: I am a housewife
and have been married for past five years. We have two kids and belong to a middle-class family. Since I am not an earning
member of the family, my husband
thinks I have no contribution in running our family. He has told me several times that I am useless and I just look after a few household chores. I have tried explaining several times that looking after kids is not a cakewalk and managing the entire house is a demanding task. But nothing changes his attitude. Please suggest what should I do to change his perception? –by Anonymous Response by Zankhana Joshi:
It can be really painful to find yourself working hard each day and instead of getting appreciated or recognised for it, you are being called 'useless'. Living with this attitude daily can be difficult and can affect your self-worth, self-esteem and overall well-being too. It's great that you are seeking help.
To understand your husband's attitude, we must understand the systemic problem on hand. India is a patriarchal society and the family systems are based on clearly established hierarchies of gender–where an adult male is the most powerful individual of that system due to his ability to earn money, value from property inheritance and therefore the power to take key family decisions. This allows him to express his opinions about you without hesitation.
It is interesting to think about how gender roles are assigned. From childhood, boys and girls are trained in appropriate, gender-specific forms of behaviour, play, dress and so on. This training is continuous and most of the time subtle, but when necessary, can involve punishments to bring about conformity.
The gender-roles at home are how division of labour takes place. The man is assigned to be a bread-winner and women to take on household maintenance and child-rearing roles. Unfortunately, no economic value is assigned to household work, which requires a lot of hard work done by women.
On the other hand, today's cost of living and stressful work environments put a lot of burden on the sole bread earners. When your husband is exposed to working women, he may be wondering why this economic burden is not shared by you. Thus, he looks down on your contribution to the family.
This is a systemic problem, but a small change in the attitude at a household level can bring about changes in the society. But before trying to shift your husband's mindset, a shift in your own thinking will have to come first. Work on your own self-awareness, understanding and self-acceptance of the work you are doing. In maintaining your household, you add value to raw materials and make it into finished products–like you turn ingredients into food that provides nourishment; by looking after the household you facilitate your husband's efficiency as he gets to focus only on work while you look after the back-end of laundry and housekeeping. By nurturing your children, you provide an inspiring and conducive environment for their growth and development, which in turn helps the family grow. Thus, find meaning and purpose from your own contribution despite it not having explicit economic value attached to it. When you find esteem from the work itself, and not from its economic value, it will be a huge shift from money and power, which drove the patriarchy for generations.
Communication, healthy discussion and expression of work contribution with your husband is also very important. Together you can assign significance to all the roles that facilitate existence of a family- which includes child rearing, maintenance and earning for sustenance of the household. You can then find division of work based on your own individual strength - which may free up time for you to engage in some activity which can bring economic contribution too, or pursue other hobbies which will be mutually fulfilling. If you find that you are unable to express this yourself, do not hesitate in seeking professional help for the same. You are responsible for your own health, well-being and safeguarding your own sense of self-worth.
In the end there is no real shift is attitude except in one's own self-belief–start from there! Ms. Zankhana Joshi is the founder of Tatvamasi–a Mumbai-based counseling center. She is a Counseling Psychologist and a Dance Movement Therapy Practitioner.
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