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So, who exactly made the rules?

Updated on: 24 November,2023 04:32 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

The idea of child-rearing being the sole domain of the woman needs to be turned on its head, starting with how we approach this gender inequality in our own homes

So, who exactly made the rules?

Even at the level of policy in developed countries, women are offered incentives such as job security to allow them to stay at home while fathers have no such benefits. Representation pic

Rosalyn D’MelloBy the time you read this, my child will have turned 21 months old. I am still trying to wrap my head around this fact. ‘Die Zeit vergeht so schnell’ is the most banal thing that people I meet here say. It is the German equivalent of ‘Time flies’. I feel an allergic reaction in my brain when this uttered, because it sounds, inadvertently, like an erasure of all the parental labour and care work that has marked this time. I understand the logic behind this non-profound observation. The first two years of a baby’s life are so unique simply because of how many changes their bodies go through within this compressed span. They go from being unable to hold their head up independently to running and spinning in circles pretending to hop. The process is humbling, because you are committed to being accountable for another human being and ensuring they are so autonomous, they no longer need you. For the greatest task of parenting is to work towards making yourself redundant.

I remain in unspeakable awe of people who choose to do this alone. There are so many single mothers out there in the child-caring trenches struggling without access to nurturing support systems. On the other hand, what has improved over the course of my lifetime is the attitude of men towards parenting. I was watching a Tik Tok in which a millennial pointed out how the fathers of Gen Z and Gen Alpha are so much more present than fathers of previous generations. Even until the 1990s, a father was expected to ‘show up’ for kids’ recitals, exams or other important events. They weren’t tasked with being a part of their everyday lives, packing lunch boxes or keeping tabs on what they were learning in school. Most of the heavy lifting has historically been performed by mothers, not to mention the intensity of emotional labour such as remembering the names of kids’ friends or their birthdays. Mothers oversaw all these minutiae, more often than not while simultaneously holding on to a full-time or part-time form of employment.

The world continues to equate child-rearing with female labour. Even at the level of policy in developed countries, women are offered incentives such as job security to allow them to stay at home while fathers have no such benefits. So, overwhelmingly, when I go to spaces that are for child play, the person accompanying the child is the mother. Rarely is it the father. What it means is that for the two or three years until the child can either find a spot in day care or be admitted to kindergarten, women give up the chance of earning enough to put away for their pensions. I am part of two significantly massive Facebook groups for Indian mothers and every day I am exposed to posts that discuss how the bulk of child-caring responsibility is shouldered by women because fathers have to report to work, a symptom of India’s notably toxic work culture that doesn’t offer men the option of spending more time home.

This is how gender inequality continues to perpetuate. This is how we fail not only women but also men. It explains why the world ‘notices’ the labour of men who father, because it feels like an aberration. Some writer and academics in India from my parasocial network recently shared with me how horrible the support system in most metropolitan cities in India is, how it is rigged against women returning to the work force. The absence of good day-care facilities where children can be entrusted with specialists who are trained in child pedagogy and behaviour is appalling. At the level of state and national policy, it seems we would rather focus on building metros and SEZ zones and promoting real estate than focus on robust infrastructural systems to facilitate childcare that can then enable parents to live fuller lives.

It isn’t a problem unique to India. Globally, we can see how our attentiveness towards children is an afterthought, even though the rhetoric may seem like we are centring them. The ongoing genocide in Gaza and the humungous toll on the lives of children is itself an indication of how we think some children are simply not deserving of life. The fact that in the US guns continue to be easily available even though so many children have died by gun violence is another indication. It feels redundant to say all children have the right to live. It is somehow so basic; you would think this should be one of the fundamental tenets that constitute our humanity. 

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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