Congratulations, ladies of the world: the Feminist Movement - the recognized part of it, at least - is nearly hundred and fifty years old, and while the mission is far from complete, only the unthinking man can overlook the progress it has made over the decades. And therefore we will successfully remove overt discrimination from another section of society, and push it away to some other place which is as yet invisible to us (because eradication of all forms of discrimination is not even theoretically possible), and make the world a better place.
A small caveat before I continue elaborating on this idyllic situation though (and this caveat might occupy the rest of this blog-post, beware!): we are doing it all wrong. The feminist movement, in its so-called 'third wave' especially, will soon reach its culminating phase, and when this happens, we may well destroy the soul of human society. The soul, of course, is the Human Family.
Okay, before you kill me - and I think you are quite in the mood - let me clarify this stance: No, I am not suggesting that the woman stays at home, cooks food thrice a day and changes babies' diapers while the 'man of the family' earns the bread, as is the conventionally accepted family. There is another way to maintain the most important elements of 'family' and 'home', while championing the cause of equality. I will explain, but in order to do so, I must digress and give you a snapshot of a modern family.
(I'm going to make this family Indian, because of the obvious reasons.)
Meanwhile, in the 21st Century
Raj and Chitra got married a couple of years ago, and they have a six month old infant. Raj works in a high-paying Investment Banking job, often putting in ninety hours of work a week. He has few other interests in life, but he finds little time for them. Chitra works a busy shift in an IT firm, and took a month off as maternity leave. She has varied interests like her mother, but the pursuit of success is an obstacle for her multiple whims (in that way, she is a little like her husband).
Of the two people, only one of them managed to learn to cook - Chitra learned the fine culinary arts during her first job and she developed a penchant for it too, while Raj had always had a bai (maid) attend to his food-requirement (or he would eat outside, what the hell). The couple also has a servant maid to clean the house and do the laundry, and another lady who comes in to wash the vessels.
Three times a week, the couple is chauffeured out to fancy restaurants in the upcoming neighbourhood. Since the end of Chitra's maternity leave, the couple have asked Raj's parents to take care of the child during the day whenever possible. When it becomes too difficult, they have a nanny for the baby - she comes highly recommended by Raj's boss.
On Sundays, the three of them spend the afternoon together. That is always the best part of their week.
Where It Falls Apart
Okay, sorry - end of story. Let me get back to the caveat now: what people may end up having in the future are houses, but not homes. These are places where the food cooks itself, the place keeps itself tidy, and where the people manage their own needs independently; where the child learns to walk when his / her parents are not around, where schools become the only source of information and education; these are places where people are successful, independent and quite possibly disconnected. There are fancy holidays once a year, of course.
What went wrong and where? Or did it? If you are peace with a world obsessed with professional success alone, with a world where everything else falls into place as if through a black-box while you are unconcerned with the processes and efforts which go into them, then there is no issue to talk about today. You will accuse me of being short-sighted - probably even narrow-minded - when I explain to you the virtues of the modern family; when I talk about how we are destroying this 'soul' of human civilization.
With the traditional joint-family falling to pieces, the onus of carrying out all duties of the household while continuing to spearhead the cause of independence of the modern woman fell to the 20th century wife. These were people who didn't crib about the extraordinary task which was being asked of them, while they excelled in multiple spheres of life (ostensibly liking their tremendous roles). I have no doubt that they were the sole links between traditional values and modernism.
Now, we are past that. This is the final wave of feminism (i.e. drive towards equality on all fronts) and the modern woman shall have none of that multiple role-playing. And why should she? In my story, Chitra knows how to cook, but why should she carry that extra burden in a world where everything else is equal? Why should she alone be responsible for household tidiness; why must she carry most of the responsibility with the child?
Well, the solution most Indians have come up with is that she needn't be, and the husband can't be (I mean - he isn't adequately educated for the job). So outsource everything. Easy.
Have someone who will cook, another person who will tidy the home, someone who will drive the car, yet another who will mind the baby and tutor him / her; have someone who will take care of the finances, someone who will plan the holidays; call the guy who will bring in the weekly groceries. The man and the woman are busy with work, too busy to run a home...
Is There A Solution?
I think there is. It is funny that men aren't qualified enough to take over part of the responsibilities of the women of the house. Demand is bound to breed supply, you would imagine: but not when there is an easier solution. We'll call the guy (servant maid, in this case) instead! Or we'll just get a take-home meal.
This impersonalization of the household is because in the drive to create equality, we have developed the notion that certain tasks are inferior to others. Taking care of your own needs is not as important as your professional responsibilities; where you will perhaps contribute in a minuscule way to a picture bigger than you care to imagine. But cooking your own food; who does that? That's way too difficult, and quite demeaning too.
The not-so-surprising outcome of this notion is that women have vied for opportunities in spheres which were initially reserved for men, while the reverse process hasn't happened. In a way, everyone conceded to the fact that the erstwhile tasks performed by the women of this planet weren't important enough.
Soon, people won't require kitchens, and they may as well live in hotel rooms (the hotel has brilliant add-on services, of course) where we work from. There will be child-grooming facilities which will be entirely responsible for development of the child, and the concept of Parenting might go into the history-books.
So, unless people start viewing their various responsibilities differently, unless the new gender-fluidity goes both ways (as opposed to the single-direction flow presently), this is the world in which we will soon find ourselves. Perhaps I am wrong is suggesting that the Feminist Movement is largely responsible for this impending scenario, but I believe that there must be simultaneous education of the men to take up the vacant slots. Who will educate them? - that is a question which remains to be answered.
Maybe it is wishful thinking to see this aspect being integrated into the Feminist movement of the world, and wishful thinking is precisely what I will indulge in.