‘Who does what at home’ has to be one of the most ensnaring issues that could make couples slip into a series of arguments. This is even more true in today’s world. Things are not the same anymore. Culture is dynamic, but in this generation, the dynamism of culture is at a faster pace. Devices easily become obsolete within two years. Accepted practices of yesteryears also appear primitive today. This presents us with a dilemma: to adapt to the change or to remain adamant and hold on to old ways. I would like to state boldly that before we accept ‘something new’ we must make sure it betters the state of humanity and before we stick to old ways let’s be sure they are better than the modern-day alternatives.
The family is the oldest human institution and also the seed from which every other institution sprouts. This makes the family a very important body in the society. Among the things that make any institution thrive, the following are paramount: love, respect, hard work, understanding and role-playing. The last of which is my focus in this post.
In a typical Ghanaian home a 100 or more years ago, the father was probably a hunter, the mother was a stay-home mum and the children assist the parent of their gender. It makes perfect sense, if you ask me. In those days, the duties of wives were mainly to provide food, clean, sweep, nurture the children etc. because they were usually not involved in any economic venture. Husbands did all the work to make the family financially sound. Once again, I will say that this makes perfect sense. But times have changed. Women are actively involved in economic ventures now and are raking huge sums of money every month; sometimes even more than their husbands. A husband who is the CEO of a multinational company could be married to a woman who is a medical doctor by profession. The question is, does it mean the duties of wives at home need to be revised?
I believe the roles of both husband and wife should be revised. I know in Marriage Counselling men are advised to lend a helping hand with chores at home. I lean more towards this assertion. I have heard men with my own two ears state emphatically that they will do no such thing. It is like they can’t imagine themselves in the kitchen, whipping up something for the entire family. This brings me to the focus of this post: what exactly do wives expect their husbands to do at home? Women weren’t born with cooking and cleaning genes, men weren’t born with working genes either. This is even more evident in the way women have swarmed the corporate world in the last few decades. There is still much room for improvement though. Back to the question, what do wives expect their husbands to do at home? For most men, it isn’t the idea of doing something around the house that they find repulsive, but the fact that it has to – of a necessity – be cooking and cleaning.
Socialization is society’s way of programming human beings for life. It is hard to change roles when you were made to think that you are hard-wired to do just that. Nevertheless, it is possible.
A lot of people are of the view that cooking and cleaning are the only chores in every home. This is so wrong! If it takes only cooking and cleaning to maintain the sanity, safety and well-being of family members then I dare say we have belittled what it means to be parents. I don’t ever remember seeing my dad in the kitchen cooking. Does that make him a lazy man who overburdened his wife and kids to work like donkeys? Before you pass any judgment, let me tell you a little story. In the community I grew up in, my dad was arguably one of the most hardworking men around. Not in terms of his job, but chores. You wouldn’t expect a Pharmacist with a very busy schedule as his to do the stuff he did. I grew up in Koforidua and my dad had a garden in front of the house and a farm behind the boys’ quarters. Oh yeh, he put the ‘farmer’ in Pharmacist. He planted maize and cassava. I didn’t quite get it at the time though, but lessons in Agricultural Science in Junior High School revealed that that system of farming was called Mixed Cropping. I was the type of child to throw baby tantrums anytime I was given work to do. That demon has long left me; it was beaten and caned out of me *insert your Amens here*. But one chore that my brother and I couldn’t wait to do was breaking off withered corn stalks after the harvest. We would do this every time in a faux action scene of one of the Chinese movies we used to watch. Kicking and punching at the sinister accomplices of the most evil antagonist standing before us as withered corn stalks. It was fun. Now, that was Koforidua and having a farm at the back of your house was a common practice. When we moved to Tema, guess what the old man did… he made another farm. This time, a smaller one because the soil was sandy and our backyard was smaller. My dad initiated all general cleanings at home. He was brutal towards any of us who appeared reluctant to participate in it. My question is, does such a husband still have to actively work in the kitchen to prove himself a hard-working fellow? Is the kitchen the only place where there is work to be done in the home?
Chores are not gender-specific but honestly there are some chores that come more easy to people of a particular gender. This is not because of our biological makeup – as some people would be irritated by this if it were so. It is simply by socialization: the way we were brought up. It is very cool and helpful on his part, if the husband cooks in the house. Per the way most of us were brought up, our female counterparts are better cooks than we are. So, which is the more reasonable approach, to get all men to start learning how to cook now or to have them actively involved in the things that require masculine strength at home? The latter is more reasonable. I don’t need to quote any literature to buttress the point that men are physically stronger than women. It is an observable fact. Hence, wouldn’t men be more suited to do the things that their strengths can afford them the luxury of doing? If we are to remove the demarcations and say that since no one is born with a specific gene to do some chores men and women should not specialize, that would wreak havoc in the family. I don’t know about other guys, but I know there is something about the picture of my wife washing her own car I find off. I can’t picture my wife ‘spidermanning’ her way up a ladder to the roof to fix the TV pole because she wants to watch her favorite telenovela. I can’t sit, with folded arms and watch the woman of my life sink a few nails into the spine of a broken door in her bid to fix it. Why should a husband allow his wife’s palms to blister away into hardness because she was weeding with a cutlass while he made supper in the kitchen? If you didn’t cringe at any of these scenarios, then I must admit there is something wrong with me because I did… and ever so emphatically. It is not even a matter of which chore is demeaning, it is a matter of which one comes easy to whom.
When it comes to gender, I am not conclusive in my views as it is a very touchy subject and a controversial one. You could touch raw nerves by passing a loose comment about women these days – and rightly so. I just wish we would dialogue more and accept that marriage has some dynamics that don’t accommodate stiff rules that cannot be bent or turned to favor both parties every now and then. Plus, what works for one couple may cause a divorce in another. Hence, the two parties involved should sit and decide who does what in the home.