Five reasons why men should wash dishes
The act of washing dishes not only helps men challenge the gendered roles, but also understand the politics of gender, class hierarchies, internalized patriarchy and classification of work. Plus they get an opportunity to meet themselves.
I like washing dishes, seeing it as my contribution to domestic chores. I also like cutting vegetables, which compensates for my ineptitude in and dislike for cooking.
While my wife is ok with me cutting and chopping, she dislikes my washing the dishes, claiming I am no good at it. I think it’s a bias she has inherited from my mother-in-law who too does not like men washing the dishes.
To ensure that it is not a family disorder, I cross-checked elsewhere. I asked around and found, surprisingly, that the notion that men should do anything but washing the dishes and sweeping or mopping the floor, is a pretty common notion. In many cases, the need for asking that question was not even an option.
To me this attitude represents a deep-seated bias regarding men’s involvement in household work as well as the classification of work itself. I strongly feel that men should wash the dishes. From what I have experienced, most men are not good at cooking – either by design or desire. Moreover, cooking is an art form which has to be nurtured. But washing dishes is a skill that can be picked fast.
Here are five key reasons why I think men should wash the dishes (as often as they can if not regularly). It will not only help them personally but also help society at large.
Help fight patriarchy and gendered roles
Owing to the gendered roles fixed by patriarchal societies over the centuries, there are things that men do and things that they do not do. The latter are tasks meant for women – tasks often seen as lowly, hence they do not get acknowledged. Society labels them as ‘the duties of a woman’, whatever that means. Even the modern laws define housewives as non-productive social workers.
When we men wash the dishes, we not only challenge these gendered roles in our own heads but also in the minds of women in our households. It is essential for women also to realize the politics of gendered roles, for many who have internalized patriarchy, keep their husbands away from domestic chores on the pretext that they are not good at them. Well, the men are not good at many other things but they are not stopped from learning to be better. In fact, they are pushed to do better, so why not encourage them to do the dishes well?
The media often defines the success of women as excelling at doing what the ‘men’ do. Ever wondered where that comes from? A quote by Colonel Gaddafi (I think it was him. Searched online but could find no reference) has been stuck in my head for years now, namely that gender equality is not about women trying to be like men or vice versa. It is about being able to do what one wants to do.
Wash dishes to fight class hierarchies
Caste and class hierarchies are closely related. Both are equally responsible for the classification of work in a way that the higher/upper class performs ‘higher’/superior functions and the ‘lower’ class performs ‘lower/menial’ tasks. Since work perceived as menial fetches lesser remuneration and reward, the class gap keeps growing.
Think about it – the person who copy pastes codes in your office or makes ledger entries, earns far more respect and money than a farmer, mason or plumber. Even in developed societies, where remuneration is no longer ‘low’, the status of such work is yet to ascend the ladder of work hierarchies.
Washing dishes, like sweeping or mopping, is perceived as lowly work, to be shunned. In many an urban household, children dump their plates into the kitchen sink without even clearing the leftovers. That ‘ugh’ task of picking up the leftover pizza piece from the plate is to be performed by the domestic help.
But when you pick up the leftovers on the plate with your bare hands and toss it into the bin, you will stop feeling disgusted in a restaurant when you find a tidbits of an earlier meal lying on the table that you want to occupy. Wanting a clean table is one thing, but looking at a morsel with disgust is something completely different. It reflects class bias.
When you wash dishes, you automatically confront these realities. You confront waste. You understand privilege. Washing the dishes used by someone other than your close family member makes you humble. When you wash the cup in which your driver had tea makes you a better person. Just do it. You will figure it out yourself!
Help redefine drudgery
There are many tasks which are perceived as drudgery. Drudgery has an association with caste and class. Even within a caste or class, work gets further classified. A hierarchy of drudgery, in descending order, comes into being. Lower the task, more the drudgery.
I am reminded of something Vinobha Bhave wrote in ‘Shikshan Vichar’, about how, as humanity evolved, work got classified into ‘Rahu’ and ‘Ketu’. The story goes that a long time ago, gods and demons got together to churn the ocean (samudra manthan) for extracting amrit, the immortality potion. To cut a long story short, the demons stole the amrit and Lord Vishnu had to take the form of Mohini to retrieve the amrit. As the amrit was being served to the gods, a demon who had changed his appearance, had also partaken of it. Lord Vishnu cut off his head but the demon had already become immortal. His head lived thereafter as Rahu and the headless body came to be known as Ketu.
Vinobha Bhave says in our society too there are people who apply their minds but not their body (Rahu), and there are those who use their body but not their minds (Ketu). Technically, Rahu is the privilege while Ketu signifies drudgery.
The truth is there is nothing called dull work. Work is work. Assigning work to someone else because it is drudgery, is a privilege. Even I am guilty of that privilege. (Also, there are many things that I can no longer do even if I want to – due to age or lack of skill)
Still, there are some tasks of ‘drudgery’ which we are fully capable of doing. Washing the dishes is one of them. Bringing our Rahu and Ketu in harmony may be a good way to keep our mind and body in sync.
Be a good role model
There is a huge difference between talking about change and being the change. Ideological armchair discussions are pretty commonplace. Social media allows us to trumpet our opinions but there is no way for anyone else to find out if one really lives by his/her own words. But our children watch us continuously. Either they would accept our contradictions and imbibe that as a reality of life, or they will contradict and confront us. Because children love their parents and are unable to differentiate between love and respect, it is likely that they may choose the former.
When we wash the dishes, we make the world simpler for people around us, especially children. Our daily chores that redefine gendered roles, class hierarchies, drudgery, go a long way in instilling the idea of equality in the tender minds of our children.
Find your inner self
Many experts and reports claim that a large section of the society needs urgent mental health intervention. The causes for this are many. But I think that one of the key reasons is the gap between our ‘learnt’ goals and ‘real’ goals. Learnt goals are largely material or social. Achieving those goals often provides only momentary happiness and may end up making us more lonely and sad as, deep inside, we long for something else.
Frankly, have you ever deeply thought about what you really want, without confusing it with some material or social goal? It is highly likely that one would have asked this question to oneself and then pushed it to towards some dark corner. Sadly, avoiding a question does not mean that it ceases to exist. It waits there. And we drown ourselves with other realities. Exhausted with work, we indulge ourselves in consumption – eating out, shopping, audio-visual experiences, digital experiences, and so on. But none of these offer peace of mind because our mind remains aware of that unanswered question.
I firmly believe that actions like washing dishes, ironing clothes, sweeping the floor, etc. fall in the category of ‘here and now’. It is that space and time when our body works in semi-automated mode, allowing our mind to be with itself, at peace – processing real questions and seeking viable answers. Frankly, one does not need a vipassana retreat or group meditation to seek oneself. I do not doubt their efficacy but I think what one really needs is time and willingness to be with oneself on a regular basis. And that time and opportunity awaits at the kitchen sink!
Foot note – Please do not try to wash the dishes wearing fancy aprons and clothes. It does not work that way. A skilled person can do the dishes even in business suit. That is the real nirvana!