Heels in the bag
Let me start with the picture.
This is a picture of me, taken this afternoon. I have my two year old baby on my back, a laptop bag over my shoulder, and the highest pair of heels I own in the carrier bag. This picture summarizes my current experiences in my native homeland.
I am married. My husband, two daughters and I stay in a nice out of the way very small town in Manicaland where my husband works for a local organization. Though I trained in IT I have not been formally employed for over four years. How and why is a story for another day. The point I am trying to make relates to my present state. I am trying to reinvent myself as an entrepreneur — mostly an infopreneur — and I find myself in ridiculous situations like the one I had today. It only serves to strengthen my assertion that for us to make real progress in empowering women, we need to empower the men also.
I am not talking about economic empowerment for men. I mean more of domestic empowerment, if I can coin such a term: giving men the right to take up more responsibilities in the home. It is a real need for me and most of the women in my community. Our men are just unable to carry the same load of domestic responsibility, regardless of how much we lessen their economic burden. As I trekked through the dusty streets , I grew increasingly agitated at this thought: when a man leaves the house, he leaves the house. No small bundle on his back or hands. All he takes with him are the tools of his trade.
My husband was away today, but even if he had been home at the time that I needed to leave for my presentation, the overall responsibility for the baby would still have fallen on my shoulders, though maybe not so literally. When I leave home, I need to ensure that leaving the baby will not interfere with his work schedule. If it does, I need to make an alternative plan. If I can leave the baby with him, I need to leave specific instructions on whether she will need diaper change, food or entertainment. Preferably, I will need to make sure everything is within easy reach.
Our men have been raised to believe childcare and domesticity are the domain of women. If he so much as clears the table after a meal, he expects a commendation of some sort. Of course, on a national level we do talk so much about equality and all the right isms. On a practical day to day level though, there still remains a lot to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that I have managed to get the kind of education that my great grandmother was not entitled to. However, nothing much has changed at home.
Here is a different illustration. The other day my husband walked in while I was in the middle of figuring out another error on the app I was creating. Says he: “I am so hungry.” I responded, “There should be something in the fridge.” I felt the dirty looks he threw me. I tried to be indignant, but really I couldn’t blame him. To this day even at various ladies social meetings young women are being taught that they ought to serve their husbands, and they ought not be too busy to meet his needs. The men have been taught to expect it too.
The worst part is that sometimes, when a man really wants to help out, he is sometimes completely clueless on how to do so. In far too many households that I know off, you still hear the phrase girls’ work for housework. And far too many people are still surprised to see a boy/man standing at the sink or, even more shocking, hanging up feminine clothes on the line. Not too long ago when I was pregnant and too sick to do much, my husband offered to do the laundry. On one condition: I was not to leave the house or be seen/heard by anyone in the process. This is because our laundry facilities were outdoors and he wasn’t going to help if I was going to be seen and thereby let people know that he was helping. A man can still be victimized for doing women’s work in our community, despite so called equal rights and the ‘educate the girl-child’ movement.
My frustration lies with the fact that women have taken up the roles that used to be exclusively for men, like earning outside the house. In the meantime, no one has been rushing to share in the roles that we have been carrying for generations, so we have still got those. What’s equal in that? I still have to carry the baby on my back. And put the heels in the bag.
Interestingly, taking the picture was my oldest daughter. I still had to make time to pick her up from school too!