Friday, December 28, 2007

the labours of sisyphus

“what are you doing these days?” they ask me.
“just house work, nothing much”, i find myself mumbling.
“ah! lucky you, chilling huh”?
“oh so you are taking a break, good for you!” some more well meaning friends say.
sometimes i find myself making a joke out of the whole thing, “i am just a housewife these days!”
“aah! but you know, you must stay active, don’t get too cushy at home, take a break, but you must do something…eventually… you know,” say some others.

here’s something for all you guys.
housework is a bloody awful lot of work.

there is nothing about it that is chilling. the only blasted thing about it is, it is not paid for. and if i were to be getting paid for what i do, i’d probably be able to buy that fancy bungalow i see in the by lanes of where i live, pretty soon.
and it gets my hackles up to realize that because of some blasted pre-conditioning, i see it as trivial and undervalue it myself.

so the buck really starts right here.
just a housewife. can we shoot that phrase down?
what is it about the nature of housework that it is seen in a light that is trivializing and even disparaging? for starters… it is not paid for. since it is not work that is economically, tangibly productive, it is not seen as work at all.

here is something that simone de beauvoir says that has stayed with me for a while, “few tasks are more like the torture of sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition; the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day. the housewife wears herself out marking time: she makes nothing, simply perpetuates the present”.

(in greek mythology, sisyphus was a king punished in the tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, and repeat this throughout eternity. today, sisyphean can be used as an adjective meaning that an activity is unending and/or repetitive. it could also be used to refer to tasks that are pointless and unrewarding… from wikipedia)

maintaining status quo and not creating anything that survives or lasts is the bane of housework. food that is cooked is consumed. order that is created out of clutter and chaos goes back to disorder and chaos. a cyclical, continuous perpetuation of the present.
couple this with the fact that our societal conditioning has dinned it into our heads in a bizarre pavlovian way that a woman is expected to do housework, and you have the perfect stepfordian system.

this is what i have been taught as a child. this is what i saw as a child.
at home, the men (my father and brother) did help around the house in more ways than one, but the onus of the housework lay largely with my mother.
my mother juggled a full time job, two kids and the housework. she did have some help, but the lion’s share of the work was hers.
and i continue to be amazed at how she did it. day after day, for scores and scores of years, she would cook all three meals, wash the dishes herself, clean and clear, wash and rinse, and also excel at her job.

women like me are at a rather uncomfortable crossroad. we combine all that is traditional as well as several notions of independence and equality. we are expected to be super women who effortlessly span the distance between the conference room and the kitchen with a dazzling smile and a new checkered apron.
we help bring the bread home and also cook it.
the men are utterly clueless. they have no idea how to confront this new hybrid mutant.
the men still subscribe to modes and conventions and yet are slowly emerging from the haze and confusion of gender roles and identities, but i can’t say if they are any wiser.

as a result of all this unbridled change i see relationships that are more fragile, diminishing self worth that is uncalled for and a fake sense of wellness bought by amassing material things.

it is time that we transcend these long held definitions of what and who we should be. it would be a good idea for starters to just be. not succumb to noise and popular opinion but get comfortable in the skin that we walk in.

easy as it may be to dismiss something and put a label of non-productiveness on it, it would be fair to give a thought to the countless women who strive for permanence and continuity, living half of their lives in the kitchen, raising children, sustaining entire households.

the nameless faces, calloused hands and futile labours of just a housewife.


Kanna said...

Firstly, instead of using the word HOUSEWIFE try using the word HOMEMAKER. It adds a totally different dimension to the previous term.

Secondly, its your imagination that your father and your brother never did any housewor. For your information your father used to help your mother and the household in washing clothes, buying vegetables, fixing all the electronic gadgets, electrical fittings, accompanying yourself and your brother to the school bus stop,taking care of your and your brothers studies especially maths, science and english. And your brother has left home for a hostel life just after his 12th and till then he has played an important part in doing all the nick nack jobs, running errands for the household, washing clothes, and a lot of other sundry jobs.

I just thought I should elaborate these probably forgotten facts just incase the writer in you doesnt get too carried away.

Kavita Arvind said...

Point taken!!! I guess i did get a little carried away. I totally acknowledge all the work you and appa did and do. But there was a larger point I was making. I will amend the post. Gussa mat ho bhai!!

Kanna said...


P.Aravind said...

Dear Son,
Please also add that your father used to wash your school uniforms starch it, blue it and iron it so that every day you two could go to school well dressed. And also the fact that you were given the award for the best dressed boy in your school.
Ofcourse nothing to beat your Ma.
Your (both of you) proud Dad

P.Aravind said...

And daughter, also the fact that your father usd to take you religiously to all art schools and contests so you could win many prizes and public appreciations.
Love Pa

Kavita said...

Kavita, Kavita!
You speak my mind.
And oh so eloquently too.
Perhaps you know this genre
of work is termed 'entropic'?
And is usually entrusted to
women & minorities ( Fritjof Capra & Hazel Henderson, "Uncommon Wisdom" ).
There are days when I hate it, others when I slip into nurturing mode. Which is so convenient for all.

septemberose said...

"and a fake sense of wellness bought by amassing material things."

Liked that phrase.

I'm a housewife myself who sometimes relaxes by blog-surfing. I'd spread myself too thin if I tried doing all that the career housewives do. I consider myself successful since I get to live life on my own terms. I'm fortunate to able to make time to do, at my own pace and without pressure in my spare time, what I truly enjoy.