Diaries of a British-Nepalese Woman: Division of Labour in Marriage

By Bandana Upadhya

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Photo Credit: Navin Mistry

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.

12 thoughts on “Diaries of a British-Nepalese Woman: Division of Labour in Marriage

  1. Riz says:

    Yay welcome on board. Very very interesting, and even though I grew up in a nepalese household, our division of labour is very very different. We don’t have a gender specific roles, that’s probably why I’ve struggled with what I’m supposed to be doing when in others kitchens in Nepal. But I expect my future husband to be more proactive in the kitchen and expect him to do everything my father did. Plus more.

    Afterthought, Should have put dishwasher in the wedding list? :p

  2. Really enjoyed reading this. I think the gender roles are so stark in Nepali society that people subconsciously subscribe to it and think that’s normal. It takes a lot of thinking, questioning and going against the norm, all of which are very discouraged, to defy the gender roles. I am glad that you are no longer guilty of your husband doing housework (sometimes in a better way) than you. 🙂 I personally have no such experiences of feeling guilty or incapable for not doing what is supposed to be women’s domain, because I live alone and I do like cooking, cleaning, tidying up etc. But I definitely expect my partner or future husband to do the housework.I think the most effective solution to this is to raise boys and girls equally and teach them both the importance of being able to look after themselves: that is cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, changes curtains and bed sheets, laundry etc.
    Beautiful bride, by the way! 🙂

    • Bandana says:

      Hi, I think you are absolutely right, it is about the way boys and girls are raised so that gender roles are less stringent and more fluid (I doubt we can remove it altogether). Having an awareness is the first step to bringing about change and this is really what I was trying to highlight…

  3. P Koinch says:

    Great read B. Unfortunately what is conventional is not what we want and what we want is unconventional!
    Look forward to your next post B. X

  4. Richa says:

    Great piece B! Women are so hard on themselves about roles (what we should, what things to try, what we shouldn’t do, what we don’t want to do). Sometimes it is hard to navigate it all but you are fortunate to have a partner who is defying his gender roles and that you guys can communicate about these things and find something that works for both of you. Unfortunately, so many women don’t have that choice.

  5. I loved reading this, mainly because I identify so much with it 🙂 Just like yours, my husband is an absolute sweetheart who does more housework than me, and we almost never talk about his chores or mine. But then, I feel so guilty if I don’t have time to make breakfast some days, or if the house is messy and I am too tired to clean it up. I somehow feel as if it is my fault, that I am less of a woman/person. But like you, I try to curb all such indoctrinated discourses right when they start, and am determined to sail through life letting go of all negativity and unnecessary guilt.

    • Bandana says:

      Hi Richa, it is so lovely to hear that you identified with it. I knew I wasn’t the only one! I think as women we have to look after and empower one another. We have to let go of the guilt that holds us back.. I am glad you and I are both doing it slowly but surely. Take care..

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