gender equality to anyone who is (or is not) listening. It seemed ridiculous to me how automatically and irrationally emotional I became watching my husband kindly help in the kitchen.
Then it occurred to me that perhaps the expectations on me as a woman were so deeply rooted that I was subconsciously forcing myself and my husband into predetermined gender roles, and worse still, was angry at him for behaving outside of those expectations. There is a high likelihood that the rules that govern our early life experience form the basis of who we become as adults. Maybe my brain was wired to make me repeat the patterns of womanhood that my mother (and those before her) helplessly embodied. The memory of how my mother and father divided household tasks had become my (without my permission) my point of reference. It was about to influence the way I divided labour in my new family.
However, some hope came from years of training my mind, albeit theoretically, that I will be different from my mother (I have nothing against her and understand that she was merely behaving in accordance to her social environment). I am already different to her, in terms of my education and life choices. Still, here was my window of opportunity to correct those scripts passed down to me on how to operate my household and manage my marriage. Instead of fitting into a box that was designed for me, I knew I had to carve out a unique identity in my marriage, one that allowed me to remain true to who I am in all other aspects of life. For this to happen, I needed to be aware of my reactions and make a conscious effort to act in ways that fitted my current belief systems, instead of mindlessly repeating patterns of previous generations.
So I went back to the kitchen, firmly determined to do things differently. I decided to allow him to do the washing, without guilt, without sorrow and without objection.
P.S. Bandana will be doing a newlywed series for us! Thanks for coming on board, we can’t wait to read more of your thoughts.